What Gaborik's return means for him, Wild lineup

December, 17, 2008
Can you believe it? Wild winger Marian Gaborik might actually play in tonight's tilt against the visiting Flames. The Slovakian sniper has been sidelined by a "lower-body" injury that has caused him to miss 27 of the club's 29 games. Gaborik's long-awaited return won't come a moment too soon for the Wild, who are mired in a five-game losing streak. In that span, Minnesota has generated just five goals. Five goals in five games. Not a lot of offense.

To make matters worse, the Wild lost all five games in regulation, failing to earn a single point. If Gaborik does play, I wonder if Wild coach Jacques Lemaire will move versatile Brent Burns back to the blue line. In recent weeks, Lemaire has been using Burns as a forward (he played forward during his junior career). At this level, he has blossomed into a top-pair defenseman. Logically, Gaborik's return should mean Burns will move back. We'll see.

Wild GM Doug Risebrough needs Gaborik to stay healthy for two important reasons. First, the Wild are better with Gaborik in their lineup. Second, injured players usually have no trade value. As you've no doubt heard, Gaborik will likely be dealt if he can't come to terms on a new contract before the March 4 trade deadline. I wonder if the downturn in the economy will impact the negotiations between Gaborik and the club. We'll see.

The end is near
By most credible accounts, the league's longest current running soap opera, the Mats Sundin free-agency tour, is coming to a close. The word around the rinks is Sundin has whittled his choices down to the Canucks and Rangers. That's a choice between a big pile of money (Canucks) and a lesser pile of money (Rangers). You know we're in a salary-cap world when the Canucks are positioned to offer more money than the Rangers.

On Saturday, I happened to walk right into the man of the (many) hour(s) outside Madison Square Garden before the Rangers-Hurricanes game. He went to the game to fulfill a promotional obligation. Sundin also took the opportunity to chat with Rangers GM Glen Sather.

While I have no inside knowledge on this one, I just have a feeling he'll end up in New York. I mean, the Canucks have been offering the most money for quite a while now. If he wanted to go there, he could have done it months ago. Plus, if he goes to Vancouver, he'll be submitting himself to a significant travel schedule.

If Sundin does opt for the Rangers, they'll have to make some roster adjustments to accommodate him. The club probably can clip just enough cash off the cap to make it work ... as long as our man Mats is willing to take the lesser offer. Stay tuned for the long-awaited conclusion (yawn).

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.



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