Message to Ranger Fans: Don't Panic!

Here we are again. It’s July and already, Glen Sather has overpaid a big name free agent by signing Marian Gaborik to a five-year deal worth $37.5 million. For those math majors out there, it averages out to a cap deadly $7.5-per-season.

Predictably, many Ranger fans were at a loss for words, questioning handing out such a deal to a question mark a day after Sather unloaded cap headache Scott Gomez to Montreal that landed Chris Higgins and top prospect Ryan McDonagh.

So, is it time to panic yet again in Ranger land? No. It’s a little premature to start going nuts over whether Gaborik will play 82 games or the running joke of 20 starting next season. Let me be clear on something. A lot has been said about this deal. The words “injury risk” has been tossed around repeatedly more than Paris Hilton jumps in the sack. Heck. I even used it here.

Anytime you sign a player long-term, there’s always the chance they could get hurt. Unfortunately, that’s the risk you run when you commit a big salary to a star player. While it’s true Gaborik doesn’t have the best track record, it also applies to any other free agent as well. Wonder how Chicago feels about Marian Hossa being there for a dozen years? You can bet your bottom dollar a Cup starved city (1961 folks) that hasn’t seen the hardware since Bobby Hull was blistering 130 MPH slapshots will be holding their collective breath.

Any player can go down at any moment. Last season, the previously durable Martin Brodeur missed over 50 games with the Devils. No one saw that coming. So, there will always be that high risk with a player who played in only 17 games last season, totaling 23 points (13-10-23) due to Wild team doctors misdiagnosing a bad groin, which really was a hip injury that required surgery. Oddly enough, the previous season, Gabby missed just five games totaling career highs in goals (41), assists (42), points (83) and plus/minus (17).

Make no mistake about it. When healthy, the 27 year-old Slovak is one of the elite scorers in the game. When’s the last time this team had a player of this talent in their prime? Of course, many would say Jaromir Jagr, who had a remarkable 2005-06 establishing new franchise single season marks in goals (54) and points (123)- leading the club back to the postseason. Too bad for the Rangers No.68 was 33 going on 34 with production dropping his final two seasons (’06-07: 30-66-96, ’07-08: 25-46-71) on Broadway. Makes ya wonder what he might have done had the team gotten him when the Pens refused to grant his wish instead sending him to Washington.

There’s no point in looking at previous rosters. We could reference any big name and it would draw the same negative reaction. We’ve had plenty of stars who came here and didn’t panout. Most including concussion risk Eric Lindros-who had the club in first before the roof caved in- had already seen their best days. You have to go back to Mark Messier, who against the odds led the franchise to hockey’s pinnacle.

Should Gaborik be mentioned in the same breath as one of the greatest leaders in all of sports? Of course not. However, his best days still might be ahead. Over eight seasons with Minnesota playing for conservative coach Jacques Lemaire, the former 2000 third overall pick finished with 219 goals and 218 assists for 437 points in 502 games. Despite missing 65 games in 2008-09, he still averaged over 62 games for his Wild career. In each of the first five seasons, he played in 65-or-more contests.

Aside from 2006-07 in which he got into 48 and this past season, Gaborik’s played in at least 65 six of his first eight NHL campaigns. Five of those seasons have seen the electrifying right wing produce 30-or-more goals including the injury riddled ’06-07. Yes. He scored 30 in 48. The Rangers haven’t had a 30-goal scorer since Jagr in 2006-07 when the club took a deeper Buffalo team six games before falling in the Conference Semis.

Once Gaborik puts that No.10 Ranger jersey on, he automatically becomes the most dangerous player we’ve had since Jagr. And here’s the thing. Despite the injuries, all you had to do was see how he looked towards the end of this season to know that he hadn’t lost a step or the tremendous skill, putting up 18 points the last 11 games including 10 markers following hip surgery. In fact, he finished the year on a seven-game point streak (7-6-13)- nearly getting Minnesota in the postseason despite playing for a coach he supposedly didn’t get along with.

That’s how physically gifted Gabby is. Is it boom-or-bust for the Rangers? No doubt. There will continue to be plenty of questions until it all starts for real this October. That’s when he can begin providing answers.

“I feel great, and I don’t see any problems down the road,” said the newest Blueshirt earlier today when being introduced. “I will be coming to training camp in top shape.”

Is it a big change from playing in hockey crazed Minnesota? No doubt. Believe it or not, a lot more people pay attention to hockey in St. Paul than here. Of course, there will still be plenty of pressure. But it’s something Gaborik welcomes as he enters the next phase of his career.

I’ve only experienced playing in the NHL with one team, eight years in Minnesota, and I had a great time there,” he noted. “Obviously this is a big change and a big opportunity. Life brings a lot of changes, and it’s starting to hit me now that I am becoming a Ranger and it’s very exciting. The page turned (Wednesday) and I am starting a new hockey life.

Of course, everyone will remember this remarkable five-goal, six-point virtuoso performance in a 6-3 Minny win over the Rangers a couple of seasons back.

“That night was just something,” remembered Gaborik. “(Lundqvist) is a great goaltender, but I guess when you are in the zone and everything you touch goes in, that’s what happens.

“Hopefully I can have that kind of game in a Rangers uniform.”

Here’s another video of our newest star via NHLVideo featuring the epic conclusion that left MSG’s Sam Rosen to say, “It’s Marian Gaborik Night in St. Paul.”

True enough, I’m not going to sit here and predict that it will work and Gaborik will magically stay healthy throughout his New York Ranger career. What I do know is how explosive he is. We haven’t seen a player with this kind of gamebreaking speed since Pavel Bure’s brief stint. This guy is in a different league in terms of skating and playmaking. It’s not just that he can do the one thing none of our roster could- FINISH. But he also possesses great hands more than capable of setting up teammates.

Unlike most, I’m not going to kill Sather for turning Gomez into Gaborik. Who would you rather have? Bottom line. We still have Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky here because Slats didn’t cave into Bryan Murray’s demands and trade for vanilla persona Dany Heatley. What did the Rangers lose yesterday? All it was was money on a marquee player who could fill the team’s most glaring need.

They didn’t sacrifice young players with character that we like in Dubi, Ryan Callahan and Lauri Korpikoski, who all must still get re-signed along with Higgins. Even with Gabby here along with evil goon Donald Brashear, who might become the first Ranger to get booed during Opening Night, the club is currently listed at 40.364 million according to nhlnumbers. That still includes recently retired Markus Naslund, who supposedly took the club off the hook for the three million he would’ve received in 2009-10. So, I’m not sure if that’s entirely accurate.

If the three million does come off, that can be used well by Sather on one of our key restricteds including Russian enigma Nikolai Zherdev, who they qualified at 3.5 million. Is the 24 year-old -who finished tied for the team lead in scoring with 58 points and second in goals with 23- still part of the club’s plans? Figure that to be left up to John Tortorella, I have to believe had a say in the Gaborik signing.

If this team wants to make the playoffs a fifth straight season in what promises to be a very tough East, they’re going to have to score more goals. How they even qualified this past Spring netting only 210, which tied with Tampa Bay and was nine better than the putrid Islanders, remains one of life’s unsolved mysteries. With the powerless play ranking 29th yet they somehow managed to win three of the first four mostly on Lundqvist’s back before predictably caving into Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.

Gaborik can certainly help in the scoring department. The big question is was Sather being 100 percent truthful about giving Dubinsky a shot as the top line center? Or is he as usual blowing smoke from that Cuban, readying to pluck someone from the bargain basement? You never can tell. A lot depends on if he can find a taker for Michal Rozsival (5 M). If he’s moved, that would clear enough room to bring someone else in and allow Dubinsky and Drury to settle into the second and third line while working in former second round pick Artem Anisimov.

I will say that I don’t see this team contending next season anyway. I really believe they’ll become a serious contender in 2-3 years when third round steal Evgeny Grachev gets acclimated along with the rest of a very promising blueline. When you see what Grachev can do, it’s hard not to get excited about our team’s future. Just imagine what he could’ve done with Alexei Cherepanov. It’s still extremely sad and my heart will always go out to his family.

Does anyone really believe this team would’ve been forced to bring in another big ticket if our former 2007 first round pick hadn’t tragically died? I have to think when they brought in Gomez, they did it believing he’d be a great complement to Chery. Having that kid would really have changed the perplexion. It is what it is. Sometimes, life’s unpredictable. I’m really glad they did a tribute to him at last week’s Draft in Montreal. That was very classy. Also, the KHL named their top rookie award after him. So, he will always be remembered.

As for how our team will look this Fall, I’m certain Sather isn’t done. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see. For now, all I know is replacing Gomez with Gaborik, Higgins and McDonagh- who’s projected to be a top pair defenseman- is a huge step in the right direction.

Want to bitch about something, do it about that thug Brashear, who shouldn’t be allowed to put the Ranger jersey on. But at least we know why Slats signed him. To protect Gaborik.

Now is not the time to panic. If at some point our senile GM does something silly, then I’ll join in. For now, relax. Enjoy the summer weather and have a cold one.

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