Gaborik signs deal with Wild

Updated: October 31, 2003, 8:28 PM ET
ESPN

ST. PAUL -- Restricted free agent Marian Gaborik signed a three-year deal with the Minnesota Wild on Friday, four days after the two sides traded terse statements suggesting a long impasse might continue.

The All-Star right wing left town Monday after saying he was "very disappointed" that nothing was accomplished after two face-to-face meetings with Wild management.

But Gaborik, who rejected one offer this summer and another two days before training camp, returned to the Twin Cities Thursday night. He agreed to his contract -- worth a reported $10 million plus bonuses -- Friday morning in time for practice.

He was greeted by giddy, astonished teammates.

"We were all very surprised," said defenseman Brad Bombardir. "Honestly, I didn't think he'd be coming back this year."

Gaborik was initially represented by Allan Walsh, but on Oct. 13 he instructed Walsh's partner, David Schatia, to take over the negotiations. Two days later, Gaborik left his native Slovakia for Minnesota hoping a deal could be done.

He switched agents again this week, choosing Ron Salcer -- who works for another firm. Speaking after practice, Gaborik wouldn't elaborate on his decision or much of anything else.

"I wanted to play," Gaborik said. "That's the most important thing right now.

"What happened in the past, happened in the past. Maybe some things didn't have to happen, but what I wanted to do was come back."

Salcer, Schatia and Walsh all did not immediately return messages. Wild general manager Doug Risebrough didn't either.

Assistant general manager Tom Lynn wouldn't comment specifically on the negotiations or the terms of the contract.

"The best way to put it is Marian took hold of the situation himself," Lynn said.

Gaborik led the Wild with 30 goals last season, his third in the NHL. The franchise's first-ever draft pick, Gaborik helped the team reach the Western Conference finals last year.

Brushing off business-related questions, Gaborik repeatedly stressed his excitement to be back on the ice.

"It was tough," he said. "I've been skating to try to be in shape. Now the most important thing, you know, is to focus on the future.

"I'm very excited. Skating with my teammates was what I missed the most."

They missed him, too, both figuratively and statistically. The Wild have won three straight games to improve to 4-6-1, but only one player (Alexandre Daigle with four) has more than two goals.

"I know Gabby wanted to come back," said forward Pascal Dupuis, another restricted free agent who didn't sign until last week.

Veteran Darby Hendrickson didn't think players would harbor any resentment toward the 21-year-old Gaborik for holding out.

"It was great to see him," Hendrickson said. "Marian's been such a big part of this team and what we've done here. It's just good to see his face and see him smiling."

The team wasn't smiling earlier this week, when Risebrough responded to Gaborik's statement by saying the Wild have "always been about team first and not one player.

"Gaborik's agents have disrespected the abilities and accomplishments of his teammates and have demanded that Marian be treated differently."

The Wild's initial offer to Gaborik -- a four-year contract worth $9.5 million, starting at $1.5 million per season -- was turned down by Walsh in June, and the stalemate began.

Two days before training camp began in September, Minnesota offered a three-year deal worth $9.5 million -- including an annual average of $3.15 million in base salary and a chance for Gaborik to earn an additional $1.75 million in performance bonuses.

Walsh also declined that proposal, telling the team that Gaborik was prepared to sit out the season if he didn't get a three-year contract worth at least $6.5 million per season.

Gaborik said in his statement on Monday that he offered to sign for three years at $4.4 million -- about what he earned in base salary and bonuses the past two seasons -- but was turned down by the team.

But all was forgotten on Friday.

"I think you could see the relief in his eyes," Bombardir said.

After watching practice, coach Jacques Lemaire didn't think Gaborik was in game shape yet. He didn't, however, rule out the possibility of Gaborik playing in Saturday night's game against Washington.

"It won't take long," Lemaire said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index