EDMONTON, ALBERTA - The Wild is close to acquiring a stud goal-scorer, but it's a familiar one.
General Manager Doug Risebrough made it clear this weekend that, in his mind, Marian Gaborik will be the biggest acquisition the Wild makes by Wednesday's trade deadline.
Risebrough said Gaborik, who has played six games all season, is right on schedule in his rehabilitation from left hip surgery. Even if it means the pending unrestricted free agent walks away this summer for nothing, Risebrough said he probably won't trade Gaborik.
"[Gaborik's] further along than we thought he was going to be," Risebrough said. "So, I don't know what that means other than I know it's going to be a big shot in the arm for us when he comes back.
"And that's one consideration when you ask, 'How comfortable are you [with this team]?' I'm planning on [Gaborik returning]."
Problem is, the earliest Gaborik is expected to return is more than two weeks away, so as center Eric Belanger said Saturday, "We better not wait for [that shot in the arm] or we'll be in trouble. We're still in the playoff picture without him. Until he's there, these are the guys we have to do it with."
Gaborik has what Risebrough called a "huge test" today in Vail, Colo., where he'll be examined by his surgeon, Marc Phillipon. If he passes, Gaborik will return to Minnesota, where Risebrough said he'll be cleared to begin practicing with the Wild once it returns from its six-game road trip March 9.
"The test is the end of therapy and rehab; it's the beginning of getting yourself back to playing," Risebrough said.
Before this season, the Wild attempted to sign Gaborik to a long-term extension. He scoffed at the Wild's offers, negotiations stalled and then he got hurt. There has been no communication between the Wild and his agent, Ron Salcer, since.
Risebrough said Gaborik's value to the Wild this season is worth more than he could receive in a trade.
"The reality of it is, I'm not going to be able to acquire a player like that at the trade deadline," Risebrough said. "I think it's important that he can add value to the team right now.
"I get this all the time. People say, 'What happens if you lose these guys [for nothing]?' We lost guys last year [Brian Rolston, Pavol Demitra and others] and that has had no bearing on our season. What's had a bearing on our season is that Gaborik was lost."
Gaborik, who could not be reached for comment, has been in Vail for the past 2 1/2 weeks doing two-a-day therapy sessions.
"His skating, according to [assistant GM Tom Lynn], is higher than [Gaborik] thought it would be in terms of intensity," Risebrough said. "It's not just therapy skating. There's an element of strengthening and conditioning. He's swimming. And he's doing all this at 7,000 feet. This, I think, bodes well for a shorter adjustment between the test and [playing].
"Timing is probably the bigger issue, but that can be accelerated by sticking him in there. ... He even brought it up: 'I'm feeling good. I'm training at 7,000 feet.' That'll have a benefit, there's no doubt about that."
Risebrough is hoping Gaborik will be back in the Wild's lineup by the third week of March.
"I think he's eight weeks, and we thought 10 weeks, and 10 weeks looks pretty good now," said Risebrough.
Ten weeks from Gaborik's surgery is March 16.
That's why coach Jacques Lemaire isn't holding his breath.
"Gaby, I haven't seen him all year," Lemaire said. "I haven't seen him, it's been six months. ... Did you see our [4-1 loss to Calgary on Friday]? Do you think I'm going to think about Gaby right now with the game we had [Friday] night?
"I've got a lot of [stuff] to think about. So I don't have time to think about Gaby."