COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Los Angeles Kings have struggled to score goals all season, and few NHL players do it better than a healthy, hungry Marian Gaborik.
The Kings hope that’s just what they’ve got after acquiring the Slovak scoring whiz from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday.
The Blue Jackets got right wing Matt Frattin and two conditional draft picks for Gaborik, who’s finally healthy after an injury-plagued season.
Just as Jeff Carter did two years ago when he left Columbus for Los Angeles in a deadline deal, the Kings hope Gaborik fits right in on their defense-minded roster. He could be in the lineup in Winnipeg on Thursday for the Kings, who have won five straight to solidify their playoff position.
“We’re a very good team, but if you’re looking at what you could add to the mix, I guess it’s fair to say it’s a player who can make something out of nothing with his speed and ability,” Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said. “You want to make sure your team has all the weapons necessary, and I think this is one weapon we were lacking.”
Lombardi has been circling Gaborik for two months, eager to add one of the NHL’s most gifted goal-scorers to an outstanding defensive team that has scored just 152 goals in 63 games. While the Kings have allowed a league-low 134 goals, Los Angeles’ offense was even more stagnant than usual before the Olympic break, managing just 21 goals in the final 14 games.
Gaborik, who turned 32 on Feb. 24, has three 40-goal seasons in his career and seven 30-goal seasons. Although his finesse and skill don’t immediately seem to be an ideal fit with the hard-nosed, defense-minded Kings, Lombardi is confident Gaborik can mesh at both ends of the ice.
“There’s very few players that are capable of doing what he does in his game,” Lombardi said. “There was a very short list for us, and one of the reasons we initiated discussions is he’s one of very few people we thought would be available.”
Although Gaborik will be a free agent after the season, Lombardi is optimistic he can lock up the speedy forward before he hits the market, saying Gaborik already has indicated strong interest in sticking with the Kings.
Gaborik was making $7.5 million a year for the Blue Jackets, who are paying half of his $1.9 million in remaining salary. The Jackets also landed what’s likely to be a second-round pick and a third-rounder if the Kings win their first-round playoff series or re-sign Gaborik.
“Our goal was to protect the future of the franchise in the best possible way that we could,” said Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, saying it had been apparent for a while that Gaborik would not re-sign with the club. “We’re a young team, a blue-collar team, a hard-working team. And he’s a finesse, skilled player that wasn’t the greatest fit. I’ll take responsibility for that.”
Gaborik has missed games with a sprained knee and a broken collarbone this season, limiting him to just six goals in 22 games and keeping him out of the Olympics. Gaborik is healthy for the stretch run, playing in Columbus’ last four games.
Frattin has two goals and four assists in 40 games during his only season with the Kings, who made him a healthy scratch in eight of the last 10 games. His last appearance was on Feb. 6 — against the Blue Jackets.
Both clubs are currently in the playoff picture, but had differing needs for the stretch run.
The Blue Jackets, down two of their top defensemen, needed cap space to possibly make more deals, and to unload a player who could leave without compensation after the season. Columbus is tied for third in the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division with 69 points (32-25-5). The Jackets hold the final playoff qualifying spot after winning their last three.
On Feb. 23, 2012, the Kings acquired Carter for defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick. With Carter adding a jolt of offense, the Kings went on to barely make the postseason but then rampaged through the playoffs to win their first Stanley Cup.
There’s a danger that could be the case again, with the Blue Jackets dealing a proven player to a contender — albeit in the other conference this time.
“He could go to L.A. and be the missing piece for them and take them to the Stanley Cup,” Kekalainen said. “Who knows?”
Gaborik was acquired by the Blue Jackets from the New York Rangers in a draft-deadline deal a year ago. He was the highest-paid Columbus player, and the sides had not really discussed a new contract, with Gaborik hurt most of the season and the Blue Jackets holding out hope he might come on strong late.
“This guy, when he’s on, is one of the hardest guys in the league to play against,” Lombardi said. “He’s very difficult to defend, and you have to be cognizant of him on the rink all the time.”
Gaborik has 342 goals and 346 assists in 791 career games with Minnesota, the Rangers and the Blue Jackets.
Frattin was a disappointment in his only season with the Kings, who acquired him in a trade for touted goalie Jonathan Bernier.
“He can shoot the puck,” Kekalainen said. “Obviously, we didn’t get him based on what he’s done this year. He’s had a bad year. He’d be the first one to admit it. He’s a gritty player. I think he’ll fit our style of play.”