Each week, to make up for our appalling lack of hockey coverage, commenter Rocket will write about the NHL and pretty much anything else he pleases in this space. Please do enjoy. Rocket?
*Hocku of the Week*
The Minnesota Wild
Still suffer under
Marian Gaborik’s yoke
*Too Good to be True*
Sometimes sports produces the strange circumstance where a player’s immense talent far outpaces the player’s worth. Such a player can cripple a franchise. Minnesota has a propensity for attracting these players.
Some clarification is in order. I am not referring to bad contracts. Certainly those are difficult and can harm a team. However, I am referring to those circumstances when a supremely talented player produces three coterminous repercussions:
1) The player becomes the face of the franchise, a disproportionate fan favorite, and/or carries the hopes and fate of the franchise.
2) The player is unable and/or unwilling, for whatever reason or reasons, to carry the burden of those responsibilities.
3) Regardless of the player’s inability to handle those burdens, the franchise keeps investing in the player and hoping that the player lives up to the expectations that the player’s talent has produced (often to an absurd point).
As noted above, Minnesota seems to have a propensity for attracting this type of athlete. The Vikings suffered through two prominent examples just this last year. First, for all of the positive energy and excitement he brought in 2009, Brett Favre brought just as much negative energy in 2010. He seemed to invigorate everyone involved – players, coaches, management, fans, the media – when it was still a mystery as to whether he would unretire from the Jets and play for Minnesota. But when we all knew that he was coming back in '10 and he still hemmed and hawed and still received a pay raise for skipping training camp it started what was to be a terrible season on a sour first step. Second, the Randy Moss experiment was a short, explosive example of what happens when a team believes too much in a player’s talent. Moss had already provided a questionable talent/worth ratio during his first stint with the team and didn’t even try to live up to the hype during the second go-round.
And yet, neither of those two examples is the most egregious in Minnesota sports history. The worst of them all in this market belongs indirectly to Kevin Garnett and more directly to Joe Smith. KG was a great player but he clearly couldn’t do it all himself, yet was forced to try to do it all himself because of the illegal contract that Smith and the Wolves signed. The illegal contract destroyed any ability for the franchise to make any moves or improve itself for at least a half a decade – which happened to coincide with KG’s prime years.
Unfortunately, in 2004 a mathematician at the University of Minnesota tried to calculate Joe Smith’s talent/worth ratio. It left him and his cat insane when the only number he could come up with was “i."
What does this have to do with hockey? Well, it has to do with hockey because the Wild suffered through a long stretch with just such a player – a player who is exacting the same fate on a new franchise and who has not received enough blame for the mess in which the Wild find themselves.
Much like Favre and Moss with the Vikings and Smith with the Timberwolves, Marian Gaborik has so much talent that he essentially held the Wild hostage for his time in Minnesota. Gaborik was, by far, the most talented player to ever put on a Wild uniform and he did have his share of success. But his eight-year career in Minnesota was checkered at best. After the lockout he was a truly productive goal scorer when he played. The problem was that he did not play a lot. He was consistently injured and often clashed with head coach Jacques Lemaire.
Lemaire constantly questioned Gaborik’s effort, particularly on the defensive end of the ice and when Gaborik left for the New York Rangers as a free agent nobody was particularly surprised.
Why bring up old news? For two reasons. First, Gaborik is at it again. New coach John Tortorella offered a thinly veiled criticism of Gaborik’s effort in what has been a lackluster season for the forward.
Second, considering this, is it possible that some were a little too quick to blame Lemaire for playing a “boring” style of hockey? The franchise basically blew itself up the summer Gaborik left. Lemaire stepped down and General Manager Doug Risebrough was fired. While the new regime has shown some promise (after a rocky start) can we say that the franchise is in any better shape than it was two years ago? Were we all duped by Gaborik’s whining into believing that the game had passed Lemaire by? Does our opinion of the fate of the Wild change now that it is increasingly clear that Gaborik is one of those players whose talent outpaces his worth?
Some players are just too good for who they are. They have the capability to severely cripple a franchise (Hello, LeBron!) despite the franchise’s willingness to bend over backwards for the player. Marian Gaborik is one of those players. It is time for the hockey lovers in the state of Minnesota to acknowledge him as the villain he is and for the consequences he has wrought on the local NHL team.
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