NEW YORK NY - JANUARY 19: Steve Eminger #44 of the New York Rangers and Marian Gaborik #10 celebrate Gaborik's hat trick goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden on January 19 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Ah, the curious case of Marian Gaborik. After having a career year in his first season with the Rangers in 2009-10, the bar was set very high for the Slovakian Sniper heading into 2010-11. Unfortunately, an inexplicable transformation occurred between the two seasons and Marian, now re-named to the "Slovakian Slacker", did not find the net as easily as he did the prior season when he scored 42 goals in 76 games. Actually, that is probably putting it lightly since he lit the lamp twenty less times this year as opposed to last. Gaborik went from king to peon, and that didn't go over very well with the fan base.
Gaborik missed a fourth of the season due to injury, only playing in 62 of the team's 82 games. An injured shoulder in October and then a concussion in February kept him out for a total of twenty games, so whether you want to put the blame on being out of the lineup for Marian's drop in production is up to you, but personally, I don't believe it was the time spent out of the lineup with injury that affected him. It was the time he spent in the lineup with injury that gave him problems, and although neither he nor the Rangers actually ever came out and confirmed it, I think it was quite evident that Gabby was playing through an injury for most of the season.
We won't get into speculating what that injury was or anything like that, because that would just be wasting time. But clearly Gaborik did not have the same explosiveness in his stride nor the same lightning wrist-shot he did last season. That doesn't just happen because of a "lack of motivation" or a "hollow heart" like so many claimed. There was something more to it, but we were never told exactly what.
Others blamed head coach John Tortorella's system for Gaborik's flimsy 22 goals and 48 points this season, and I think that certainly had something to do with it. Gaborik is a player that thrives on creativity and puck possession in the slot area. That is where he excels since he has that quick snap-shot that is extremely difficult for a goaltender to stop when it is coming from in close. But this year Tortorella implemented a grinding system where the puck possession took place along the boards and in behind the net, instead of right up the gut, and as Marian stated himself, it did not compliment his game.
In this system, Gaborik didn't have the puck as much, there were less scoring opportunities presented to him, and most of all there was not much room for him to create. There was only one offensive approach on this team and that was to earn the "dirty" goals. There really were no other options and for Gaborik, someone who likes to score the "pretty" goals, it gave him some trouble adjusting to.
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Obviously there were many things factoring into Marian's struggles this season, but the bottom-line is that he did not give the Rangers what they needed. Now you may claim that 20-plus goals scored is not all that bad, but when you take a deeper look into his season statistics, you realize that it actually is.
For example, of the 62 games Gaborik played in this season, he only scored in 14 of them. That is about a 23-percent scoring rate, when in 2009-10 he found the back of the net in 46-percent of the games he played in. Ironically, that is exactly double, or half depending on the way you look at it.
Also, when you take into consideration the games he scored 3 goals or more in this season, you will find that 10 of his goals were scored in just three different games. 11 of his 22 goals were scored in just four different games, which means half of his season tallies came in only 6-percent of the games he played in.
Yes, I was a bit calculator happy when writing this piece, but hopefully it gives you a better idea of just how much of a decline in scoring there was for Gaborik from one season to the next.
I will say this about Gaborik, though. He played better towards the end of the season, and I think it was because he was feeling better overall. He looked healthier out there, as his skating was improved, he controlled the puck more and also was looking to take the shot often. This also was the case in the playoffs, despite the fact that he finished with only 2 points in five games and also helped the Capitals win Game 4 in double overtime. This should give him the slightest bit of hope for the next season, if anything at all.
While Gaborik works in the offseason to guarantee better production in 2010-11, GM Glen Sather will also be working the phones to try and give his most talented forward a little help up the middle. The organization as a whole is confident they will reel in a center for Gaborik over the summer, specifically unrestricted free agent Brad Richards, so we can only pray that also makes an impact on Gaborik for next year.
At the end of the day, this was a season Gaborik will want to put behind him and forget. For a $7.5 million player, 22 goals is not going to cut it, especially when we've seen what he is capable of doing the year before. He was a major disappointment this season, and even more so because we had such high hopes for him going in. But just as Marian should, we should put this behind us and look towards a better performance next season. Gaborik still has three years remaining on his contract with the Rangers, and the best-case scenario for him at this point would be if this past year is his worst on Broadway.