The Minnesota Wild made Marian Gaborik the centerpiece of the franchise from the start. Much of the star's eight seasons there, however, were plagued by injuries, and the New York Rangers are already learning all about his fragility.
After missing his first game with New York, Gaborik won't play in his return to Minnesota on Friday night when the Rangers face the Wild for the only time this season.
Gaborik was drafted third overall by Minnesota prior to its inaugural 2000-01 season. The right wing went on to own franchise records for goals (219), assists (218) and points (437), and his 43 game-winners more than doubles the next player.
The two-time All-Star also helped the Wild reach the playoffs three times, including a run to the Western Conference finals in 2003.
Despite those lofty numbers, Gaborik still may have been limited by the Wild's rigid defensive style implemented by then-coach Jacques Lemaire. He was also hampered by a series of injuries, which forced him to miss 138 games over the last five seasons.
Gaborik was limited to 17 games last season due to hip surgery and groin problems. After making his season debut in March, Gaborik put up 13 goals and 23 points.
That was enough for the Rangers (8-4-1) to ink Gaborik to a five-year, $37.5 million deal on the first day of free agency. The move paid immediate dividends as he ranks among the league leaders with 10 goals and 18 points. However, he's nursing a leg injury that forced him to miss Wednesday's 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders.
"It's nothing related to my groin or hip or torso," said Gaborik, who got hurt during a collision in Monday's 5-2 win over Phoenix after getting two goals and an assist. "I collided with one of their players, but it's nothing major. It happened with about five minutes left, and the game was pretty much over."
Gaborik sitting out could mean another game for P.A. Parenteau, who scored his first career goal Wednesday after being recalled from the AHL.
"It was one of the best feelings in my life, but it definitely would have been better if we won," said Parenteau, who had eight goals and 14 points in nine games for Hartford.
New York has stumbled of late, going 1-3-1 after a seven-game winning streak. Coach John Tortorella feels his club hasn't been physical enough.
"We're way too easy to play against," Tortorella said.
Last season, the Rangers won their only meeting with the Wild 2-1 as Gaborik scored for Minnesota. In their most recent meeting at the Xcel Energy Center in 2007, Gaborik set career highs with five goals and six points in a 6-3 victory.
Now without their franchise leader, the Wild (3-9-0) are last in the West and their 26 goals rank them towards the bottom of the NHL. They're also one of the worst defensive teams, allowing an average of 3.25 goals after giving up 2.40 last season.
Minnesota fell 4-3 to Nashville on Wednesday, giving up a short-handed goal midway through the third period.
"My feeling is when we got up 3-2 … we weren't playing the game to win, we were playing not to lose," rookie coach Todd Richards said after what he called the toughest loss of the season. "To me that's a huge difference in mentality. What I saw us doing from the bench -- I have to watch the tape to see if I'm right or if I'm wrong -- was just retreating."
Confidence also appears to be a major issue, as Minnesota rallied from a two-goal first-period deficit only to lose for the third time in four games.
"It's one of those things where as it goes on, it gets worse and worse," right wing Cal Clutterbuck said. "Your confidence dips and dips to a point where you start believing it's going to happen. We've got to get to a point where that mentality can't creep in."