Rangers Analysis: Should the Rangers be Planning for a Playoff Run Without Marian Gaborik?

It almost sounds like a contradiction in the title; construing such phrases as "playoff run" and "Marian Gaborik" together in the same sentence just begs to be scoffed at. Tonight, as the New York Rangers set to face the division rival Pittsburgh Penguins in a very important first home game back from the break, they will be doing so without Gaborik, who will be missing his sixth game of the season.

He is still listed as being day-to-day (aren't we all?) and the injury being a right knee laceration, which he suffered from a practice a week before the Olympic break, when he jumped over Henrik Lundqvist and caught a skate blade. Now, more than a month later, he is still injured, but it is no longer the laceration that is cause for concern.

Gaborik missed three games before heading to Vancouver to play for Team Slovakia in February, and even missed the first game of the tournament. Although not at 100%, he chose to play on for his team, and played very well. But then he got injured again, this time a groin problem, something which has plagued him his entire career. So now he was injured even more, and yet again he chose to keep playing for Slovakia in meaningless Olympic games.

With the regular season now ready to start up again, Gaborik returned back to New York where he missed the Rangers first game Tuesday night in Ottawa. As exciting as the Olympics were, this is yet another case of a team sending a perfectly healthy star player (save for a cut that was on it's way to healing) only to have that player return injured. If Gary Bettman is looking for any reason to not send NHL players to the 2014 games, this would be one of them.

So now to the actual injury. No one knows how severe it is. The reporters are writing that he could be in the lineup against the New Jersey Devils next Tuesday, but it may be worse than that. Behind the scenes there are those saying that Gaborik may actually need another surgery to fix his oft-injured groin, something that would derail him the rest of the way. If the team announced today that Gaborik would be out for the season, I would not be surprised one bit. Either way, the Rangers will have to play on, whether or not their $7.5 million star forward can play with them.

The Rangers must be prepared that even if Gaborik does return to the lineup at some point this season, that his chances of re-injury will be higher now than at any point in his career up to now. Glen Sather sitting still at yesterday's trade deadline ended up being perfect, because how much sense would it have made to bring in a player to compliment Gaborik without having Gaborik in the lineup?

Fans wanted the Rangers to make a move for a center, or forward in general, that could mesh with Gaborik, but now it definitely appears to be the right move. For the first time since 2001, the Rangers did not swap NHL players in a deal. If Sather thought this team had a great chance of making the playoffs, he would have traded for the sake of trading, and not stood pat. That really says something about the GM that 9 out of every 10 people hate. He showed some restraint, and should be lauded for that.

If Gaborik can not play on it would seem that the season is over, which would make the many people pushing for a "tank movement" happy. But the Rangers are just not going to die and sink to the bottom. They are going to claw their way into a playoff spot. As much as I have criticized them, and as bad as everyone makes them out to be, they really are not that bad. Obviously not having Gaborik will make it hard, but I still say this team scrapes their way into the playoffs; by which time if Gaborik can recover, will be rested and ready to go for a playoff run. But that all depends on his groin, something many of us did not want the fate of the season to rest on.

In retrospect, can anyone honestly seem surprised at this? He has never played a full season in his career and even when he was tearing it up this season, he still seemed to be dogging it. The Rangers have a very tough schedule ahead of them and now is no time to wallow in the sorrows of missing their superstar. They must dig in, put their nose to the grindstone, and find a way to make it to the postseason.