Gaborik's friend helped him resolve dispute
Chris Snow, Star Tribune
Published November 2, 2003 MARI02
On Wednesday morning, in a place he had never been, Marian Gaborik turned to close friend Tobin Wright, with whom Gaborik shared a St. Paul apartment when he first came to the United States as an 18-year-old.
"He looked in the mirror and said, 'Why am I in Oklahoma?' " Wright recalled. "He broke down and said, 'I can't do it anymore.' "
With that, the decision came down. Gaborik -- who on Oct. 12 shifted representation from Allan Walsh to partner David Schatia -- dissolved his relationship with the entire Beverly Hills Sports Council agency.
Enter Wright, a 29-year-old from Saskatchewan and the pivotal figure in agent Ron Salcer -- as opposed to someone else -- negotiating a conclusion Friday afternoon to Gaborik's seven-week holdout.
Until this August, Wright worked for the Wild as the hockey operations assistant, the right-hand man for General Manager Doug Risebrough and assistant GM Tom Lynn. In that position, he befriended a number of players, none more so than Gaborik.
At Risebrough's behest, Wright said, he lived with Gaborik at the beginning of his rookie season. He helped Gaborik improve his English. He even introduced Gaborik to his fiancée. In June, he accompanied Gaborik to Montreal when the player underwent hernia surgery.
Come September, Wright turned his professional attention to becoming a sports agent.
First, though, he accepted a standing invitation to visit Gaborik in his European hometown. Wright spent two weeks in Trencin, Slovakia, and -- in a strange collision of time and place -- crossed paths with Risebrough when the GM dropped in for a talk with the holdout winger.
Fast forward a month. Wright reached what he called "a handshake agreement" to work for Salcer, a Los Angeles-based agent who represents eight other NHL players, among them Rob Blake, Ed Belfour, Darryl Sydor and the Wild's Matt Johnson.
Fast forward to Sunday. Disenchanted and without a contract, Gaborik sought a place to hide out and work out. He decided to skate with the Tulsa Oilers, the Central Hockey League team for which childhood friend Branislav Kvetan plays.
Wright accompanied Gaborik to Oklahoma, where Gaborik signed autographs for and practiced with an awed collection of minor leaguers.
Fast forward to Wednesday, the day Schatia stopped taking reporters' phone calls.
"[Marian] said, 'Should I call Ron? I want to get this done,' " Wright said. "I said, 'Ron has 25 years experience.' I don't want it to look like I pushed him that way. I'm fortunate that he chose Ron."
Gaborik phoned Salcer.
"He was really frustrated with his lack of progress and do I think I can come in and help get it finished?" Salcer said. "I said I would come in and get it resolved, but I can't make any other promises."
Salcer said he boarded a plane Thursday and negotiated with Risebrough and Lynn for four to five hours, beginning at 2 a.m. On Friday morning, Lynn and Salcer talked over breakfast at Mickey's in St. Paul. The two men shifted back to Lynn's office and just before the team's 1 p.m. practice reached a resolution.
Wright then brought Gaborik to Xcel Energy Center for practice.
Salcer -- who intends to return to California this morning -- did not confirm a formal working relationship with Wright, who lives in greater St. Paul.
"We've had some exploratory talks," Salcer said. "We haven't worked anything concrete out. My relationship with Tobin goes way back to before he was even involved with hockey. This isn't something that just happened."
Salcer met Wright about eight years ago, when he worked as an instructor and tournament organizer at La Quinta Resort and Club, a golf nirvana in Palm Springs, Calif. Salcer visited the resort during a vacation with his wife. He found himself in a conversation with Wright, a 21-year-old interested in getting into the hockey business. A friendship evolved. A formal parternship could be next.
"Tobin's been a good friend to Marian through this whole process, standing by his side," Salcer said. "Tobin's been there to lean on. He supported everything Marian did. Marian went from the one guy he had to the other guy, and Tobin said, 'OK, let's go. Hopefully this guy gets it done.' "
That guy, Schatia, did not, and Gaborik approached Salcer. Salcer would not reveal terms of the deal, except to confirm that $9.5 million over three seasons "would not be far off."
Back on Sept. 10, the Wild offered that amount: $2.8 million this season, $3.15 million in 2004-05 and $3.55 million in 2005-06. In addition, Gaborik could earn $250,000 for 40 goals or 85 points, and as much as $1.75 million for 60 goals or 110 points.
"We restructured the numbers a bit and softened the bonuses to get him on the ice and playing," Salcer said.