Michael Russo of the Star Tribune is one of the best beat writers covering the NHL. He's got good instincts, and he's wired into the franchise he covers, the Minnesota Wild. So if his crap detector is going off, it's worth checking the levels.
Russo wrote on his blog and in the paper today about the Wild choosing to shut down star winger Marian Gaborik for the team's post-Christmas games against the Calgary Flames and the Chicago Blackhawks. He thinks something's up with the oft-injured, soon-to-be free agent forward:
The holiday roster freeze ends at midnight Saturday, so by sitting Gaborik, you could be ensuring he doesn't get injured, either in the games, or in practice Friday or Saturday. ...
... I asked [Wild Assistant GM Tom] Lynn if he's willing to state on the record that "you're not holding Gaborik out to trade him," (you're, meaning the Wild) and Lynn answered, "I would say 100 percent I'm not holding him out for a trade."
I didn't hear the "I'm" until I played back the tape, so I don't know if Tom was playing a semantics game.
Russo's interest was also piqued when he requested to speak with Gaborik after last night's 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, and "Gaborik and Lynn had a five-minute conversation in the player's lounge before Gaborik emerged to talk with me." Not exactly out of the ordinary for a player to be coached before an interview, but it's usually not the assistant GM doing it.
Could the holidays spell the end of Marian Gaborik in Minnesota?
Russo references the Atlanta Thrashers in his article, and the interest there appears legitimate. Whether that means some sort of blockbuster Ilya Kovalchuk for Gaborik deal is another issue. Logic would dictate that acquiring Gaborik would be a move for the benefit of Kovalchuk, not for Kovalchuk. It could even be Don Waddell's own private Marian Hossa trade: Rent the UFA star winger. Make the postseason. Profit.
Trading Kovalchuk for a player who'll likely leave in the summer is dumb; trading Kovalchuk before he's in his UFA season is dumber.
But Russo also makes the point that the Wild could need a healthy Gaborik more than they need whatever could come back in a trade at this point:
The other way to look at this is, if he is experiencing soreness and there's a chance he's close to a setback, that would be disastrous for both sides. The Wild needs Gaborik healthy to 1) win and 2) to be blunt, trade him; and Gaborik needs to be healthy to reestablish his standing as an elite free agent this summer.
Of course, as 18,568 Reasons Why ... points out, even the injury angle smacks of strangeness:
While he did feel some discomfort during the last pair of back-to-back games, why would they pull him out of both? Especially after four days of rest? Also, the Wild said Gaby would dictate his schedule and when/if he plays, but this decision was made by the Wild, not Gaborik (he only agreed to it after.)
In any event, this decision by the Wild is just plain disturbing if you're a Minnesota fan. Either he's not healthy enough to play in critical games against the division-leading team (Calgary) and a team ahead of Minny in the standings (Chicago), or the Wild are preparing to ship him out of town; and really, all bets are off on the value coming back.
At this point, the sooner a Gaborik trade, the better. The fragility is a distraction. The rumors and scuttlebutt are distractions. Sure, they're 4-1-1 with Gaborik in the lineup. But the point is that they've played 27 games without him.