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Marian Gaborik and Kings are a solid fit for each other

Marian Gaborik and Kings are a solid fit for each other
Kings forward Marian Gaborik brings the puck into the crease against the defense of Justin Braun and goalie Antti Niemi during a playoff game against the Sharks last spring. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Fretting and pacing are two of Dean Lombardi's default mechanisms. That, and sprinkling references to Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson or the Pittsburgh Steelers during a routine conversation.

On this particular day, the Kings general manager sat in his office, worried about signing his leading playoff goal scorer before interlopers were allowed to enter the fray. Teams could entertain players before the July 1 free-agency period began because of a newly established "interview period" that would begin June 25.

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Talks weren't moving along to Lombardi's satisfaction one week after the Kings won theStanley Cup for the second time in three seasons. By the weekend, the tenor of the negotiations improved and by June 25, a seven-year, $34.125-million deal was completed.

So what in the name of Marian Gaborik happened between June 20 and June 25?

The art of the deal, naturally. Everyone knows the first offer typically is not accepted, nor sometimes the second or third.

Gaborik, who had 14 goals and 22 points in the playoffs, shed some light into the contract talks. He also got involved in the process.

"All along, I know I want to be here, but it's just part of negotiation that has to happen," said Gaborik, who is represented by Ron Salcer.

"It was back and forth for a little bit there. Ron did a good job. I talked to those guys as well. I'm glad we got it done before the 25th when the other teams could start talking to you and stuff. So I think both sides are happy."

Gaborik did his due diligence, which included soul searching. He drew chuckles on the first day of training camp when he bluntly said he had already made enough money in his career.

"There's a [small] temptation to test it," he said Sunday. "But deep down, I never wanted to go that way. I always wanted to stay here."

Gaborik's decision to take less money and stay in Los Angeles got more attention in the summer, and rightly so. But the foundation for such a move essentially started after the Kings won their first Stanley Cup in 2012 and center Jarret Stoll, a valued team leader, signed a three-year deal. Most likely he could have done better had the market been explored.

"I think everybody realizes the type of situation we have here," Stoll said. "Nobody wants to leave that. Some people leave and maybe think it's greener on the other side or take more money. I think there's something to be said about being able to win, and have fun and having a great group and a good coaching staff and good management.

"Some guys try to chase a winning team and a Stanley Cup. And we have that here. I don't see why you would want to leave."

Lombardi had options when he was looking to make a trade-deadline deal last season to jump-start his offensively challenged team. He could have gone elsewhere for a hired gun, a player who would have little or no allegiance to the Kings after the season.

But he turned to the Columbus Blue Jackets and acquired Gaborik for Matt Frattin and two draft choices in March. His "intel" told him there would be a good chance Gaborik would want to stay, suspecting the forward would connect with center Anze Kopitar.

"Whenever you see those old films — players from the Cowboys, the Steelers, the Red Wings, the Packers — they don't talk about the money they made," Lombardi said. "They talk about those feelings, the bonds they formed that last a lifetime."

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Gaborik has been dealing with an undisclosed injury during training camp but it is not considered a serious problem. For him, the Los Angeles experience helped rebuild his confidence after a difficult couple of seasons, in particular, an injury-riddled run in Columbus.

"It wasn't ideal," he said. "It was a good life and hockey-learning experience. I think Columbus, the organization, they're heading in the right direction. I don't think it was the right stage, right time, everything, both sides didn't kind of work.

"That organization is getting in the right direction, good people running it. … Definitely was excited to come back here and rebuild my confidence."

For years, Gaborik was on hand when his friends and countrymen held Stanley Cup parties in their hometown of Trencin, Slovakia. He had his turn in July and the Stanley Cup arrived via helicopter from Vienna. Gaborik had the Cup at his hockey rink and took it to a music festival. He even ate out of the Cup, taking steak tartare out of the bowl and spreading it on bread.

All those years watching the likes of Tomas Kopecky, Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara share their Cup-winning joy sparked something in Gaborik.

"For sure, I think that was a little extra motivation I had … to see those guys really enjoying the Cup," he said. "I always thought hopefully it's going to happen to me once and I can invite those guys.

"Hopefully there will be some more."

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