In this Jan. 13, 2008, file photo, Minnesota Wild winger Marian Gaborik, of Slovakia, brings the puck up. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Paul Battaglia
The Minnesota Wild hope to make Marian Gaborik an offer he won't refuse. Their first step was a visit to Slovakia for a face-to-face meeting with their franchise player.
President and general manager Doug Risebrough and assistant GM for hockey operations Tom Lynn travelled to Gaborik's home in Trencin last week, armed with data and ready to listen.
They shared inside information about their philosophy and plans, used statistics to sell the 26-year-old right wing on how he fits in Minnesota's system, and took time to answer Gaborik's questions about the team's strategy and direction.
They didn't talk contract yet. They just wanted to give him their side before the negotiation process begins.
"He's going to make a decision, and we want him to make that decision with all the information that's out there and not base it on any misconceptions or myths," Lynn said Monday.
One of their primary objectives was to convince him he can still thrive as a scorer in the more-rugged Western Conference with a Wild team that has always emphasized defence first under coach Jacques Lemaire. Gaborik has publicly acknowledged in the past he's wondered how productive he could be in a more offensive system.
But Lynn argued against that, citing Gaborik's NHL rank in goals per game (fourth) and even-strength goals (first) since the lockout. In the team's view, health is the only barrier to Gaborik becoming a 50-goal scorer. Nagging groin injuries limited him to 65 games in 2005-06 and 48 in 2006-07.
Last season, finally at full strength, he had a career-high 42 goals and 41 assists in 77 games while helping the Wild win their first Northwest Division title. Taken with the third overall draft pick eight years ago, Gaborik is the only remaining player from Minnesota's inaugural season in 2000-01.
The Wild also wanted Gaborik to hear about how they evaluate players, what their short-and long-term strategies are for building the roster, and how they believe he fits with them.
"He got a higher level of information than any other player has gotten. He was really pleasantly surprised," Lynn said. "We thought the meeting went well, and Marian expressed the same thing."
Gaborik's agent, Ron Salcer, concurred.
"I have a lot of respect for how they handled that," Salcer said. "It was a smart move on their behalf."
Gaborik will make US$7.5 million in the last of three years on his current contract, which he signed in July 2006. If the two sides don't agree on a length and an amount of money for his next deal over the next month, the Wild might have to trade him. They can continue to talk during the season, but that's a distraction players and teams always want to avoid.
"I don't control what they do. I just represent Marian," Salcer said. "He really has no decisions to make. The experience playing for the Minnesota Wild has been great. We have no bones to pick about anything. I really feel that Marian has been treated well and has enjoyed his career there to date."
Gaborik could choose to play the season and test free agency next summer to potentially maximize his earnings and see what other teams are interested. But the security of signing a long deal - likely between four and seven years - is attractive, too.
"As far as the future, it would be all hypothetical for me to speculate on what may or may not happen," Salcer said. "We're not saying no, we're not saying yes to anything other than living up to our obligation to play this season. Then we'll see."