Wild sign Gaborik to three-year deal

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild have spent a lot of money this offseason to surround Marian Gaborik with plenty of talent.

On Wednesday, they did their part to keep the right winger around for a few years.

The Wild signed Gaborik to a three-year, $19 million contract, about an hour before he was expected to file for salary arbitration.

"He would have had choices," Wild general manager Doug Risebrough said. "Today, he chose us."

The move came as somewhat of a surprise, as both Wild management and Gaborik's agent had said they expected the high-scoring Slovak to file for arbitration as the sides continued to negotiate a long-term agreement.

Wednesday was the deadline for restricted free agents to file for arbitration. The deal means the Wild avoided having to go to a hearing in which a third party would have decided a one-year salary for Gaborik.

"It's good for the Wild, and it's really good for Marian," Gaborik's agent, Ron Salcer, said in a telephone interview. "Marian is very pleased."

Gaborik, Minnesota's highest-paid player last season at $2.679 million, is coming off the most productive season of his career. He scored a franchise-record 38 goals and tallied 66 points in only 65 games after missing some early time to groin and hip problems. An All-Star in 2003 and the youngest player ever to skate in the midseason game, Gaborik had 30 goals and 65 points and helped lead the Wild to the Western Conference finals that spring.

The NHL's year-old collective bargaining agreement gave Gaborik some leverage. Next summer it will allow a player with seven accrued seasons to become an unrestricted free agent.

Had he gone to arbitration for the one-year deal, the 24-year-old Gaborik would have been one of the youngest prolific players to gain unrestricted free agency, since the old system required a player to be 31 before reaching that status.

Salcer said Gaborik was just as eager as the Wild to avoid going to arbitration.

"Arbitration would have meant a one-year deal where Marian would basically have to live in purgatory before going through this again next year," Salcer said. "Now he can relax and focus on being the best hockey player he can be."

Risebrough said he doubted all day Wednesday that a deal would be reached. Assistant general manager Tom Lynn finally was able to broker an agreement sometime between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.

"I think he just wanted to say, 'Here's where I want to be,'" Risebrough said.

By signing a three-year deal, Gaborik has put himself in position to get another big payday down the road because he will be just 27 and likely in the prime of his career when this contract expires.

The signing is the latest move in an offseason spending spree for the historically frugal Wild.

Since the team's inception in 2000, the Wild have preached patience. They stocked their minor-league teams with quality young talent and tried to build the club from within, much like the Minnesota Twins do in baseball, rather than court high-priced veteran free agents.

They have shown a much different approach this year.

Risebrough kicked things off at the draft in Vancouver when he traded highly regarded prospect Patrick O'Sullivan and a first-round pick to the Los Angeles Kings for playmaking center Pavol Demitra.

The move delighted Gaborik, who considers the fellow Slovak one of his best friends.

"Marian was very pleased with the moves that have been made," Salcer said. "The Wild fans certainly will be rewarded."

Risebrough then made a big splash on the opening day of free agency last Saturday, spending nearly $37 million on former Kings winger Mark Parrish, Vancouver defenseman Keith Carney and Philadelphia defenseman Kim Johnsson.

Risebrough said that was the plan all along -- to develop the team's own young talent like Gaborik and then surround those players with the kind of veteran playmakers who will make them better.

In a matter of a few weeks and about $51 million, the Wild have morphed from a team that was built to win in the future to a team that is built to win next season.

"The timing is now," Risebrough said.