Gaborik deal nothing short of wizardry

Marian Gaborik impressed in the playoffs. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

This is how to win a Stanley Cup and immediately start dreaming of another one.

You watch Marian Gaborik score 14 goals during a remarkable playoff run and then sign him to a cap-friendly contract just days before unrestricted free agency. The seven-year, $34.125-million deal that Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi reached with the Slovak on Wednesday was nothing short of wizardry.

Sure, it was met with a predictable amount of snark and sarcasm in the Twitterverse, but it’s important to step back here and look at the big picture.

Gaborik will now carry a cap hit of just $4.875-million per season. That is Ryane Clowe, Martin Erat and Stephen Weiss territory. Not only is it a manageable number in real time, but it won’t take very long before it lands somewhere around the NHL average with the cap expected to soar past $80-million in the next few years.

Beyond that, the Kings have adopted a win-now mentality and there’s no question that having Gaborik around helps those ambitions. He was reborn after being acquired at the trade deadline from Columbus and is already hooked on the taste of success after winning his first Stanley Cup.

The 32-year-old had seen neighbours Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa bring the trophy back to Trencin, Slovakia in recent years and now gets his chance to do the same. His summer could also have included an even bigger contract elsewhere, but Gaborik and agent Ron Salcer wrapped up negotiations on this deal before even entertaining offers from other teams.

There is no doubt about where his priorities lie right now.

“The No. 1 thing was winning a Cup and just having a chance year after year,” Gaborik explained on a conference call. “It made a lot of sense for me. I know I could have made more money if I would have gone to UFA, but it wasn’t about money.

“I wanted to stay here and be part of a great team.”

No deal should be consummated without at least some consideration about what might happen if things go wrong and Lombardi has done that here. For starters, Gaborik didn’t receive a no-trade clause — leaving Los Angeles as the only team in the entire league that doesn’t have one on the books.

The importance of every new contract on a team’s internal structure can’t be overstated. For example, the main point of criticism the Edmonton Oilers received after giving defenceman Nikita Nikitin a two -year, $9-million deal on Wednesday morning was that it now sets the bar awfully high for future negotiations. That trend can certainly be observed with the second contracts given to Edmonton’s top draft picks in recent years.

But I digress.

What helped the new Gaborik contract come in at a manageable cap number was its structure. He’ll take home $6.075-million for the first three seasons before seeing his pay drop each of the following four. Since the deal was signed under the new collective bargaining agreement, the Kings won’t be subject to cap recapture penalties if he retires early.

This is about as good as it gets for a star player that carries leverage into a contract negotiation. Remember that Gaborik is currently sixth among active NHL players with .43 goals per game during his career, trailing only Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr and Evgeni Malkin.

There is no way he would have signed this type of deal if Los Angeles didn’t make such a strong impression on him over the last few months.

“All along I wanted to stay here and the organization knew it, the players knew it … my agent knew it,” said Gaborik. “Hopefully we can just keep this train rolling.”

The message Lombardi has emphatically sent to the hockey world during the last week is that he believes it can.

The general manager had a heart-to-heart with Mike Richards following the season and elected not to use a buyout on him even though he has six years remaining at a cap hit of $5.75-million per. He also signed depth defenceman Matt Greene to a four-year, $10-million deal.

Now he has Gaborik locked up and has potentially even left himself enough cap space to take care of Dwight King (RFA) and Willie Mitchell (UFA) — the only two members of the recent championship run without contracts.

Basically, the band is being kept together for the foreseeable future. This team has a chance to become a dynasty.

As much as some might worry about Gaborik’s injury history or age — he’ll be 39 when the extension is up — the player himself acknowledged that a long-term deal doesn’t come with complete security.

“You can sign for 10 years or however long and you still can get traded,” said Gaborik. “I was signed for five years (by the New York Rangers) and I got traded and then I got traded again. Any player can get traded.

“Hopefully, we can keep going and hopefully I’ll stay healthy and contribute and play well.”

If that doesn’t happen, Lombardi has left himself some escape hatches. Don’t overlook how tough that is to do with pending UFA’s in this marketplace.

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