Marian Gaborik at seven years, Ryan Callahan at $5.8 million: the price of keeping a contender

Marian Gaborik celebrates a goal for the LA Kings

In the last 69 games Marian Gaborik played before landing with the Los Angeles Kings, he scored 18 goals. He’s been back and forth between a 40-goal pace and a 20-goal pace since 2010 and, like most goal scorers, can be very streaky. But when he gets hot like he did during this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, he’s a real dangerous, difference-making striker.

Would you give a 32-year-old streaky scorer like this a seven-year deal? That’s what Dean Lombardi – the best GM in the NHL business – did Wednesday.

The first thing to know about this seven-year deal is that Gaborik can retire before the end of it and the Kings won’t have to deal with any cap recapture penalties. Any deal signed under the new CBA isn’t beholden to the same recapture penalties as a long-term deal signed before Sept. 15, 2012. And it’s also not an over-35 contract, so if Gaborik retires before the seven years are up, he’ll just come off the Kings’ books.

The second thing to know about this deal is it comes with a very acceptable cap hit. At a reported $4.875 million, Gaborik fits in as the fifth-highest paid Kings forward and he’s taking a rather large deduction from his previous $7.5 million hit (though his actual salary will likely still remain up around $7 million for the start of the contract).

So the question, of course, becomes: is Gaborik worth this kind of long-term investment? For the Kings, he absolutely is.

Despite the deal running through 2020-21, this is all about winning now and chasing a dynasty in Los Angeles. The Kings now have about $5.7 million in cap space to re-sign RFAs Dwight King, Brayden McNabb and Linden Vey, which shouldn’t be a problem since they all don’t have to be on the roster. The team has one more UFA, Willie Mitchell, but can and likely will move on without him.

Next year, Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Robyn Regehr (who they’ll let go), and Alec Martinez will be UFAs, with Kyle Clifford, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli and Jordan Nolan as RFAs. Without considering a rise in the salary cap, the Kings are scheduled to have $21.5 million available to sign most of those players.

It’s not impossible for Lombardi to get all of them (with the Regehr exception) under contract – my approximations have them spending around $21 million on these players. And since pretty much the entire Kings core is signed for the long, long term, they can even trade out any surplus. Anze Kopitar and Williams are really the only big UFAs to consider for the next three or four years now.

Because they were able to get Gaborik at a completely reasonable cap hit that may be lower than what Dave Bolland gets this summer, Lombardi yet again worked his magic to put himself in a position where he doesn’t need to sacrifice any of his big players. And it didn’t even cost him a no-trade clause on Gaborik’s deal, so he has the flexibility to get out from under it, if the contract or the fit ever becomes a problem.

Meanwhile, in Tampa Bay, Ryan Callahan inked a six-year extension that will pay him $5.8 million under the cap. That price is down from the $6.5 million or $7 million he was reportedly seeking from the Rangers – is he worth it?

In this case, the better question facing the Lightning would be “who could they get to replace Callahan?” This is a team that finally seems to be having all the pieces coming together again and they can’t afford to take a step back. Remember, the Lightning picked in the top 10 at five of the past six drafts and was one healthy goalie away from possibly taking a serious run at the East this season. Who’s to say this team can’t come out of the East in 2015? It’s all hands on deck time.

The Lightning got Callahan for franchise cornerstone Martin St-Louis after St-Louis demanded a deal out, so he’s not an asset you want to lose for nothing. And, aside from being a leader, two-way player and gritty presence, the 29-year-old Callahan also has the capability to score upwards of 30 goals. Is there a better, cheaper, more accessible option out there for the Lightning? I think not.

The contracts given out Wednesday to Gaborik and Callahan are both long-term, but they were struck to keep the momentum going in Los Angeles and Tampa Bay. Gaborik doesn’t need to score 40 in a season, so long as he keeps a playoff presence. He adds another layer of depth and dominance that makes the Kings the envy of most other teams. And Callahan’s price tag may seem like a lot for a guy who doesn’t typically get a pile of points, but without him, the Lightning would have had a huge hole in the lineup that would have been hard, and expensive, to fill.

Are Gaborik and Callahan worth the contract extensions they signed? Today, they sure are to Los Angeles and Tampa Bay.

That’s just the price of keeping a winner on the ice.

Follow Rory on Twitter