The big news out of Los Angeles today is Marian Gaborik re-signing with the Kings for seven more years. The impending unrestricted free agent would have been arguably the hottest commodity on the market had he waited until July 1. But that is not the case as Kings' general manager Dean Lombardi locked his new star down until the 2020-21 season.
Despite making $7.5 million annually for the previous six years, Marian agreed to make $4.785 million per season. That is a fairly significant pay cut, especially for a player who was such an integral piece to his team's Stanley Cup victory by leading the league with 14 postseason goals. Plus, at 32, the Slovakian still has plenty of good years ahead of him in spite of his lengthy history of injuries. But the latter dilemma was nonexistent during Gaborik's three months in Los Angeles. So, if anyone cares to take that out of the equation, then the Kings got themselves a major steal.
For Marian Gaborik, the fact that he took a pay cut period, much less one as discernible as $2.6 million, showcases his humility. He could have easily waited another week where some teams are so desperate to win that they'd throw too much money at a player willy-nilly whose stats look good enough. Marian Gaborik could have easily taken advantage of that - but he didn't. Instead, he took less money to build on his great, albeit brief, success so far with the Kings. But Gaborik isn't the only one who deserves a gold star for his new deal. Enter the aforementioned Dean Lombardi.
Since arriving to Los Angeles in 2006, Mr. Lombardi has, for all intents and purposes, taken matters into his own hands. He implemented a rebuilding plan that required long-suffering fans to be even more patient. It worked. Lombardi made some moves that I myself questioned but in the long run, no one was questioning anything that the KIngs' GM was doing. He traded Tim Gleason and soon-to-be-journeyman Eric Belanger for 2005's 3rd-overall draft choice in star defenseman Jack Johnson - and later trading him for Jeff Carter while still boasting one of the league's top defensive units. He later traded soon-to-be-star (or so we thought) Patrick O'Sullivan for Justin Williams, he signed concussion-prone Willie Mitchell in late August (2010) when no other team wanted him. You don't need me to tell you how these moves worked out. All you have to do is watch highlights from the 2012 and 2014 playoffs. As for Marian Gaborik, his story isn't any different.
When he was traded to Los Angeles on March 5 (Lombardi's birthday, no less), Gaborik was met with skepticism. There was no doubt what kind of impact the veteran had on the ice, but in terms of his ice time, it had been quantity over quality for Gaborik as he just couldn't stay healthy enough to having a lasting impact for whichever team he suited up for. But since donning the silver-and-black, Marian Gaborik has not had such a concern. Is that to say he will never get injured while with the Kings? Of course not. But you do have to admit that, as great as his career has been thus far, Marian Gaborik has never looked as strong as he did since joining the Kings. That may be subjective thinking to some but as far as I'm concerned, it is accurate.
Another reason for fans (and possibly the Kings themselves) to be reluctant about Gaborik's arrival was his salary. The 32-year-old was in the last year of a five-year deal he signed with the New York Rangers worth $7.5 million per year. Surely, a player who had such an enormous impact on a championship-winning team would be reaching for the sky financially but Dean Lombardi made it work. There were reports earlier this week that indicated that Gaborik was going to re-sign for an estimated $7 million annually - and even that would have been a significant decrease for someone of Gaborik's caliber. Nevertheless, here we are talking about the leading-scorer in the 2014 playoffs signing for much less than he's worth in order to keep winning. Mike Cammalleri could have learned a thing or two when he was in Los Angeles, but I digress.
At Tuesday night's NHL Awards, Dean Lombardi lost out in the GM of the Year category to Anaheim's Bob Murray. While Murray does certainly deserve his due for the work he has done for the Ducks since succeeding Brian Burke, Dean Lombardi deserves his due for the details of Marian Gaborik's new contract alone much less everything else he has done this season, last season, et cetera to make the Los Angeles Kings what they are today.
When a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was finally - and mercifully - reached in 2005, a salary cap was put in place. The hockey pundits said that with a cap, the days of the hockey dynasty were over. But at that time, the National Football League - another salary-capped organization - had just witnessed their New England Patriots win their third Super Bowl in four years. Naturally, sports fans would be in awe of any team forming a dynasty in a league with strict financial limits. But here are the Los Angeles Kings, winners of two Stanley Cups in three years despite living in a salary-cap era in a league that generates far less revenue than their gridiron competitors. But hockey fans in Los Angeles do not care about how much money each league makes. All that they care about is not that they support a winning team but that their players are gracious enough to put gold ahead of green, and while they do deserve a plethora of credit, they ultimately have one man to thank: Dean Lombardi.
26 years ago, then-owner Bruce McNall and the Los Angeles Kings put all their eggs in one basket by trading for one player - albeit arguably the greatest ever - in Wayne Gretzky. But a series of legal problems caught up with McNall and suddenly no one in the hockey world wanted to touch this team with a ten-foot pole. Now, thanks to Dean Lombardi's leadership, the Los Angeles Kings are the toast of the National Hockey League - and they are with a cast of characters, not just one player - who have already proven that they are winners not once, but twice - so far.
Dean Lombardi may have won the only trophy in hockey that ultimately matters, but it would have been nice to see him receive the recognition he deserves by winning the 2014 GM of the Year. Then again, no one in Los Angeles is going to lose any sleep over the loss. After all, Kings fans know something most of the pundits and voters don't - and, to those fans, that is perfectly acceptable.