On Thursday, Marian Gaborik, the first bona fide Minnesota Wild superstar and one of the best Slovakian-born players of all time, hung up the skates. The Wild's 2000 third-overall selection officially announced his retirement after a 17-year career in the NHL, one filled with unforgettable moments and frustrating injuries, but ultimately culminating in every player's dream - hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup, as he did in 2014.
The three-time all-star finishes his pro career with 815 points (407 goals and 408 assists) in 1035 games. Gaborik hadn't played hockey since being traded to the Ottawa Senators in February of 2018 when he had surgery to repair a herniated disc in April of that year. Gaborik was placed on long-term injury reserve and sat out the next two seasons before the Senators traded his contract to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a cap-related deal.
As for his time as the face of the Minnesota Wild, Gaborik's eight-year tenure in the State of Hockey was filled with excitement, awe, frustration and ultimately sadness as it ended with a whimper instead of triumph. The Wild brass could not ink Gaborik to a long-term deal and watched him walk away after the 2008-09 season.
Still, Gaborik has been, until recently, the closest to an elite talent in his prime that the Wild have ever seen. Let's look back on some of the pivotal moments in his time with the team that drafted him.
June 24, 2000: Drafted third overall by the Wild
One day after the Wild gathered their first roster in the NHL Expansion Draft — with fellow expansion team the Columbus Blue Jackets — Minnesota found the face of the future with their first NHL entry draft selection, taking the speedy Slovakian.
October 6, 2000: Gaborik scores first Wild goal
In the Wild's first-ever regular-season game as a franchise and Gaborik's NHL debut, why wouldn't Gabby be the one to score the Minnesota Wild's first-ever goal? His second-period tally off the pass of Scott Pellerin would bring Minnesota back within one, but the Wild would fall 3-1 in their season debut to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
October 18, 2000: Gaborik notches game-winner in Wild's first win
It took the WIld six games to earn their first win, but they finally did on October 18 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Gaborik scored two late goals (including one on the empty net) to give Minnesota a 6-4 lead, and the empty-netter proved vital as Tampa Bay's Fredrik Modin scored with 12 seconds left to cut the lead to one. Gaborik's empty netter held as the eventual game-winner, and the Wild won their first regular-season game in franchise history, beating the Lightning 6-5 at the X.
April 2003: Gaborik carries Wild to Western Conference Finals
When Wild fans look back on the teams' unexpected and unbelievable run to the Western Conference Finals, the overtime goals by Richard Park in game six and Andrew Brunette in game seven of the Colorado series are what appear most easily in the minds eye. But without Gaborik, neither of those series in which the Wild trailed 3-1 would end up with game seven upsets. Gabby led the team with 17 points in 18 games and scored nine goals, besting Brunette's and Walz's seven apiece. Gaborik was one of the more impressive players in the playoffs that season before Minnesota ran into the buzzsaw that was Anaheim goaltender Jean-Sebastian Giguere, who shut down the entire Wild offense in their four-game WCF sweep that ended the Wild's magical run.
2004-2005: What might have been
The NHL lockout was disappointing for players and fans worldwide. Still, for Gaborik, who was coming off his first injury-shortened season in 03-04, having scored 40 points in 65 games, the lost season was one where the elite Gaborik was coming into his prime. It isn't likely that the Wild, who finished fifth in the five-team Northwest Division in both the years before and after the lockout, would have done any better had they played the season out. Albeit, who knows what Gaborik could have accomplished with another healthy season in St. Paul instead of Slovakia.
December 20, 2007: Not one, not two, not three, not four... but five
No Gaborik highlight list would be complete without his game on December 20, 2007. No one in the NHL had scored five goals in a single game in 11 years, dating way back to the incomparable Sergei Federov in an overtime game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Washington Capitals.
No one, until Gabby did it... in 50 minutes of regulation.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, the only other Wild player to score a goal, ended with the game-winning goal in the Wild's 6-3 win over the New York Rangers. Unsurprisingly, Gaborik also factored in on that one, earning the primary assist on Bouchard's power-play goal.
2008: The beginning of the end
Coming into the 2008 season, things should have been looking up for the Wild and their star goal scorer. Minnesota had hung their first — and only — division championship banner from the season prior. Gaborik had played his most games since the 02-03 playoff run, finishing the year with a career-high in goals (42) and points (86) in 77 games. And he had a $10 million contract on the table, ensuring he'd be playing in Christmas red and green for many years to come.
Gabby turned down the initial deal from the GM "Who Shall Not Be Named" and played only two games in October and four in December before shutting things down with a nagging groin injury. He eventually returned in March to play out the season, but the damage had been done by that time. The Wild limped to a third-place finish in a weak division, missed the playoffs, fired their coach, and watched Gaborik walk away at the end of the season, signing a massive $37.5 million deal with the New York Rangers.
The Wild are unlikely to ever find talent with the speed, hands and finishing ability of Marian Gaborik. Even Kirill Kaprizov, who by all indications should end up being elite, doesn't have the pure straight-line power that Gabby had when he was fully healthy. His breakaway goals were a thing of beauty.
June 13, 2014: Gaborik wins his Cup, but not with the Wild.
It's a painful pill to swallow, but a list of Gaborik memories would be amiss without mentioning his greatest accomplishment. It took four teams and thirteen seasons, but in 2014 after being traded at the deadline from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Los Angeles Kings, Gaborik finally won the Stanley Cup.
He couldn't achieve that ultimate goal in Minnesota and never had the chance to play for it in New York or Ohio.
In the end, Wild fans will never forget Gaborik's time in Minnesota as bittersweet. So much promise, delight, and talent ended in disappointment due to injuries and ineptitude from the front office in the franchise's early years.
But no matter how you remember Marian Gaborik in Iron Range Red, Forest Green and Harvest Wheat, you have to give him a stick tap as he officially calls it a career.
Way to go, Gabby.