Patrick Reusse: Gaborik's departure is no cause for jeers or tears

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 2, 2009 - 11:34 PM

Both the Wild and its injury-plagued star saw an opportunity for change -- and took it.

Marian Gaborik
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Marian Gaborik spent nine years and eight seasons in a Wild uniform, but he's headed for the bright lights of Manhattan now.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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The Minnesota sporting public spends much energy complaining over the loss of standout players with the local pro teams. If you listen to these martyrs long enough, they will raise a hand and count off the departures:

Kevin Garnett. Randy Moss. Johan Santana. Torii Hunter. And now Marian Gaborik.

And then the burdened fan will say, "We don't keep any of our stars."

Garnett played 12 seasons with the Timberwolves, and couldn't help them to the playoffs in his last three.

Moss played seven seasons for the Vikings, and that's as much tolerance for foolish behavior as could be expected from any NFL organization.

Santana was with the Twins for eight years. That's a year longer than Pedro Martinez was with the Boston Red Sox.

Hunter was 17 when he signed with the Twins and 32 when he departed for the Angels. He was the big-league center fielder here for nine seasons.

Gaborik spent nine years and eight seasons with the Wild organization, before signing a free-agent contract on Wednesday with the New York Rangers.

Add it up. These five stars that we like to lament as having inadequate careers here spent 50 seasons laboring for Minnesota's pro organizations.

Not exactly short-termers. And there's no reason to be agitated with either the Wild or Gaborik after this week's events.

The Wild already had received a high dividend from its first-ever draft choice. Gaborik didn't have an official offer from the Wild, so it was an easy decision to take the Rangers' money.

The Wild audience is a kind-hearted bunch by local pro standards, yet it's a good bet that Gaborik will be booed the first time he makes it to Xcel Energy Center as a member of the Rangers.

What the fans won't be remembering on that night will be this: There was one brief run of glory in the Wild's first nine years, and the player making it happen was Gaborik.

The 2003 appearance in the playoffs was the Wild's first, and resulted in stirring seven-game victories over Colorado and Vancouver. Those upsets cemented the team's reputation for resiliency and overachievement, yet the catalyst for it was the extra- talented Gaborik, swift, great hands and 21.

Gaborik had nine goals and eight assists in the 14 games against the Avalanche and Canucks.

Ed Jovanovski, Vancouver's exceptional defenseman, said: "He's definitely a star player. He brings so much out there. He's so quick. His acceleration is phenomenal. He can shoot the puck, to say the least."

Trevor Linden, a veteran Canucks forward, said: "He's a superstar player. He's one of those guys that you try to pay close attention to, but sometimes even that doesn't matter."

The superstar designation turned out to be brief.

Gaborik played 99 of 100 games (counting playoffs) during the 2002-03 season. He had his second sports hernia surgery after the playoffs.

He had only one season that could be considered healthy (77 games and 42 goals in 2007-08) after that. He played 17 games this past season and the Rangers took an extreme leap, offering $7.5 million per year for the next five.

So why get mad at anyone? Considering the injuries, you can't blame the Wild for choosing to spend its money elsewhere, and you can't blame Gaborik for jumping at $37.5 million.

Chuck Fletcher, the Wild general manager, said on a conference call Thursday that he wasn't surprised at the Rangers' offer to Gaborik. "Obviously, Marian is a tremendous player and got a tremendous contract," Fletcher said.

The new general manager has been the recipient of much tribute in his early weeks on the job, yet he could turn out to have blundered in foregoing Gaborik and bringing in Martin Havlat as a scoring forward.

There's only one thing we know for sure that should fire up Wild zealots during this hectic offseason:

The owner, Craig Leipold, decided to shake up his organization because he wasn't satisfied to have a team with one run of glory in nine years of existence.

Marian Gaborik was most responsible for that, but it was six years ago, and not nearly enough to reward him with a $7.5 million slice of the salary cap.

It was time for change -- for the team and the star.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. preusse@startribune.com

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