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Blue Jackets move on from failed Gaborik experiment

by Craig Merz /

COLUMBUS -- Eleven months after acquiring Marian Gaborik in an unsuccessful bid for the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Columbus Blue Jackets felt their best chance to qualify this season would be increased by getting rid of the talented but underachieving right wing.

Gaborik was traded Wednesday to the Los Angeles Kings for forward Matt Frattin, a second- or third-round pick in the 2014 or 2015 NHL Draft, and a conditional pick in either 2014 or 2015.

In another trade, the Blue Jackets strengthened their depleted defense by acquiring Nick Schultz, 31, from the Edmonton Oilers for a fifth-round pick in 2014.

But the big news was trading Gaborik.

In doing so, Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen admitted the Great Gaborik Experiment did not work out.

Add to that Gaborik's $7.5 million contract and unrestricted free agency at the end of this season, and it was apparent Columbus would move him by the NHL Trade Deadline. Kekalainen said Columbus will pick up a portion of Gaborik's nearly $1.98 million salary for the remainder of the season.

"It became clear to us over the course of the year with injuries and other factors that he was a player who was not going to continue with us after the season, so our goal was to protect the future of the franchise in the best possible way that we could," Kekalainen said.

"We didn't want a player walking into the free agency and lose him for nothing. … We looked at every option out there for a period of time already and this was the best option that we ended up with."

It was Kekalainen who traded center Derick Brassard, right wing Derek Dorsett and defenseman John Moore to the New York Rangers for Gaborik last season on deadline day, April 3.

In 12 games with Columbus at the end of the season he had three goals and five assists, but the Blue Jackets lost the final playoff spot in the Western Conference to Minnesota on a tiebreaker.

Gaborik never got untracked this season due to injuries and not finding a role in coach Todd Richards' defense-first system.

He played in 22 of 62 games and had 13 points (six goals). Ironically, on one of his last shifts for Columbus he earned a secondary assist on a goal by Artem Anisimov with 4:07 to play in a 4-2 win Tuesday against the Dallas Stars.

Kekalainen praised Gaborik's efforts and blamed himself for the trade with the Rangers not working. There were times when Gaborik was unnoticeable on the ice.

"We're a young team. We're a blue-collar team. We're a hard-working team, and he's a finesse, skilled player who wasn't the greatest fit," Kekalainen said. "I'll take responsibility for that. It's my job to make sure the fit is there. At the same time, if I realize I made a mistake I've got to look in the mirror and do the best I can for the organization and move forward and not try to cover my own behind.

"I'm surrounded with people who are very smart and know what they're doing. They gave me their advice, and I try to look regularly in the mirror and make sure I stay honest with what I see there."

What he's seen on the ice is a team that hasn't missed Gaborik. Going into play Wednesday, Columbus (32-25-5) has the second wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals.

Surprisingly, considering Gaborik was acquired to shake up an anemic offense last season, the Blue Jackets are seventh in goals at 2.90 per game.

Anisimov tied his career best with his 18th goal Tuesday and young players including team scoring leader Ryan Johansen (24 goals, 48 points) and Boone Jenner (11 goals) helped make Gaborik expendable.

"We have a good group of forwards. I like our chemistry with our lines. I love the way Artem Anisimov is playing right now," Kekalainen said. "Ryan Johansen's been playing good all year. Boone Jenner seems to be getting better and better.

"That's one of the reasons we felt we could let Marian Gaborik go after this year and not re-sign him. That's been our philosophy all year. We want to see our young guys grow if they get enough opportunity to play. The more opportunities Boone Jenner gets, the better he plays, in my eyes. You want to make sure he gets those opportunities."

In obtaining 26-year-old Frattin, the Blue Jackets are getting a player who will be joining his third team in two seasons. He had seven goals and 13 points for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season before being traded to the Kings, where he had two goals and four assists in 40 games.

The 2011 WCHA Player of the Year for the University of North Dakota has 17 goals and 34 points in 122 NHL games.

"Obviously we didn't get him based on what he's done this year," Kekalainen said. "You can look at his stats and say he's had a bad year and you're absolutely right. He's had a bad year and he'll be the first one to admit it."

Frattin will make $437,500 this season and be a restricted free agent after the season.

"It was a shock to be traded again, but I look at it as a chance to go to Columbus and help any way I can," Frattin said.

Taking some of Gaborik's money off the books allowed the Blue Jackets to fill a need with Schultz, who played for Richards with the Minnesota Wild.

The Blue Jackets lost two defensemen to injury recently and were looking to add a veteran presence.

Fedor Tyutin sustained an ankle sprain during the 2014 Sochi Olympics while playing for Russia and is out indefinitely. So is steady rookie defenseman Ryan Murray, who sustained a lower-body injury during the game Monday at Toronto.

"In the next 17 days we have nine games," Kekalainen said. "Most likely our spring will be decided over these 17 days. We needed insurance. We got a guy who's played in this League a long time."

Schulz, who is in the final year of a six-year contract with an average annual value of $3.5 million and can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, appeared in 60 games with the Oilers this season and has four assists.

He has played 871 NHL games for Edmonton and Minnesota with 27 goals, 145 points and 380 penalty minutes.

Schulz and Frattin are expected to be available when the Blue Jackets play at the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday.

In a minor trade, the Blue Jackets acquired defenseman Matt Taormina and forward Dana Tyrell from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Dalton Smith. Taormina and Tyrell have been assigned to the American Hockey League's Springfield Falcons.

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