Fans of the New York Rangers are a fickle bunch. Many get on coach John Tortorella’s case for his choices and seeming playing of favorites (i.e., why it always seems to be the same four or five guys who ride the pine for their errors on a team where pretty much no one not named Rick Nash seems to be without them lately), but by and large, the fans are no different. One of the players both the coach and the fans seem to be especially hard on is the Blueshirts’ only bona fide sniper, the Slovakian Rocket himself, Marián Gáborík.
Has Gáborík been lighting the lamp as often as we would like this season? Absolutely not, although to be fair, it seems the only Ranger surpassing goalscoring expectations right now is streaking Swede Carl Hagelin. But the Gáborík trade rumors surfacing - as well as the fact that some fans I have been in contact with seem to think the Rangers a) might be better off without him, or b) could somehow replace him without giving up half the team, are distressing.
Do these people – including Tortorella, who seems all too willing to make an example of Gáborík by sitting him, usually at dreadfully inopportune moments – realize what they have in Gabby? First and foremost: he is a true NHL sniper, undoubtedly one of the best skaters in the league, with a speed burst few can match. Hagelin, as an example, may be faster than Gabby, and his work ethic is highly admirable, but the overall package that Gáborík offers is one that Carl Hagelin, for all his gifts and hard work, is simply unable to match.
In Gáborík we have one of the league’s true elite, but without a trace of the prima donna behavior – on or off the ice – that mars the reputations of so many skill players. He is awe-inspiring when he turns on the jets on the rush, but at the same time, he is also perfectly willing to risk cross-checks and bodily harm to dig in the corners along the boards for the puck; unafraid of taking the body to make a play; and best of all, impossible to intimidate.
Gáborík is intense and passionate, yet almost never loses his cool, even in moments of extreme frustration. One of the rare times he allowed himself to be provoked occurred in January of 2010, when he was goaded into a fight - one of only two in his 11-year NHL career – by noted pest and all-around dirty-birdie Dan Carcillo. Not surprisingly, Gáborík came out on the losing end, and fans were outraged that Carcillo was allowed to pick on a superstar, a finesse player, but when asked about the incident, Gáborík merely shrugged and said, “it’s hockey.”
And that’s just another reason to love Marián Gáborík, to appreciate having him in your corner, and to show him a little patience when he struggles along with the rest of his team.
Make no mistake: Gáborík is neither stupid nor naive. He knows what is expected of him. He knows what he is capable of. And he knows that right now, he isn’t cutting the mustard. But if he is traded, he will be missed, and those who called for his dismissal will regret having done so.