The NHL playoffs were a win-win for Marian Gaborik. He helped spark the Kings to the Stanley Cup with a league-best 14 playoff goals and also established his value as he headed toward free agency.
Exactly what he would have been worth on the open market won’t be known. Gaborik on Wednesday signed a seven-year, $34.125-million contract with the Kings with an annual average salary-cap charge of $4.875 million. The contract is front-loaded, meaning Gaborik will earn $6.075 million in the first three years but finishes at $3.075 million in the final year of the contract.
“I wanted to stay here … they make it feel like home, and with their winning tradition, that really made the difference,” Gaborik said in a conference call. “Great guys, great team, great fans and great environment for lifestyle made a lot of sense to me.
“Winning a Cup, having a chance year after year … I know I could’ve got a lot more money. But it wasn’t about money. I wanted to stay here and be a part of a great team.”
The contract Gaborik accepted should help the Kings remain Cup contenders because it allows the team to fit other key players under the salary cap.
The Kings obtained Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the NHL’s March 5 trade deadline for forward Matt Frattin plus second- and third-round draft picks.
Gaborik, 32, played on the Kings’ first line throughout the playoffs alongside center Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown and he showed his prowess as a scoring sniper. His postseason goals total was one shy of Wayne Gretzky’s franchise record, set in 1993.
Gaborik joined Claude Lemieux (Colorado, 1996-97) as the only players in NHL history to score more goals in the playoffs than the regular season (minimum 10 regular-season goals), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Gaborik had 11 goals in 41 regular-season games, including five in 19 regular-season games with the Kings.
“I got welcomed very warmly,” Gaborik said of the bonding that preceded his playoff burst. “Right away, I felt comfortable. That was important. To play along [Kopitar and Brown], it was great. I was very happy about that, and [I’m] looking forward to more wins. …”
Gaborik, a 14-year NHL veteran, finished with 22 playoff points — eight on power plays — and appeared in all 26 postseason games.
“It’s been pretty crazy, pretty hectic, but obviously I enjoyed it and I’ll enjoy it down the road,” Gaborik said of the whirlwind of winning the Cup and signing the contract. “I wanted security … it was important. Being with this organization was more important.”
After scoring three goals against the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs, Gaborik had six goals and 10 points in the second-round victory over the Ducks, the Western Conference’s top seed.
He scored three goals in the Western Conference finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, including the goal that forced overtime in Game 7.
In the Stanley Cup Final against one of his former teams, the New York Rangers, Gaborik scored two more tying goals in the third period — in Game 2 and in the clinching Game 5 double-overtime epic at Staples Center.
Gaborik was an NHL All-Star in 2003 (when he was the game’s MVP), 2008 and 2012, and he was an NHL second-team selection in 2012. He’s scored at least 40 goals three times, and has scored at least 30 goals four other times.
Staff writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this report.