NEW YORK – Once the New York Rangers got out from under Scott Gomez’s expensive contract, they turned to Marian Gaborik and gave him the money they suddenly saved.
One day after trading Gomez and the five years and US$33.5 million left on his contract to the Montreal Canadiens, the Rangers signed the 27-year-old Gaborik away from the Minnesota Wild with a five-year, US$37.5-million deal.
“He is an exciting guy to watch play,” Rangers general manager Glen Sather said Wednesday night. “He can skate and does a lot of great things. He’s a great player and he’s young. I certainly think he’s in the top 10 in this league.”
Gaborik was the only remaining player from the Wild’s original team, and was the club’s first draft pick nine years ago. He is the Wild’s career-leading scorer.
After netting a career-high 42 goals in the 2007-08 season with the Wild, he was limited to 17 games last season due to injuries. He still managed to score 13 goals in that span. Gaborik has scored at least 30 goals in five of his eight NHL seasons.
Sather said the Rangers talked with doctors who performed Gaborik’s hip surgery that kept him off the ice most of last season. The doctor is confident he’ll be back in top shape in New York.
“He is very healthy,” Sather said. “Mario Lemieux had the surgery that he had. We don’t expect that there are going to be any problems.”
Offence was a big problem for the Rangers last season and led to their first-round playoff elimination against Washington when they blew a 3-1 series lead. Only the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference scored fewer regular-season goals than the Rangers’ 210.
New coach John Tortorella, who took over for the fired Tom Renney in February, lamented the lack of scoring punch in the postseason and plans to fully implement a hard-charging attack next season.
Gaborik is now at the forefront of the Rangers’ offence. He already proved he could score under the defensive-style system run by former Wild coach Jacques Lemaire.
“Gaborik played under that system and he’s got almost a point a game,” Sather said. “He’s been very productive, so it’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how he does with Tortorella’s system.
“As Torts has described, we’re going to have a very uptempo, speed game. This guy fits the bill to a T.”
The Rangers had a complex day Wednesday as they juggled several scenarios.
They had discussions with Ottawa, which was looking to trade disgruntled forward Dany Heatley. When a deal couldn’t be worked out there, Sather completed negotiations to land Gaborik, for the same money that would have gone to Heatley.
“We had to wait until today before we talked to Gaborik, but I had a pretty good idea that he was interested in coming to New York,” Sather said. “It took us a long time to get the deal done, but we’re very happy and excited that we got him signed.
“There was more balls than that in the air, but Gaborik was the guy that we targeted from the beginning.”
The Rangers moved quickly earlier in the day to sign enforcer Donald Brashear away from the Washington Capitals. Colton Orr, who previously served that role in New York, agreed to a four-year deal with Toronto on Wednesday.
Brashear led the Capitals with 119 penalty minutes, and had one goal and four points in 63 games. In 989 career games with Montreal, Vancouver, Philadelphia and Washington, Brashear has 85 goals, 204 points and 2,561 penalty minutes.
“We think that Brashear gives you a couple of other things,” Sather said. “He’s quicker, he can get in on the puck a little faster, and under the style of game that we’re going to be playing, we just think that he’s going to be a little more effective for us.”
Brashear was suspended by the NHL for a total of six games – five for a “blind-side hit” on Rangers centre Blair Betts – during the teams’ first-round playoff series.
Sather doesn’t think it will be a problem bringing Brashear into the Rangers’ dressing room.
“No, I think our players will be excited to have him,” Sather said. “They know he’s going to be the man. It’s a tough job to do, and he’s a tough guy and he’s very capable of doing it.”