Hey! Here's a new feature I want to try out. It's quite simple really: I'll try to imagine what could have been. What would have changed if certain things had happened? Today, I'll try to imagine what could have happened to the Wild if Marian Gaborik hadn't broken the heart of a fanbase by deciding to take his talents to the Big Apple. The Wild's first-ever draft choice was undoubtedly the best sniper the franchise has known (Although, Zach Parise will probably try to change that) and he was that big game-breaker that could win a game for the team. Even though not too many people miss him because of how he left, his talent is certainly missed. I'll be analyzing many aspects of the franchise that could have changed, such as team makeup, management, coaching and on-ice results. Keep in mind, there is no way to accurately tell what could have happened, I'm just giving my own point of view.
Now let's take a look at what I think could have happened if #10 hadn't left.
A Mikko Koivu - Marian Gaborik combo
Having Gaborik on Mikko's wing would have given him something he's never had so far: A sniper to feed. Sure, he was able to make Antti Miettinen a 20-goal scorer and he's played with Dany Heatley, who's been brought down a few pegs in the last few years, but he's never really had a bonafide scorer to play with. Playing with Gaborik would've easily made Koivu into the point per game player we all know he could be if he had good linemates. Heck, he got 49 assists with Andrew Brunette and Miettinen as his wingers, he probably could've added at least 5 goals and 10 assists by playing with Gaborik that year. ''Well Sidney Crosby had no problem getting 100+ points with little support''. Right, because everyone's supposed to be as good as Sidney Crosby. What's next? Comparing Mario Lemieux to Claude Lemieux? (Before you rip me a new one in the comments section, I am indeed exagerrating here.)
Also, having Koivu as Gaborik's pivot would have given him something he only tasted once with the Wild when he played one year with Pavol Demitra: A true set-up man. If Gaborik was able to reach 40 goals on a low scoring Wild team playing with Demitra, he probably could've flirted with the 50 goal mark playing with Koivu (provided both were relatively healthy).
If nothing else, it would have spared a scar on the fanbase suffered by watching the Koivu-Havlat fiasco. Yuck.
Martin Havlat/Dany Heatley.
Marian Gaborik staying likely would have meant no Martin Havlat signing, which in turn would have meant no trade for Dany Heatley. No offense to Havlat and Heatley, but Gaborik is the superior one of the three by far. Martin Havlat was a frustrating player for the Wild. Had plenty of talent, but only used it whenever he felt like it, plus he had his share of injuries as well. Heatley is nowhere near the scorer he once was, but at least he's developped a nice two-way facet to his game. Marian Gaborik has staved off the injury bug rather well in New York so far and is a 40-goal player on a low-scoring team (which he also was with the Wild.)
Team build / Contracts
Here is where I imagine the team would have changed the most. Rumor has it GMDR had offered Gaby an 8M a year deal. Let's say he takes that deal as opposed to the Wild getting playmaker Martin Havlat at 5 million at year. In 2009-2010, the Wild spent 55,965,738$, which gave them under a million in cap space. That means that the Gaborik signing would have prevented other signings, such as Kyle Brodziak. It also would have meant they would have needed to make some cap-clearing trades. They may have netted some draft picks, but at the same time, they would have taken a serious hit depth-wise and would have been forced to rush the little number of the young players they had at the time into the league.
In that respect, it's debatable whether the team would have been better off without Gaborik. They may have scored more goals, but the supporting cast would have been seriously lacking. They COULD have gotten more draft picks, which would have lessened the blow, but it's very hard to tell.
Todd Richards/Mike Yeo.
Richards tried to make the Wild a Penguins-like offensive team. Problem with that is he didn't have the tools to do so. What if he had Gaborik though? Would that have made his system a bit more functional? Would the avoiding of the Havlat fiasco have helped? As I mentioned above, Gaborik staying likely would have meant no depth signings, which would have made injuries even worse. Plus, one man is hardly enough to make a system succeed, even though Gaborik could routinely single-handedly win games for the Wild.
Richards' fate would probably have been the same, but I bet he'd have prefered dealing with Gaborik than with Havlat.
What about Mike Yeo? He got about as much praise in the beginning of the season for his well-planned system as he got flak when the system fell apart when he was handed half an AHL team to play it. One has to wonder how well Gaborik would have produced in Mike Yeo's system, considering he's able to score boatloads of goals with little support and a defensive-minded system. You'd think Heatley would have scored more goals, but he got a mix of snake-bite and slight misuse this season, not to mention having to play with AHLers on his line. I think Gaborik could have given the team a few more wins in Yeo's system, but at the same time, not every offensive player flourishes in any offensive system. Maybe Gaborik sucks on offense-heavy teams? We don't know yet.
Chuck Fletcher/The Unmentionable One.
Suppose a certain former GM would have succeeded in getting Gaborik to stay. Would he carry the ''former GM'' tag today? Would it have been enough for him to get to keep his job? You have to wonder. Losing the face of the franchise for nothing has to have played into his firing. Gaborik stays, HWSRN maybe stays, drafting continues to suck, trades continue to make no sense, etc etc etc. Did the Wild actually dodge a bullet here? Seems to me like GMCF is doing an infinitely better job so far. Was losing Gaborik worth getting decent drafting, trading and development? I'd have to think so.
Of course, HWSRN probably wouldn't have lasted 3 more years at the Wild's helm, but by the time he would've gotten the axe, chances are Fletcher wouldn't have been available anymore. Just for fun, let's look at the list of NHL GMs that have been hired by teams after Fletcher was hired by the Wild on May 29th, 2009:
May 31st, 2009: Joe Nieuwendyk (Dallas)
June 3rd, 2009: Greg Sherman (Colorado)
July 14th, 2009: Stan Bowman (Chicago)
February 8th, 2010: Pierre Gauthier (Montreal)
May 17th, 2010: Dale Tallon (Florida)
May 25th, 2010: Steve Yzerman (Tampa Bay)
July 1st, 2010: Doug Armstrong (St. Louis)
December 28th 2010: Jay Feaster (Calgary)
June 8th, 2011: Kevin Cheveldayoff (Winnipeg)
May 2nd, 2012: Marc Bergevin (Montreal)
(I may have missed some)
Of course, nothing guarantees any of these guys would have been free whenever HWSRN left. Some of them already had jobs when CF was hired, and some of them would have had jobs if GMDR had been fired later, but personally, I'm quite happy with Fletcher.
Just think: The Wild could've gotten Jay Feaster. Gross.
Let's say HWSRN stays on board after signing Gaborik. What of Brent Burns? I have no doubt in my mind Burnsie would have loved to stay in Minnesota. Would GMDR have been able to keep him? Would Burns have accepted less money to stay alongside Gaborik and the slightly-better-offensively-than-without-Gaby Wild? That's a pretty big stretch, especially since Gaby would have been way more expensive than Havlat. It's probably safe to say Burns would have left regardless of what would have happened with Gaborik. But hey, we now have Coyle, Phillips, Setoguchi and Suter (to a lesser extent) thanks to Burnsie, so I think the Wild will manage. Of course, I don't think there's a way in hell DR pulls that trade off, so yay for CF.
Here's a stat I found on Wild.com: Wild were 28-2-5 when Gaborik scored a goal since 11/24/07. Pretty amazing considering this is a man who is capable of scoring 40 times in a season. Gaborik damn near got the Wild in the playoffs in his final year with the team (08-09) when he came back from injury for the final 11 games, in which he scored 18 points (10 goals, 8 assists, 7-game, 13-point streak to end the season.) In those 11 games, the Wild were 7-3-1 and missed the playoffs by 3 points. That being said, the Wild have been nowhere near the playoffs in the 3 years Gaborik has been gone and it's very doubtful he would've been enough to get them there. In fact, when you think about it, having Gaborik would only have made the Wild higher in the rankings, hence lower on the draft board. No Granlund (almost certainly), no Brodin (maybe)? *Shudders*. Then again, who knows? As I mentioned above, his contract would have kept the team from getting depth, so maybe he actually makes the team a bit worse and the Wild get better picks?
So between getting agonizingly close to the playoffs (as usual) or getting a bit less close, but getting some better draft choices, I choose the latter, even though I don't believe there's much of a difference between say 8th and 12th.
It has often been said that Minnesota wasn't a prime spot for free agents, especially big-name ones. It didn't help to have an incompetent GM at the helm. Let's say CF gets hired and Gaborik was still on board. The year he would have signed, the Wild wouldn't really have had much space to sign anyone. The Wild really only got some space last year and this year. Looking at some of the names, not many big ones were available, but what if having Gaborik on board drew some of them in? That's really impossible to tell, besides, we don't even really know who's on the team, who would have been drafted, who would have been the GM... Way too many variables that could have made the Wild a cesspool or an eden at that point in time.
That being said, I think you can count the Wild out on the PariSuter sweepstakes with Gaborik still on board. At the very least, their chances would have been much slimmer. Why? I figure if the Wild got Gaborik to sign to a long term, 8 million a year contract, it would have handcuffed them a bit more than, say, Heatley's contract that has two years remaining on it. Also, you'd have to factor in other free agents that could have signed if Gaby had stayed. Maybe Gaby draws in more outside talent over the years? Maybe there's no more roster or salary space for the two? Maybe the future doesn't look as bright? Parise and Suter were a combo, the Wild weren't getting one without the other and I believe Gaby's contract would have made it tougher to get the both of them. I'm not saying it would have been impossible, but the team most likely would have been built a bit differently around Gaby.
It's possible they're the ones most affected by the Gaborik signing. Who would the Rangers have signed instead of Gaborik? There was no one close to his goal-scoring talent available at the time. Would whoever have been signed have been able to draw in Brad Richards? How about Rick Nash? The Rangers also had problems on offense, who would have scored the 40 goals Gaborik brought them? Brandon Dubinsky? Speaking of which, having Gaborik on the first line has to have affected the development of the young players, right? Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider and Brandon Dubinsky have all had a cup of tea with Gaborik, which helped their productivity. Plus, the trickle down effect also gives the rookies less responsibilities right away. It's possible Gaborik benefits the Rangers more than he did in Minnesota.
In the end, there are way too many variables in play to really be able to accurately tell the impact Gaborik's departure made on the team, but it was certainly a franchise-altering choice in more ways than one. Gaborik left a bad taste in the mouths of the fans by admitting he didn't watch Wild games during a playoff chase, injuring himself while fooling around and taking less money to play elsewhere, but he remains one of my favorite players to watch and his 5-goal night is still my top memory as a Wild fan so far. Keep in mind, I became a fan towards 2004, ergo, after the Conference Finals year.
There are many points of discussion in this post and keep in mind I was just spitballing here. I'd like to know what you guys think could have happened. If you disagree with things I've said, don't be pricks about it (You'd think I wouldn't have to say that, but I kind of do.) I don't have a Delorean, I can't go back and do things differently for the Wild. I'd also like to take suggestions for future ''What ifs'' I could take a look at!
As Brian Fallon sang: ''Would we be for better baby, would we be for worse?'' We'll always wonder what could have been, but overall, I think keeping Gaborik actually could have made the team a bit worse in the long run and I'll wager most of us are quite satisfied with the way things are turning out right now, so have a nice career in New York and thanks for the memories, Gaby!