LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Marian Gaborik spent the last few months living at the beach and scoring clutch goals for the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
The star left wing saw absolutely no reason to wake up from his dream life with the Los Angeles Kings.
Gaborik agreed to a seven-year deal Wednesday to stay with the Kings, passing on the financial possibilities of unrestricted free agency to stay with the champs.
“I know I could get maybe more money if I would have gone to free agency, but it wasn’t about money,” Gaborik said. “I wanted to stay here and be part of a great team.”
Los Angeles acquired the Slovak scoring machine from Columbus on March 5, and he was an immediate hit. Gaborik scored 16 points in 19 regular-season games before leading the NHL with 14 post-season goals during the Kings’ run to their second title in three years.
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi struck a long-term deal before Gaborik became a free agent next week. Gaborik’s contract is worth roughly $34 million, likely less than a seven-time 30-goal scorer would have commanded on the open market.
The 32-year-old Gaborik was coy about his future during the Kings’ draining playoff run, saying he would make those decisions after the season. Away from the public, Gaborik had clearly formed a plan.
“All along I wanted to stay here,” Gaborik said. “The organization knew it, the players knew it, everybody knew it, my agent knew it. I believed we could get it done.”
Playing on the Kings’ top line alongside centre Anze Kopitar and captain Dustin Brown, Gaborik scored 22 points in 26 post-season games with the Kings before raising the Stanley Cup for the first time in his 13-season NHL career.
Gaborik’s 14 goals were one shy of Wayne Gretzky’s franchise post-season record. He repeatedly scored in important situations for the Kings, including the tying goals late in two Stanley Cup finals games and in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals against Chicago.
Gaborik filled an enormous need for the Kings, who acquired him in a bid to boost one of the NHL’s least productive offences. Gaborik’s goal-scoring talent fit perfectly with Kopitar, one of hockey’s top playmakers, as the Kings improbably became the highest-scoring team in the playoffs.
“To play along Kopi, probably one of the top centres in the league, just the way we clicked pretty quickly was great,” Gaborik said.
Gaborik also showed a willingness to play responsible defensive hockey in coach Darryl Sutter’s system, which further endeared him to his fellow Kings. He was embraced after the club acquired him for Matt Frattin and two draft picks, even moving into fellow ex-Columbus forward Jeff Carter’s home near the beach.
Gaborik clearly loves the Kings’ lifestyle along with their playing style. He recently posted a series of photos on Instagram showing him celebrating at the Pacific Ocean—running down the beach, lifting the Cup over his head while shirtless in the surf, and helping his girlfriend drink champagne from the trophy while his mother laughed in the background.
“I knew right away: Great group of guys, great team, great fans, and obviously being in a great environment in terms of lifestyle and everything,” Gaborik said. “That made a lot of sense for me. The No. 1 thing is winning a Cup and having a chance year after year, going into these games and having a chance to win every game.”
The Kings are the fourth NHL team for Gaborik, who mostly met enormous expectations while playing for the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild. But the three-time NHL All-Star has struggled with injuries in the past two seasons while getting traded twice.
Gaborik has scored 704 career points, and he ranks 13th among active players with 347 goals, including three 40-goal seasons. He is a two-time Olympian for Slovakia, but missed the Sochi Games with an injury.
Just as it did in 2012, Los Angeles’ championship team will return nearly intact in the fall. The Kings re-signed defenceman Matt Greene to a four-year contract on Tuesday, and their only significant unrestricted free agent is veteran defenceman Willie Mitchell.
The Kings have several long-term contracts on their books, yet Lombardi has scarcely made an inaccurate move in the last five years while building his two-time champions.
“To be a part of this, I’m pretty happy about it,” Gaborik said. “Hopefully we can just keep this train rolling.”