A column of opinions, some facts and an occasional rant from the Wild Road Tripper (WRT)
The next two weeks should be -- should be -- very interesting.
The question is, however: How will fans react as the process unfolds?
Will Minnesota Wild fans actually care if Marian Gaborik, the top unrestricted free agent in a lot of minds, actually does leave the only franchise he has ever played for in North America? Or, will Wild fans actually feel relief that the two-season saga of Gaby's free agency is finally past them, regardless of whether or not he re-signs with the Wild or (Oh, My!) joins his BFF, Pavol Demitra, in Vancouver?
And, what about the Wild roster? Some say it is in dire need of a complete rebuild; others say all it needs is minor tweaking. In any case, the face of this franchise will indeed change between now and the start of training camp in early September. Owner Craig Leipold has willed it so, espcially with the resignation of Jacques Lemaire and the termination of Doug Risebrough following the now-infamous 'Managed Expectations' remarks at the Lemaire presser.
And what of the new regime? New GM Chuck Fletcher needs to make a splash in order to let the rest of the NHL know the old Habs era in St. Paul is, indeed, dead; and Todd Richards, this year's wunderkind coach prospect, will have to deal with pulling together a roster populated with men who, until now, were disciplined if they showed any offensive creativity whatsoever, regardless of the result.
I'm really not sure what to think of all this. To be honest, I'm of the 'I'll believe it when I see it' school. Until now, Fletcher and Richards have publically said all the right things, have done the right moves -- including the dismissal of DR's former assistant, Tom Lynn (a move for which few Wild fans shed tears over after it was announced) and numerous press interviews (a 180-degree opposite of the DR regime and their 'We know what we're doing, why do you question us?' attitude which earned Risebrough the derisive nickname 'Smug' in later seasons).
As for Gaborik, hockey's most petulant superstar forward, when he can show anyone in hockey -- anyone -- that he can hold up to an entire season's grind without missing major portions of said season due to injury, his value will sharply rise, and he will be paid as one of the top 20 players in the world. Until then, he will have to bide his time, work on his game, and hope that someone will take a flyer on him. The Wild are willing to, within reason, take that chance. Reportedly, a $7M/year offer is on the table; for how long may be the major stumbling block. I'm not sure that many other teams (most of whom cannot fit Gaborik under a shrinking salary cap) can even afford to sign one player for that kind of money. The Wild are one of the few teams that can. And, with the new style 'ramped-up' offense being inserted, this team has unlimited potential for Gaborik to thrive in.
Having said all that in favor of Gaborik staying, here's the reasons that Gaborik will go:
A new start may just do Gaborik good. It has, again, been reported that Gaborik has not been happy during his time in Minnesota, primarily due to the money issue, but that the contentious nature of his relationship with the now-departed Risebrough has not endeared him to Wild staff members, most notably the hockey operations staff. His 'me, me, me, it's all about ME' attitude, not normally prevalent amongst NHL players, has not exactly endeared him to his teammates nor Wild fans, either.
The rancorous nature of the negotiations up to April 16, the date of DR's dismissal -- where Gaborik's agent (Ron Salcer) would not even talk to DR, even though that both were only 10 feet apart at a Wild practice session -- is also a point of contention. When Salcer's local contact person gets permanently ejected from the locker-room level of the Xcel Energy Center due to an ongoing argument between that person and DR, all players who Salcer represents (Gaborik, Brent Burns, Nick Schultz and Derek Boogaard) must sit back and take notice.
Gaborik might be happier as the focal point in, say, a post-Sedin Vancouver playing alongside his BFF, Demitra, although if anyone thinks the press in Minnesota is bad, the fourth estate in Vancouver is ten times worse. Every Canuck practice is covered by both print and electronic media, and no, you can't pull a DR and permanently close practices to everyone in Vancouver.
Gaborik may just wind up in La-la land, when the Kings need to make a big splash (even more so since the two teams they most directly compete with for sports entertainment dollars -- the Anaheim Ducks and the NBA's LA Lakers -- both recently won titles) and Kings' owner Phil Anschutz, playing with all the money in the world, can afford to sign Gaborik and place him along Anze Kopitar, the Kings' home-grown superstar center who is in desperate need of someone to play alongside of.
So, there's the quandry. Does Gaborik go, or does he stay and enjoy the new 'unleashed expectations' of the new look Wild, a look that was basically created for him to thrive in?
I really don't know what to think right now...