The New York Rangers made a major move less than an hour before Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline, shipping star right winger Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The deal sends right wing Derek Dorsett, center Derick Brassard, defenseman John Moore and a sixth-round draft pick in 2014 to the Rangers.
“I was surprised. I heard rumors here and there, but didn’t try to focus on them,” Gaborik said Wednesday during a television interview with TSN. “This is a new challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
Although Dorsett is on injured reserve with a broken collarbone, he is expected to return by the end of the regular season or the start of the playoffs, his agent Allain Roy confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com.
The Rangers (17-15-3) entered Wednesday in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings with 37 points.
It was the second significant move leading up to the deadline for the Rangers, who acquired gritty forward Ryane Clowe from San Jose on Tuesday in exchange for three draft picks.
“Listen, (Gaborik)’s a good player and his game is beginning to come but it gives us some flexibility moving forward; we’re filling out the middle of our lineup with the deal,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “We’re getting some good players with some grind and some skill.”
The decision to move Gaborik was not shocking, given his struggles this season. Although the 31-year-old Slovakian native is coming off a 41-goal campaign in 2011-12, he has been inconsistent this season.
“Throughout this process our focus was to add a player who could provide a boost to our offense, improve our goal scoring and power play and we identified Marian Gaborik as the player we wanted,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He has been an elite goal scorer in this league for many years and we are very excited to have him.”
Gaborik has nine goals and 19 points this season but has scored goals in just six of the Rangers’ 35 games. He also has been benched and demoted several times by Tortorella during his struggles.
Tortorella said he didn’t lose faith in Gaborik.
“No. Gabby and I have a great relationship,” Tortorella said. “I hope you guys don’t go that way and interfere our relationship because it’s a really good one, no matter what’s gone on with him. He’s a good man and I’ll miss him. I’ll tell you right now, I’ll miss him. He has grown as he’s been with us. Quite honestly, when he first came here, I don’t think he really had enough skin on him. He has skin on him and I respect him and I think he’ll get his game back.”
In dealing the three-time 40-goal scorer, the Rangers also shed salary — a huge coup considering the salary cap will drop to $64.3 million next year. Gaborik had one year left on a five-year, $37.5 million deal that paid him $7.5 million annually.
“The biggest thing is if we had been where we wanted to be, none of this would have happened so it’s a message to everybody that it’s not good enough right now and unfortunately that’s part of the business management decided to do. But we wish him well,” Rangers center Brad Richards said.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets added some offense to a lineup that has made a surprising playoff push. As of Wednesday, Columbus (15-14-7) is one point back of the eighth-place St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference standings.
“The one thing we needed to address is goal scoring, offense and the power-play,” Kekalainen said Wednesday during an interview with TSN.
New York and Columbus have become big-time trading partners in recent times.
The Rangers received top-line forward Rick Nash from the Blue Jackets in a trade last July that sent Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first-round pick in this year’s draft to Columbus.
Nash, the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft by the Blue Jackets in 2002, has 13 goals and 30 points in his first 31 games with New York.
In terms of the players heading to New York in Wednesday’s deal, the Rangers addressed some major needs.
Paper-thin at center, the Rangers added depth down the middle by adding Brassard, a 25-year-old center who has seven goals and 11 assists in 34 games for the Blue Jackets this season.
Agent Allan Walsh said via text that Brassard is “very happy” to join the Rangers.
The Rangers also add another defenseman in Moore to a back end that currently is without valuable blue-liner Marc Staal, who is out indefinitely with an eye injury.
Moore, 22, is a former first-round pick (2009, 21st overall) who averaged 14:30 per game.
Although Dorsett is injured, the 23-year-old adds some extra grit to the Rangers, who toughened up one day prior with the addition of Clowe.
Dorsett, who has 53 penalty minutes in 24 games for the Blue Jackets, broke his collarbone last month but is not believed to be done for the season, contrary to the initial reports.