Here's a switch: Usually, by the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, an awful lot of NHL general managers are having buyers' remorse for the moves they made at the annual trading deadline. Usually, the price for rentals is high and the return, with a few notable exceptions over the years, modest to minuscule. But on Saturday, two of the biggest names to change places both scored twice: Marian Gaborik to lead the Los Angeles Kings to a dramatic overtime win over the Anaheim Ducks; and Thomas Vanek, who had the Montreal Canadiens two goals up before the Boston Bruins rallied with four third-period goals to square the series at a game apiece.
What's more, both Gaborik and Vanek were value buys for their respective general managers, Dean Lombardi and Marc Bergevin. In past years, first-round draft choices and grade-A prospects were the coin of the realm at the deadline. This year, it was B-level prospects and second-round picks.
Now, it is fair to say that the Kings are far happier with Gaborik's overall play than the Canadiens are with Vanek's, in part because Gaborik has bought into what coach Darryl Sutter is selling - which is that hockey is a 200-foot game and offence largely comes from defence. It doesn't hurt that Gaborik has played virtually his entire time in Los Angeles alongside the underrated Anze Kopitar, a Frank J. Selke Trophy finalist who also happened to be leading the playoffs in scoring with 13 points through Sunday.
Like Vanek, Gaborik is primarily a finisher and thus needs a creative offensive centre to get him the puck in scoring position. But as Sutter pointed out when the deal was originally made, Gaborik's shortcomings were overblown. He has been a plus-player for most of his career, even though the early part of his career came with the expansion Minnesota Wild, a not-very-good team that did have a coach, Jacques Lemaire, in place who stressed defence.
Vanek? When coach Michel Therrien spoke in general terms about the need for work ethic, attitude and competing as three virtues that were non-negotiable in the Canadiens' world, it sure sounded as if he were talking about Vanek, even though he insisted it was just a general observation. Vanek isn't as reliable defensively, which is why the Kings had minimal interest in him when they searching for scoring reinforcements. Instead, they targeted Gaborik because he'd previously expressed an interest in playing for them back in 2009 when he was an unrestricted free agent and ultimately chose to sign with the New York Rangers. Gaborik will make that choice again this summer, and no matter what happens from here to the end of the playoffs, the Kings have a desire to keep him on, provided they can make his next salary fit under the cap, which is going up about $4-million (U.S.) next year.
The Gaborik acquisition was an astute piece of horse-trading by Lombardi, someone who the Kings wanted at a time when his stock was deeply devalued - and the Columbus Blue Jackets just wanted him gone. Gaborik had had a tough year, injury-wise. He was sidelined early with a knee problem and then, upon his return just before Christmas, broke his collarbone. He had only six goals in 22 games for Columbus before joining the Kings, where he finished with five more in the 19 games he played for them. He already has that many goals (five) thus far in the playoffs.
The fact is, the general lack of interest in Gaborik by teams around the NHL permitted Lombardi to make such a good deal for him. Lombardi was able to get Columbus to take back a player that he didn't want - Matt Frattin, who wasn't playing in L.A. and ended up not playing much for the Blue Jackets either - and also got them to pick up half of what remained of Gaborik's $7.5-million contract, because the Kings were essentially capped out. Los Angeles was prepared to play hardball in the negotiations with the Blue Jackets because they had a fallback plan in mind - and would have made an 11th-hour pitch to the Calgary Flames for Mike Cammalleri had the deal with Columbus fallen through.