Sunday, December 19, 2010

Marian Gaborik: A Star Or Just An Opportunistic Sniper?

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Overall for the New York Rangers things are going well this season with their 20-14-1 good enough for 5th place in the Eastern Conference.  The team has found an identity and used that mentality to battle through injuries to key players at different points of the season.  The season has also seen some players both young and slightly older have breakout starts that few could have foreseen especially in terms of the offensive side of the ice.  All of these things are positives and many of them along with easier negative targets have masked possibly the biggest negative around the Rangers right now which is the fact they cannot get their star offensive player, Marian Gaborik, producing and even more importantly being a factor on a consistent basis.  For the most part Gaborik has gotten a lot of leeway from the fans assuming that he will eventually get going as opposed to other guys who get lambasted each time they screw up and I understand it to an extent based on last season.  Maybe my expectations of Gaborik are too high, but I keep coming back to this question in my mind: Is Marian Gaborik a star or just an opportunistic sniper?

Last season when Gaborik first got to New York many of his goals to start the year were plays where he just seemed to be in the right place at the right time, the puck would just find him and so I called him a “vulture.”  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being that way and it takes a tremendous amount of skill and preparation to be in those positions and cash in on those opportunities.  On the flip side genuine stars are someone that has the ability to take over a game at any moment and can put a team on their back for stretches and will them to victories, players that show up and show out against the best competition and in the biggest games.  Stars whether they put points on the board in a specific game leave an imprint on virtually every game they play.

This year the numbers overall look good when you see 9 goals and 10 assists in 21 games, it would make you wonder why I am even asking this question at all.  Peel back the numbers to see that 10 of those 19 points came in 3 games and the numbers look a lot different at 3 goals and 6 assists in 18 games.  When you are a prolific goal scorer and he has been that over his career to have only scored in 5 of 21 games is worrisome.   There have been a number of reasons given/excuses made for Gaborik so far this year in terms of not having a number one center, that maybe he is hurt and playing through it, that it takes time to get going again after injury and all the rest.  All of them can have some validity, but the one that bothers me most is the crutch of not having a number one center.  The reason that one bothers me is he really has never had a star top center with him his whole career, with Demitra probably being the closest he has come.

There were some signs of what we are seeing from Gaborik after the brilliant start last season.  In his first 39 games as a Ranger Gaborik scored in 32 of them which is amazing and in those games he totaled 26 goals and 23 assists, scoring goals in 21 of them, which are not just star but superstar numbers.  Over the last 37 games his overall numbers were still very pretty in that he totaled 16 goals and 21 assists still a point a game, but the difference was it was more like this season in that he was held scoreless in 21 of those games and only scored goals in 13 of them, while amassing 19 of those 37 points in just 6 games.

For me there is a difference between being a great scorer and being great at scoring in bunches and for the last basically season of games Gaborik has been the latter while being billed as the former.  At the very beginning I saw that star mentality and impulse to tell the team “Hop on my back I am going to carry you,” and right now all I see is a guy who wants out of the spotlight and to glide along.  His stride is not as explosive, his shot is not as quick, accurate or decisive, he has no plan of what he wants to do either on the power play or at even strength and I do not see that same motion from him that was so key in him gaining space early last season.

When I watch Crosby, Ovechkin, Iginla or the like when they are struggling the first thing they do is drive at the net like an NBA player just looking to watch the ball go through the hoop or draw a foul and right now Gabby is content to play on the periphery too much which is making it easy on the defense to defend him.  If he ran a power move just one time on a rush even like Anisimov or Christensen have done in the past few games where you attack the center of the ice and use defenders as a screen it would make him harder to defend and even make them respect that move to let him beat them wide.  Just look at Staal this season as an example of what having to respect the inside can do to a defender as the most trouble he has had has been from guys where he jumped inside and then got beat wide. 

It just has this feel right now that he is a guy who wants to get his points but does not want to do the dirty work and take the hits necessary to do that consistently and that frustrates me because if he is nursing the shoulder or afraid to get hurt again then he needs to sit because he is not helping the team playing scared and I could argue he is hurting it since other players like Dubinsky defer to him and Torts keeps changing the lines with the specific intent of getting Gaborik going.  I also find it interesting and strange that when the initial line changes happen Gaborik responds for a game and then disappears again, so at what point do people stop blaming the guys they put with him or not having the guy he wants in Prospal and stick the onus on Gaborik?

To answer my own question I am finding it harder to believe that Gaborik truly is a star, but believe he is a very talented scorer in the league which the Rangers do need, but I believe the Rangers expected him to be a star when they decided to pay him like he was one.  For all the good that has gone on for the team the first 35 games of this season a lot of it in terms of sustainability, especially in the absence of Callahan is going to depend on Gaborik flipping his mentality back to how it was his first half seen in the red, white and blue.  Like I said it could all be that the expectations are too high, but when you come in as the star, the expectations are for you to be that fair or not.

Hit me with your thoughts.