The Kings’ options are limited. They’re nearly hitting their heads on the NHL’s $69-million salary cap for next season, but since they’ve just won their second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons, maybe the best move is keeping their roster relatively intact for 2014-15.
Marian Gaborik had this to say about his comfort level after joining Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and the rest of the Kings after a March 5 trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets: “The guys welcomed me warmly. Right away, I felt comfortable. That’s very important, to feel comfortable. To play along with ‘Kopi,’ he’s a great player … and then ‘Brownie,’ the way we clicked so quickly, it was great.”
Here’s what forward Marian Gaborik said Wednesday of agreeing to a new seven-year contract with the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings: “Hopefully, we can just keep this train rolling, … I knew I could get maybe more money if I had gone to free agency, but it wasn’t about money. I wanted to be part of a great team. … That was my No. 1 priority, to get a deal done here.”
The defending Stanley Cup champion Kings and veteran forward Marian Gaborik agreed Wednesday on a new seven-season contract that will pay him an average of $4.9 million and further cement a championship roster for years to come. Gaborik, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, MIke Richards, Jonathan Quick and Slava Voynov are all signed through 2019.
Here’s what Kings coach Darryl Sutter had to say about the difference between this Stanley Cup championship and the one in 2012:
“We did it a different way in ”11-’12. That’s something that I don’t think could ever happen again if you go back to that because of winning as a road team all the time. This year was totally different. A lot of new players in our lineup. We knew we had to, at some point … during the Olympics, I always thought about this, ‘How are we going to beat Chicago? How are we going to beat Chicago?’ Dean got Gaborik. We were able to put some kids in, go from there, so … ”
Sutter referred to Kings general manager Dean Lombardi’s move to acquire Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the NHL trade deadline March 5.
Marian Gaborik slipped effortlessly into the Kings’ lineup after a March 5 trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets. He clicked almost instantly with center Anze Kopitar and began producing at nearly a point-per-game pace.
Gaborik scored 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 19 regular-season games and he had 21 points, including a playoff-leading 13 goals, in 24 contests before the Kings faced the New York Rangers in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday.
Now the question is how quickly will the Kings move to re-sign the 32-year-old Slovakian?The price could be steep since Gaborik’s last contract, a five-year deal he signed with the Rangers before the 2009-10 season, paid him an average of $7.5 million per season.
Gaborik certainly has proved to be worth every penny of a pro-rated deal that required Columbus to pick up 50 percent of his salary for the final one-quarter of 2013-14 after Kings general manager Dean Lombardi acquired him for Matt Frattin and two draft picks at the deadline.
“You want to be a complete army,” Lombardi said.
The Kings needed scoring.
They went into the playoffs as the lowest-scoring team of the 16 postseason qualifiers, averaging a meager total of 2.42. Thanks in part to Gaborik, they upped their average to a playoff-leading 3.50 going into Game 4 of the Final at Madison Square Garden.
Best of all, as far as the Kings are concerned, Gaborik and Kopitar have formed the dynamic scoring combination that was glaringly absent in what was a popgun offense before the trade. They have played together since Gaborik joined the team for a March 6 game against Winnipeg.
“Darryl stuck with us every since he got with us,” Kopitar said, referring to Kings coach Darryl Sutter. “It is a process, but it seemed like we clicked fairly good and fairly fast. Now it’s time to really bring it, obviously. He’s a big-time player.
“I’m sure it’s hard to come to a different team with different systems and different styles of play. You have to fit in really quick, and I just think everybody helping him out, you try to be in his ear, but at the same time you kind of want to lay off and have him do his thing. I think he’s done a really good job.”
Marian Gaborik played for the Rangers for three-plus seasons and scored 114 goals in 255 games before he was traded during the 2012-13 season to Columbus. The Kings then acquired him this past March 5 from the Blue Jackets.
Gaborik makes his first visit Monday night to Madison Square Garden since the trade, and it was clear Sunday that he was looking forward to it. Above all, he couldn’t wait to hear the roar of the crowd and to get a close-up look at the extensive renovations of the “World’s Most Famous Arena.”
“I don’t think I’ve met or talked to any player who didn’t like playing in the Garden,” said Gaborik, who has a playoff-leading 13 goals in 23 games. “You have extra jump. Everybody has an energy. You want to go out there and play well.”
Gaborik then went on to sidestep specific questions about whether he might have been a better fit in the system employed by current Rangers coach Alain Vigneault rather than the one used by former coach John Tortorella.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Gaborik said. “I don’t think about the past.”
Clearly, however, he has thought of his return to the Garden to face the Rangers.
“I’m grateful to be in my first Final,” he said. “To play the Rangers makes it more special.”
Turns out the Slovakian Marians are good friends from childhood, with Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik living on the same street in their hometown of Trencin during the offseason. Gaborik played as a kid with Hossa’s younger brother, Marcel. Here’s what Hossa said about Gaborik on Monday:
“He is and always was a pure sniper. You give him a little time and he can release it really quick and surprise you. He has an unbelievable shot. And his speed, when he gets going, you must know where he is.
“Especially in the middle zone, he can use his speed extremely well. In one second, he’s behind you and you won’t catch him. You want to make sure you know where he is all the time. … We’ve known each other since when we were really young. My brother (Marcel) was friends with Marian.
“I watched their games. They were three years younger. Marian scored goals, my brother was the passer. We’re neighbors. We live on the same street. We try to do our business on the ice and when everything is over, we’ll go back to our friendship.”
Depth is always a question for the Kings, who rely so heavily on the exceptional playmaking of center Anze Kopitar, who has a playoffs-leading 19 points in 14 games, and winger Marian Gaborik, who has a playoff-leading nine goals. Forward Trevor Lewis and defenseman Alec Martinez have chipped in timely goals, however. The Blackhawks would figure to have an edge in this department. But the Kings continue to impress with their resourceful play during the postseason.
Injuries are a concern for both teams. Defenseman Willie Mitchell did not play in the second round against the Ducks and his participation is uncertain for the series against the Blackhawks, although he has returned to the practice rink. Defenseman Robyn Regehr was injured in Game 1 against the Ducks and his not resumed skating. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville ruled out playing injured forward Andrew Shaw in Game 1, but said he could be back sooner rather than later.
Fatigue could be a significant factor in Game 1 of the series, what with the Kings playing Game 7 against the Ducks on Friday night in Anaheim, traveling on Saturday and then facing off against the Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon in Chicago. The Kings will play twice in less than 48 hours, a tight turnaround. The rest of the series looks less taxing. Game 2 on Wednesday follows two days of rest and preparation. Game 3 at Staples Center also follows two days of rest and preparation.
Goaltending continues to be the Kings’ biggest and most consistent advantage over most teams. Jonathan Quick has played his biggest and most consistent games during the Kings’ elimination games during the playoffs. He is 6-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average, a .957 save percentage and one shutout in six games in which the Kings had to win or be eliminated from the playoffs. That’s pressure netminding and Quick has come through with strong performances against the Ducks and Sharks.
Special teams. Oh, wait, you thought this was about power plays and penalty killing? No, the Kings and Blackhawks are very special teams in every sense of the words. They are meeting in the conference finals for the second consecutive season, the first repeat appearances by the same teams in the Western Conference finals since the Dallas Stars defeated the Colorado Avalanche in 1999 and 2000. In fact, the Kings are back for their third straight West finals appearance.