The Columbus Blue Jackets' hopes of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs would get a major boost if Marian Gaborik's offensive history repeats itself.
Gaborik is riding one of the most pronounced every-other-season stretches in NHL history. In 2007-08, 2009-10 and 2011-12, he's had at least 41 goals, 76 points and a plus-15 rating while missing no more than six games. But those seasons have alternated with 13-, 22- and 12-goal performances during which he's battled injuries and inconsistency.
After an "on" season in 2011-12, in which he scored 41 goals and led the New York Rangers within two victories of the Stanley Cup Final, 2012-13 was one of the "off" seasons. Gaborik underwent shoulder surgery following the Rangers' playoff run, and despite the longer rest due to the lockout, he never found his scoring touch, was a target of criticism from coach John Tortorella and was sent to the Blue Jackets at the NHL Trade Deadline -- waiving his no-trade clause to do so.
Gaborik, 31, gave the Blue Jackets a bit of an offensive boost, scoring three goals and contributing eight points in 12 games during a late-season run that finished just short of a playoff berth. But his willingness to waive his no-trade clause and come to a team that has made the playoffs just once in its history was as impressive to coach Todd Richards as anything Gaborik did on the ice.
"He wanted to come here," Richards told NHL.com. "Adding Gabby [Gaborik] and signing [free agent] Nathan Horton -- it's a sign that we're on the upswing."
Forward Brandon Dubinsky, a teammate of Gaborik's in New York before being traded to Columbus last summer, said the three-time 40-goal scorer was willing to drop his no-trade clause because he could see that the Blue Jackets are an up-and-coming team.
"This place is becoming a destination," he told NHL.com, "and I think Gabby saw that with the guys that we have here. We're glad to have him."
This season, the Blue Jackets will have Gaborik from the start for a full 82-game season, and Richards is eager to see what a healthy Gaborik can do. Gaborik underwent postseason surgery to repair an abdominal injury, but is expected to be ready to go when training camp opens next month.
"We're excited to have him for a full season," Richards said. "We saw a little bit of what he can do last year. To me, what he provided our team was the threat to score. I call him a three-zone player -- he can pick the puck up in his own zone, carry it down the ice and score a goal, whether it's with his speed or his great shot; with his release, because he gets it off so quickly."
At his best, Gaborik is the kind of offensive presence few teams can match -- and one of the toughest players in the NHL to defend against. He's the kind of player whose abilities attract attention from opponents to a degree that it leads to open ice for teammates.
"What I found with him was because of his speed and his danger in the offensive zone, opponents cheat a little more toward him or they cheat a little bit back into their own zone," Richards said. "That creates more space for us, so we can play a better offensive game.
"I saw one game where he was coming in on a defenseman and the player backchecking thought that there was a danger there and went over to help. That freed up somebody else, and [Gaborik] made a nice pass and we ended up scoring a goal. To me, that's what he provides."
And that's exactly what the Blue Jackets need. Columbus was 25th in the NHL in offense last season and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs despite having the Vezina Trophy winner in goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Another big season by the 24-year-old could go to waste and the Blue Jackets' playoff hopes could be doused if Gaborik can't rediscover his scoring touch.
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