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Kings' Gaborik keys Stanley Cup run after L.A. arrival

Saturday, 06.14.2014 / 5:32 PM / Los Angeles Kings | News
By Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer
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Kings\' Gaborik keys Stanley Cup run after L.A. arrival
Los Angeles Kings forward Marian Gaborik was a key factor in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after arriving at the NHL Trade Deadline.

LOS ANGELES -- The way Jarret Stoll tells it, Marian Gaborik was either going to fit in with the Los Angeles Kings or he was going to be an outcast who risked bringing down a championship team.

Gaborik's new teammates were going to help him along, push and prod him in the right direction when and if they had to. But listening to Stoll, it was quite clear that the Slovakian star was the one who had to make it work, who had to determine how he wanted this to go after arriving in L.A. via a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 5.

"We've got good guys in the room, good people, guys that want to play the right way," Stoll said. "There's not one selfish guy in that room. We understand if there is a selfish guy in that room, we'll either kick him out or he won't play. That's honestly the way it will work."

Stoll and the Kings' players didn't have to worry about that with Gaborik. The team's management staff, particularly pro scout Alyn McCauley and assistant general manager Rob Blake, did its homework to find out what kind of person Gaborik was before general manager Dean Lombardi pulled the trigger on the trade.

"His marks as a person were first class," Lombardi said.

Gaborik fit in from Day 1, on and off the ice.

He wasn't selfish. He studied and worked hard to learn how to play L.A.'s way, recalling the defensive principles that he learned as a young player with the Minnesota Wild under coach Jacques Lemaire. He embraced life away from the rink in Southern California. He became part of the Kings' community.

After all that happened, Gaborik delivered with an NHL-best 14 goals and 25 points in 26 Stanley Cup Playoff games. It's the most goals scored by any player in the playoffs since Sidney Crosby's 15 in 2009 and one shy of Wayne Gretzky's club record for goals in a single postseason.

The Kings probably wouldn't be Stanley Cup champions again without him.

"I just tried to come in here and fit in on the ice and off the ice," Gaborik said. "The locker room was great. You cannot win without a good locker room, and these guys are unbelievable. I'm very happy to be a part of it."

Gaborik's reality could change come July 1, when he's eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. There's no telling what he'll do, where he'll play next, for how much money and how many years. All we know now is his value has soared with his playoff performance, and the Kings absolutely want him back.

"There's a little bit of Teemu Selanne here," Lombardi said. "Selanne, when he finally won, went to another level. When you experience something like this you realize sometimes there are things more important than stats and other things.

"Certainly we're hoping he stays. Why would anybody want to leave here?"

Gaborik arrived in L.A. questioning himself after being traded twice in 11 months.

The New York Rangers had Gaborik last season, but traded him to Columbus at the NHL Trade Deadline to bolster their depth. In return, they got forwards Derick Brassard and Derek Dorsett along with defenseman John Moore; all three played a role in helping the Rangers get to the Stanley Cup Final.

In Columbus, initially there was hope that Gaborik would be a Blue Jacket for a long time. That became less of a reality the longer Gaborik sat out with injuries earlier this season.

Gaborik missed 39 of 40 games from Nov. 15 - Feb. 7, but Columbus went 22-14-3 and averaged 2.94 goals-per-game without him. The Blue Jackets decided they weren't going to try to re-sign Gaborik, so they traded him to the Kings on this year's deadline day.

"We were looking at it going forward and didn't see a fit for next season, so we decided just to make that change," Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson told NHL.com in late March. "He wanted to stay. He's a good person. It just seemed like a square peg in a round hole for our club. We just play a different game and it just wasn't a fit."

There was some skepticism about whether Gaborik would fit in L.A. Could he play the Kings' aggressive, forechecking style? Would he feel like an outsider coming into a close-knit team? Was his confidence shattered after being traded on deadline day two years in a row?

The questions seemed legitimate at the time, at least from outside the Kings' walls. Inside, though, there were no questions.

Mike Richards took Gaborik out for breakfast in Winnipeg before Gaborik's first game with the Kings. Jeff Carter invited him into his home once the Kings arrived in L.A. after three straight road games following the trade.

The Kings were the fifth lowest-scoring team in the League during the regular season (2.42 goals-per game). In 19 games with the Kings during the regular season, Gaborik scored five goals. In the playoffs, the Kings transformed into the League's highest-scoring team (3.38 goals per game) with Gaborik scoring in 11 of the 26 games.

"Your players are the ones who know," Lombardi said. "Everyone wants to handicap trades, but watch your players when you make a trade, they're the ones who know. I remember [special assistant to the GM] Jack Ferreira was in Winnipeg when we made the deal, he went with the team, and Jack, who has been around a long time, the first thing he said was there is a spring in their step. They're the ones that tell you when you do the right thing."

It's not a coincidence that Richards and Carter helped out Gaborik. It wasn't long ago that they were the ones who were traded to the Kings and had to fit in or risk being an outcast.

Richards arrived before the 2011-12 season. Carter arrived a few months later and the Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup.

"It's a pretty easy team to come into," Carter said. "Right from Day 1, the moment you walk into that room, you feel welcome. It says a lot about the type of people that Dean and the management, the coaching staff, bring in. Real character, quality people. It's all about winning. The moment that guy walks in the room, you do whatever you can to make him feel comfortable, part of the team. You pull him along."

Gaborik adapted on the fly. Kings coach Darryl Sutter immediately put him on a line with center Anze Kopitar.

"We expected a lot out of him right away," Sutter said.

Gaborik and Kopitar played every game together from March 6 at the Winnipeg Jets to Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. Gaborik played the right way, the Kings way.

He fit in. He became part of the Kings' family. He became a champion.

"He's top gun now," Lombardi said. "Call him Maverick."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer