By Allan Muir
"Fools rush in," the great Annabella Lwin warned. But Jarmo Kekalainen is no fool.
That's why the general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets plans to wait on negotiating a contract extension with star right winger Marian Gaborik.
“We want to get more familiar with him, get to know him better,” Kekalainen told the Columbus Dispatch. “Sure, we’re thinking about it already, but we’re going to let it go into the season, hope to see him score a lot of goals for us and then talk about getting him extended.”
The team's fans might be in a rush to get something done, but there's no reason for Kekalainen to lift a finger at this point if he values prudence over leverage.
Gaborik, who was acquired from the Rangers on April 3, could point to the skins on his wall to justify immediate talks. But the three-time 40-goal scorer is coming off a miserable 12-goal season that, combined with his $7.5 million cap hit, predicated his trade to Columbus.
He looked more engaged during his 12-game stint with the Jackets, scoring three goals and eight points down the stretch, but even those numbers don't justify a blind-faith extension at anything close to the same terms as the five-year, $37.5 million deal that ends with the 2013-14 season.
So Kekalainen's challenge to Gaborik is simple. If he wants to continue being paid like a top player, he needs to perform like one.
But even if Gaborik comes through, there's no guarantee of a new deal.
Kekalainen made a bold move last week by signing Nathan Horton to a splashy seven-year, $37.1 million deal. Horton, like Gaborik, is a right wing. And it doesn't make a lot of sense for a team's two highest-paid players to skate on the right side.
That doesn't mean he won't re-sign Gaborik. There are ways to structure a deal that would make sense for both sides. But he might want to keep his options open after committing long-term to the younger Horton.
Gaborik is hardly an old man at 31, but that's an age by which most scorers are trending down. Of the top 30 snipers last season, just three were older than 30. One was the ageless Martin St. Louis and the other two, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, spent most of the season riding shotgun for Sidney Crosby.
There's a good reason for that. The hands slow down a tick. The legs don't get you where you need to go as quickly. And maybe the hunger to score that helps you ignore the beating that comes with venturing down low starts to wane.
Maybe that's what happened to Gaborik last season. Maybe it was just an off-year.
Or maybe it was a sign that he just isn't as dangerous as he used to be. Hard to say. But there's no reason to jump to conclusions now. Kekalainen gets that. And that's why holding off on an extension is the right thing to do.