The 32-year-old sniper spent more than three seasons with the Blueshirts before he was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2013 trade deadline.
Another trade deadline has passed, and he now finds himself on an elite Kings squad that is just four wins away from its second Stanley Cup championship in three years. But first the Kings must beat the Rangers, as Gaborik faces his former teammates with the ultimate prize hanging in the balance.
“It’s a little weird, obviously, but it’s something special,” Gaborik said during Tuesday's Stanley Cup finals media day at Staples Center. “Especially playing them in the finals -- that makes it even more special.”
This has already been an incredible run for the Kings, and Gaborik’s production has been vital to their outlasting three straight seven-game series. He leads the league with 12 goals this spring and has chipped in with seven assists as well.
He has displayed the type of elite game-breaking skill and nose for the net that have made him one of the most coveted trade targets in recent years. He added another dynamic weapon to a Kings lineup that already boasts plenty, with the likes of Selke finalist Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Mr. Game 7, Justin Williams.
But the fit might not have worked when general manager Dean Lombardi pulled the trigger on a deal to acquire the three-time 40-goal scorer back in March.
Adding a piece like that with limited time to acclimate him to a close-knit team atmosphere could've easily been a swing and miss. But the core group within the Kings dressing room made sure that didn’t happen.
Carter invited him to stay at his house rather than post up at a hotel. Richards took him out to breakfast right away. Gaborik came in while the team was on the road and got to know guys quickly, according to Jarrett Stoll.
“I think the thing that jumped out at me, the first thing [when] we got him, [was] the way the players embraced him,” Lombardi said, adding that the players told Gaborik: “'You know, you're not a rental, you're not a mercenary. We're going to get you in this family, in this circle, in a hurry.'”
Gaborik’s seamless transition has paid dividends for the club, particularly given their grueling road to the finals. The Trencin, Slovakia, native scored three goals in a high-scoring third-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, which the Kings barely eked out with a thriller of an overtime win in Game 7.
“He fits right in with us,” defenseman Matt Greene said. “He’s a great guy, great player, great teammate. You get a guy like that, it’s real easy to adjust. I think any team would want to take a 40-goal scorer who’s a really good guy and really good teammate. It was a breeze for us.”
Despite Gaborik’s sublime skating ability and expansive skill set, however, he has also been a player who comes with question marks for potential trade partners and free-agent suitors. Though he posted two 40-goal seasons with the Rangers, his tenure on Broadway drew mixed reviews. He was in and out of the doghouse with former coach John Tortorella during the 2012 playoffs and was savaged by the media until it was revealed later that spring that he was playing through a significant shoulder injury.
But Gaborik doesn’t seem sour about any of his experiences in New York. Instead, he reflects fondly on that part of his career.
"I had a lot of fun," he said. "It was a great time. You know, to come to the Big Apple and play there almost four full years, playing in one conference finals, I had a lot of good times."
The pending unrestricted free agent seems to have found a good fit on the West coast, prompting speculation that he could re-sign with the Kings. Gaborik acknowledged how much he enjoys playing for the Kings but insisted that’s not on his mind right now.
“Of course I like it here, but I’m not trying to think about that," he said. "Whatever happens, happens after the year. I’m just trying to focus on hockey right now.”