Blue Jackets GM wants Marian Gaborik to lead

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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MIKE MUNDEN | ASSOCIATED PRESS
Marian Gaborik, right, is in the last year of his contract, but so far there’s no work on an extension.

There have been no talks about a contract extension between the Blue Jackets and right wing Marian Gaborik, and there seems to be no urgency on either side to strike a deal.

Gaborik, who would be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, said he hasn’t given his contract status much thought.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen has thought about it quite a bit. He wants to see more from Gaborik, he said, before committing to a long-term, high-dollar extension.

“I think he’s done a lot of good things,” Kekalainen said. “And I think he could do more.”

Gaborik, 31, has eight goals, 10 assists and a plus-9 rating in the 22 games since he joined the Blue Jackets on April 3 in a trade with the New York Rangers.

Only Brandon Dubinsky (4-15-19) has more points since Gaborik came aboard.

But what Kekalainen wants from Gaborik doesn’t show up in the stats.

“He could be the driving force of the team,” Kekalainen said. “I’d like to see him taking charge, driving the team with his example — not only with the points but with everything else he does.

“He’s at the point in his career where he could take the next step in that area. He’s proven he can score points, score goals. I want to believe that even a 30-year-old or a 35-year-old player can get better, and that’s one area that I want to see more from him.”

It’s not that Gaborik hasn’t integrated with the team.

By all accounts, he’s fit in very well with teammates and has been engaged in all of the team’s community outreach, like a trip earlier this week to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. His father, Pavel, is with the club for the annual Fathers’ Trip.

“This is the best (dressing) room I’ve ever been a part of,” defenseman James Wisniewski said. “And he’s fit right in with it. He’s been great.”

Asked if he feels like he’s fit in with the Blue Jackets, Gaborik didn’t hesitate.

“I think so, yes,” he said. “It reminds me of the team we had in Minnesota — a young team, with a similar style, a hard-working team.”

What Kekalainen wants is for Gaborik to grab the steering wheel both on and off the ice, not just sit in the front seat as the team’s only world-class player.

With a $7.5 million salary this season, Gaborik makes the same as Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg and Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar. Only 13 NHL players will make more, according to capgeek.com.

“I always say to players: leave a legacy behind you as a great teammate, a great leader, a great example,” Kekalainen said. “Those are the areas he can do a lot more in, and I think he wants to, too. But if you want to be a leader, you have to do it every day.”

Kekalainen said there’s plenty of time to decide if this marriage will last.

“We haven’t approached his agent (Ron Salcer), he hasn’t approached us,” Kekalainen said. “We’re both kind of in the let’s-see-how-this-works-out place. I think it’s fair.

“I’m not mad at his agent. I’m just hoping he’s going to be a great player for us.”

aportzline@dispatch.com

@aportzline

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