Top Shelf: Kings GM strikes gold with Gaborik

 

The Sports Network

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - When Marian Gaborik was acquired by the Los Angeles Kings in March, the move barely registered amidst the frenzy of activity at the NHL trade deadline.

It made sense for the Kings to take a flier on Gaborik, a once-great sniper who had fallen on hard times with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but nobody could have guessed it would turn out this well for Los Angeles.

Nobody except Dean Lombardi, that is. With 12 goals through L.A.'s first three playoff series, the trade is looking like another stroke of genius by the Kings general manager.

Back in February 2012 -- a few months before Los Angeles would celebrate its first Stanley Cup title -- Lombardi orchestrated another brilliant trade with the Blue Jackets, prying away a disgruntled Jeff Carter in a move that would do wonders for his team's struggling offense.

With the Kings finding goals hard to come by once again in 2013-14, Lombardi turned to Gaborik for help on offense. The move has paid off in a big way, and if Gaborik can keep it up, he could help down his former team en route to winning a Stanley Cup title.

When Gaborik signed with the New York Rangers in the summer of 2009, he was 27 years old and already had five 30-goal seasons to his credit. While in the Big Apple, the Slovakian sniper eclipsed the 40-goal mark for the second and third times in his career, but he clashed with the Rangers head coach at the time, John Tortorella, and ultimately was pushed out the door during the lockout- shortened campaign of 2013 after posting a disappointing nine goals and 10 assists in 35 games that season.

The trade wound up being an unmitigated disaster for Columbus. The franchise sent Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore to New York, where all three players are key pieces of the Rangers' run to this season's Cup Finals. Gaborik, meanwhile, had nine goals and 22 points while playing in only 34 games for Columbus in parts of two seasons before getting shipped to L.A.

When the deal went down on March 5, the general consensus was if Gaborik could help L.A. win a single game this postseason the price paid to get him would be worth it. Lombardi parted with forward Matt Frattin and a pair of draft picks -- second- and third-round selections this summer -- to pick up Gaborik and it has paid tremendous dividends. Early-round draft picks are valuable to most teams, of course, but the Kings are not a team in rebuild-mode and could easily part with them for a chance to improve their team in the present.

One lingering question was whether Gaborik would clash with Kings old-school head coach Darryl Sutter, who, like Tortorella, places team defense above all else. When Lombardi spoke about the Gaborik trade on Monday, he revealed he didn't share the same fears about his game not translating to Sutter's system.

"That's the one thing about Marian that was very clear -- that he knew what to do defensively," Lombardi said. "He's as smart defensively as he is offensively."

Although Gaborik posted five goals and 11 assists in 19 regular-season games with L.A. after the trade, nobody was prepared for the level of production he's provided in this postseason. In addition to his 12 goals, Gaborik has chipped in seven assists and is among the favorites to win the Conn Smythe if he continues to help the Kings in their quest for a second Cup crown in three seasons.

It hasn't been due entirely to the addition of Gaborik, but the Kings' offensive resurgence in the postseason has been nothing short of remarkable. During the regular season, the Kings ranked 26th in the NHL with 2.42 goals per game, but the club is the highest-scoring team in this postseason with 3.48 goals per contest.

Once again, Lombardi has proven a master at knowing exactly what his team needs and who is the best player available to provide it. Few of us believed Gaborik could recapture his old scoring touch and give this kind of boost to the Kings' offense.

Lombardi did, however, and like the trade for Carter, this move seems once again destined to make the general manager look like a genius.

CARCILLO SUSPENSION REDUCED

Rangers enforcer Daniel Carcillo was presumed to be done for the playoffs, but a successful appeal to reduce his suspension could change his situation.

Carcillo was hit with a 10-game ban for physically interfering with an official in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against Montreal, but Tuesday the league announced the suspension was lowered to six games.

The league initially suspended Carcillo under rule 40.3, which bans the use of deliberate physical force against an official. However, the NHL decided to lower the penalty after hearing Carcillo's appeal and deciding he more closely violated rule 40.4 banning "physical force to an official for the sole purpose of getting free of such official during or immediately following an altercation."

The length of the original suspension meant the Rangers would have had to go seven games with Montreal for Carcillo to be eligible to play in a potential Game 7 in the Cup Finals. Now, the physical forward will be cleared to suit up for Game 4 against the Kings, although there is no guarantee Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault will decide to use him.

Vigneault criticized Carcillo after the incident against the Canadiens, saying "There is no excuse for what happened. Two wrongs don't make a right." With Carcillo set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, the Rangers may have already turned the page on his time in New York.

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