They were both dealt just hours before the NHL’s trade deadline. One was a disgruntled veteran who wanted out because of his sour Olympic experience and chose his landing spot. The other was an injury-prone and unproductive winger whose skill set did not fit in with his blue-collar team.
And with Martin St-Louis of the New York Rangers and Marian Gaborik of the Los Angeles Kings emerging as major components of teams that are one win away from playing in the Stanley Cup final, they’re also emerging as the two best deals of the 2014 trade deadline.
But which one was better? Here’s the tale of the tape:
St-Louis: In a swap of captains, the Tampa Bay Lightning trades St-Louis to the Rangers for Ryan Callahan, a first-round pick in 2015 and a conditional second-rounder in 2014. That pick has become a first-rounder in 2014 by virtue of the fact that the Rangers have made the Eastern Conference final. If Callahan re-signs in Tampa, the Rangers get the Lightning’s second-rounder in 2015 in exchange for the Rangers seventh-round pick.
Gaborik: The playoff-bound Columbus Blue Jackets trade Gaborik to the Kings for Matt Frattin and a second-round pick in 2014. If the Kings advance beyond the first round of the playoffs (which they have) or Gaborik re-signs in L.A., the Blue Jackets get the Kings’ third-rounder in 2014. The Blue Jackets agree to pick up a portion of the $1.98 million owed Gaborik for the remainder of this season.
St-Louis: The diminutive winger has emerged into a legitimate Conn Smythe candidate. He’s tied for the team lead in goals with six and leads the team with 13 playoff points. His overtime goal in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final has given the Rangers a stranglehold on the series. And the courage he displayed after his mother died galvanized the Rangers when they were trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the second round and looked all but eliminated. The early returns were not good, with St-Louis scoring just a goal and eight points in 19 regular season games after the trade.
Gaborik: Playing on the top line in L.A. with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, Gaborik leads all playoff goal scorers with 10 and is a major reason why the Kings are the highest-scoring team in this year’s playoffs. He has scored one fewer goal so far in the playoffs than he did in the entire regular season. He did catch fire down the stretch, though, scoring five goals in 16 points in 19 games after coming over from Columbus.
St-Louis: Has one year left on his deal with a $5.625 million cap hit, while Callahan becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Gaborik: Due to become a UFA July 1 after completing a five-year, $37.5 million deal he signed, coincidentally, with the Rangers. The Kings already have $62.3 million committed in cap space next season on an upper limit that could be lower than $70 million. And since Gaborik is only 32, he cannot be signed to an incentive-laden contract that would temporarily ease the Kings cap concerns.
St-Louis: The veteran has been a durable, proven commodity over the course of his career and there’s nothing to suggest he’ll slow down significantly in the last year of his deal, despite the fact he turns 39 in less than a month.
Gaborik: A far riskier proposition on several fronts. First, there’s the injury factor. Second, Gaborik is thriving with the Kings now because he’s a motivated player. His record of consistency is not nearly as good.
St-Louis: The Rangers don’t have a first-round pick for each of the next two drafts because of this deal, but if they win the Stanley Cup, that pick this year will be 30th overall. They get a productive and happy player for another season in exchange for a player who was not willing to take a hometown discount to stay in New York.
Gaborik: The Kings gave up very little to get a player who could very well emerge as a key player in their second Stanley Cup in three years. Beyond this season, though, the risks are significant.
The Rangers, but only slightly. Both have been very good, but St. Louis edges Gaborik out on upside potential.