ST. PAUL, Minn. - With training camp set to open Saturday, the Minnesota Wild still have one glaring item remaining on their summer to-do list.
Marian Gaborik's future - ideally signing him to a long-term contract extension, or else consummating a trade to avoid losing him to free agency next year for no compensation - must be determined soon. General manager Doug Risebrough stopped short of declaring a before-the-season deadline for resolution, but he said he expects the situation to come together fast, one way or another.
"It'll become pretty clear pretty quickly," Risebrough said.
After recently signing defenceman Nick Schultz (six years), forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard (five years), centre Mikko Koivu (four years) and defenceman Brent Burns (four years) to extensions, the Wild have identified the young core they plan to move forward with. That's a good group, but it's missing a big piece, one the Wild are eager to add.
Gaborik's agent, Ron Salcer, is scheduled to travel to Grand Forks, N.D., early next week for a second face-to-face meeting with assistant general manager Tom Lynn to continue their negotiations. The Wild will practise in North Dakota for four days before returning to headquarters in St. Paul for their first exhibition game Wednesday.
Risebrough and Lynn travelled to Slovakia to talk with the 26-year-old Gaborik last month, selling him on the notion he can be one of the NHL's most prolific scorers if he stays healthy - even in a defence-first system under coach Jacques Lemaire.
"He wants to win and he wants to be a premier player in the league, and I'm glad I heard that," Risebrough said.
The Wild believes Gaborik can be happy here, but the problem is he has the leverage with one year left on his current contract at US$7.5 million. They've created enough salary cap space to devote to a multi-year deal and are willing to pay him a market price.
But if he has another 40-goal season - or more - that average annual value will only go up. It might be tempting for Gaborik to wait and see what he can get when several teams are bidding for his services.
"We want to make it as productive as possible in working toward a common goal," Salcer said this week. "We're very willing to explore all options that are available to Marian.
"He's got a contract for one more year, which we're going to honour, and we'll see what happens from there."
So, as Minnesota sports fans certainly remember from last winter when the Twins traded Johan Santana to avoid losing him as a free agent, the possibility of dealing Gaborik certainly exists.
"I'm not going to comment about a time frame," Risebrough said. "The picture is pretty clear about what we're trying to do, but I'm not going to say when it has to be done."
Not signing him and not trading him would create a potential lame-duck status and subsequent distraction.
"The only player that could be distracted is the guy involved," Lemaire insisted. "Gabby will have to make a decision, sooner or later, and he's going to live with that decision.
"So I don't see any worries there. If he wants to wait, that'll be his decision, and he's got to live with it.
"He wants to be part of this team for a long time; again, he's going to take that decision and he'll live with it. Coaching staff and other players, we just try to do our job. This is out of our hands."
After an informal skate-around with several teammates earlier this week, Gaborik shed little light on his feelings.
"I'm excited for the season to start. I want to get ready for the season, and I'm not thinking about it," Gaborik said. "I'm going to have fun, enjoy it, and just try to get ready."
Ditto for his teammates.
"It's none of our business," said forward Andrew Brunette, who will be one of at least eight new players on the 23-man roster this season. "It never comes up.
"It's something he's going to take care of on his own. I think we're all familiar with the situation, and we've just got to play. That's our job, and we do it. I'm sure it'll work itself out."