OK, Wild World. We've all had 72 hours (or so) to digest the news about the 'season-ending' surgery to star forward, UFA-to-be -- and resident 3-year-old -- Marian Gaborik.
The question is put to the blogospere:
How should we, as fans, feel about what has transpired? Should we actually feel sorry for poor Gaby, and actually acquiese to him regarding his continuing hip problems? Or should we scream, 'A pox on all your houses' to both sides (player/agent and Wild management) for allowing this situation to degenerate to this childish level of 'he said, he said'? Or should we just let it all go, just say 'F--k it' and get on with the business of rebuilding the remains into something that Wild fans can actually be proud of?
Let's face facts, people. This team as it had been playing was nothing to be proud of. Yes, a better level of talent than in the early years of the franchise (hey, no Sylvain Blouin or Maxim Sushinsky any more) but definitely heading towards the same result -- nights of losses after losses by close scores. 'Moral victories' is the phrase most commonly used.
Well, folks, I don't know about the rest of you. But I am really tired of 'moral victories'. I want real ones.
Yes, they have done better recently, with an OT win vs. San Jose and Saturday night's SO loss to Detroit. But there have been real stinkers, like the nightmarish 3-game swing to Phoenix and Southern California last month. If the Wild had been playing like they should have been, like we've seen they can, they should have won at least 2 of the 3 games on that road trip. As it was, they went 0-fer the road in December, losing all six games. Now, after spending the New Years' Day holiday at home, they start out on the first 4 (of 7 this month) games on the road this week.
My view on Gaborik:
Yes, he is talented. Yes, he probably will be a very good NHL player somewhere. He may not rack up Hall-of Fame numbers, but he will be a very high-quality player, if he can ever get his 'problem' straightened out.
His problem is said to be in his hips. Maybe. But, in my opinion, I think his real problem is between his ears.
If you want someone to pay you the big money, in any line of work, you have to make yourself so invaluable to that organization so as to have them pay you whatever you ask for. To have the employer blow you away with an offer, you have to blow them away with the quality of your work effort.
So far, Gaborik has never really done that with the Wild. He has been the poster child for the tempermental, moody, petulant, egotistical superstar, the 'I'll play when I want to' of the NHL. Last week's grand announcement that he's off to Vail, Colo., for hip surgery really was the last straw, at least for this blogger.
You don't just say 'see ya' when your team is in its' real hour of need. If you suspected that you needed surgery, why didn't you get it done sooner, like this fall, so you could showcase yourself for the trade deadline? You want that big contract? Seven (or more) years of huge paydays?
If you can lace 'em up, you do so. Gaborik admitted himself that he was at 65-70% of normal in the last few games; but 65-70% of something is better than 100% of nothing, and that's what effort Gaborik's giving the Wild right now. Nothing. Except, of course, a pain in the neck which just won't go away.
You want to see how it's done, Marian? Look across the Wild locker room at a real star. Owen Nolan. He didn't wait for doctors to OK him back into the lineup; no 'easing back in' to the players' bench. He went in and told management that he was coming back. And when he came back, he scored two goals in his first two games. He didn't have to shut up. He 'manned up', came back, and played.
No player in a regular NHL lineup right now is playing pain-free. They all hurt. (In case no one told you, that's part of the deal with getting paid the big bucks for playing hockey.) And yet, you sit back, tell off management (again) and say, 'I can't play. I don't feel 100%', et cetera, et cetera.
The fact of the matter is, your 'contract drive' season looks more like a season's worth of the old comedy series, 'F Troop', replete with Doug Risebrough as Captain Parmenter, the post commander, Jacques Lemaire as Sarge and Tom Lynn as Cpl. Agarn. You are the Hakawe Indian chief who always has something to sell. You shoot yourself in the foot every time you turn around. Any NHL team would want you after your track record, right, Gaby? HA!
So enjoy your 'Rocky Mountain high', Gaby. Enjoy stealing money from we Wild fans who had been behind you, at least until now. Does the landscape look good to you up there? I really hope so. Perhaps you can go back there in the summer. Because, again in my opinion only, after this season, your chances of seeing those mountains as anything other than an off-season visitor are approximately zilch.
Larry Brooks, hockey columnist for the NEW YORK POST, said it best about you, Gaby:
"Good luck to you, young man.
Enjoy your time in Russia."
And now, for the other side:
Doug Risebrough and the Wild Hockey Operations staff are just as 'guilty as charged' as His Royal Highness, the Prince of Trencin himself. They should have insisted on this doctor looking at Gaborik in early November, not over the Christmas holidays. Granted, now in hindsight, not signing Gaborik over the summer of 2008 looks like sheer genius. However, the fact that this locker-room cancer has not been either removed or contained shows that little institutional control exists at MSE. To allow one player to run roughshod over an entire NHL organization in this day and age is beyond allowable expectations.
Risebrough should have dumped this guy in the summer. No waiting for the current season to start. He should have rid himself of this problem 6 months ago. And now, we jeopardize a new contract for your starting goalie, Niklas Backstrom, a player who HAS INDEED put up the numbers worthy of a new contract, and has let his play negotiate for him. All they need to do is mention a number.
The fact that Gaborik is not currently on Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), which would allow the Wild salary-cap relief on a temporary basis, so that they could make a trade in order to get some desperately-needed offense, falls directly at the feet of Risebrough. No one else. And please, don't just outright say 'I'm not trading' for the players needed to improve an offense which currently is the second-most anemic in the Western Conference.
As fans, we are tired of 'Dumpster Doug' and trying to nickel-and-dime a playing roster together. You have been given some wonderful, team-building players (Backstrom, Burns, Koivu, Schultz, Sheppard) and you have signed some others (Brunette, Nolan, Miettinen) who are wonderful complimentary pieces. However you also have nearly more dead wood than you have at any time in Wild history right now (Skoula, Pouliot, Johnsson the primary three, in my opinion) and you need to rid this roster of Skoula especially. Although Lemaire thinks that Skoula is the neatest thing sliced sliced bread, he really doesn't deserve a top-4 spot on an NHL roster. He is a defensive liability of the first order (currently a -8) and he has cost the Wild at least one division title (2007) in his 3 + seasons on the Wild roster. Skoula was rated the worst full-time defenseman in the Western Conference last season, and the sixth worst in the entire NHL. 'Dougie Ballgame' really needs to unload Skoula by whatever means necessary that would get the job done and Skoula sent packing.
Skoula sent packing would unload close to $2 million off the books, which with the LTIR to Gaby would mean over $5 million available for an offense that really, really needs a boost. Now.