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Marian Gaborik Will Score Lots of Goals Soon

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The potential payoff from a healthy Marian Gaborik is still great

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Serious knee injury fells star sniper, dramatic playoff comeback bombs.

Darryl Sutter witnessed this more than 20 years ago, at his first coaching stop, when the 1994-95 Blackhawks lost point-per-game pivot Jeremy Roenick with 15 games to go. Just seven weeks later, JR hit the ice again, but most of his shots were fired at Sutter after Chicago was eliminated in the Western Conference Finals. Roenick notched only three points in eight postseason appearances.

Perhaps Sutter had this in mind when he spoke out last week about Marian Gaborik's potential playoff return from a mid-February knee injury:

"There's no way a player, unless he can play regular-season games, I have no interest playing him in the playoffs," Sutter said after practice in El Segundo. "None. We did that before. If you look back...it's very difficult to put players in."

"As you go into March there's another whole level of play. There's a whole next part too [after that]." (Lisa Dillman, LA Times)

More likely, Sutter was referring to Simon Gagne, who was mostly ineffective in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals after an almost half-year absence because of a concussion.

So does this mean Gaborik has two regular season games to suit up...or Sutter will ground him for the entire postseason?

If so, that would be a mistake: The oft-hurt winger has a history of paying immediate dividends when coming back from long-term injury. Up to this point, he's returned 11 times from a 6+ games absence. These are the results:

Games Played Goals Assists Points Goals Per Game Assists Per Game Points Per Game
1st 10 games back after 6+ games layoff 88 42 36 78 0.48 0.41 0.89
Career (including playoffs) 1013 418 412 830 0.41 0.41 0.82

And while the 34-year-old isn't quite the top shelf man that he was in say, Minnesota, even in Los Angeles, his scoring has held steady after sitting out (albeit in a tiny sample size):

Games Played Goals Assists Points Goals Per Game Assists Per Game Points Per Game
1st 10 games back after 6+ games layoff 16 6 4 10 0.38 0.25 0.63
LAK Career (including playoffs) 168 58 49 107 0.35 0.29 0.64

Beyond these counting stats and despite Gaborik's relatively weak production this year, he's still a premium talent when healthy. To the eye, he hasn't lost a step from last season. And he's still earning scoring chances at a well more than credible clip:

5v5 iSC/60 SCF Rel% SCF% 5v5 iHSC/60 HSCF Rel% HSCF%
2014-15 8.9 5.18 57.43 3.8 5.76 58.88
2015-16 11.6 4.21 58.13 4.9 2.06 55.69

The puck simply hasn't gone in like it has in the recent past—averaging a minute less per game on the power play than last year hasn't helped either. But could all this flip in the spring?

5v5 PDO Shooting %
2005-06 102.03 14.17
2006-07 102.04 12.4
2007-08 104.08 11.52
2008-09 103.39 18
2009-10 104.37 14.69
2010-11 103.14 10
2011-12 102.08 13.1
2012-13 99.55 7.38
2013-14 103.35 13.57
2014-15 100.04 10.4
2015-16 94.85 6.9

The Slovakian is suffering his lowest 5v5 Shooting % and PDO in a decade, all the while managing to lead Kings forwards in Expected Goals For Percentage (xGF%) with the patron saint of unlucky, Nick Shore. But unlike the much-maligned Shore, Gaborik has recent history of turning on the goal-scoring faucet with a flick of his wrist:

Gaborik is poised to ride a wave of goals soon. If he's right, he's a must-start by Anze Kopitar's side.

And while indeed "there's another whole level of play" in the postseason, the potential payoff is too great to ever seriously consider holding a healthy Gaborik backcase in point, another Chicago star (Patrick Kane), last spring.

Stats courtesy of Behind the NetCorsicaHockey AnalysisHockey ReferenceNHL.comOwn the PuckPuckalyticsSporting Charts, and War on Ice.