Goodbye Grabovski

Goodbye Grabovski

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It’s days like these where you miss Brian Burke. The straight-shooting, loyalist ex-GM of the Leafs had his faults (eg. being too loyal), but impatience was never one of them. The buyout of Mikhail Grabovski, one year into a recently signed contract reeks of shortsightedness and impulsiveness on the part of Leafs management.

Admittedly, we cannot judge this move until the full extent of Dave Nonis’s plans are revealed. However, we do know that the free agent center options still remaining are limited at best.  Names such as Bozak and Weiss do not  represent an upgrade on either end of the ice over Grabovski.  In conjunction with the recognition that Grabovski’s “down year” is the product of a shortened sample size, limited minutes, extremely difficult competition and few o-zone starts – this move is puzzling to say the least.

Ironically enough, today MLHS was going to release its final player review on Grabovski himself. While that article will never be released in its entirety, it featured a logical defense of the Belorussian center. It examined the tantalizing possibility of returning Grabovski to an offensive role where he belongs, with Bolland shouldering the shutdown responsibilities and defensive zone starts.

There were many reasons that indicated this year should not be used as a conclusive judgement of the Leafs best center. The most damning, simple defense? It was one (shortened) season – a sample size of just 48 games.  Yet the whispers of Grabovski being “done” or “just not good enough” began to percolate in the maddening sphere of irrationality that is the Toronto hockey market.

After being one of the driving forces behind the Leafs offense for years (regularly near the top of the league in possession statistics), Grabovski found himself thrust into a defensive role with limited minutes in 2012-2013. True to his relentless work ethic and competitive spirit, Mikhail took to his new role with aplomb, never once uttering a word of complaint. Even after being abruptly shoved out the door, his character and love for the city of Toronto still shine through:

Is it at all surprising that a player would produce poorly when given just over 15 minutes of average ice time? Consider that his best year, a 29-29 output in 2010-2011, came with roughly 19 minutes of average ice time. Minutes that are in line with other top six centers in the league. Simply put – it would have been virtually impossible for him to produce anywhere near that level considering how he was deployed in this campaign. To further emphasize the “pigeon-holing” he received, the feisty forward was limited to just 36% offensive zone starts while facing the 3rd highest quality of competition on the team. The only forwards that surpassed him in this respect were often his linemates – Kulemin and McClement.

The story of this season for Grabovski would read as such: you take an offensively dynamic center and force him into one of the most purely defensive roles in the league, alongside players with limited offensive capabilities. Then, you begin reducing his minutes to that of a third line player, effectively eliminating any possibility of him working his way out of his apparent offensive doldrums.

In the now-defunct MLHS player review, it was concluded that all signs indicated that Grabovski could very well bounce back given, you know, a chance. Having played less than 7% of his shifts as a Maple Leaf with Kessel, fan-concocted storylines of “no chemistry” were not based on anything but conjecture. Indeed, the prudent route would have been to give Grabovski that opportunity in 2013-2014. If indeed he were to falter once more, the Leafs could explore trade options, or use the second compliance buyout at that point.

Instead, it seems that Dave Nonis et al. have something grand planned in the immediate future. Grabovski’s contract was inflated to the tune of a million dollars or so, although this did not appear to cause any problems in the near future for Toronto’s cap structure. Clearly, the Maple Leafs envision resigning some of their 2014 UFA’s to big contracts while also overpaying some of this year’s crop in the coming days. Why else would Nonis so quickly renege on his statement that Toronto would not use their second compliance buyout? Hopefully, it was not so they could throw money at an older, offensively/defensively inferior Stephen Weiss.

Until the dust settles on what will surely be a busy UFA period, Leafs fans should remember Grabovski for what he was. A warrior of a player with a questionable, but hilarious, handle on the English language. That special brand of crazy that became better after being hit by Zdeno Chara. A person who in his hardest, most challenging season as a Leaf still elevated his game in the playoffs because he wanted nothing more than victory for his team and their fans. Make no mistake – regardless of who Nonis and company bring in to replace the departed Grabovski, he will be missed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZpOEH5KByg

Nikhil has been writing for MLHS since the site launched in 2008. He misses talking about Mats Sundin and is currently entrenched in enemy territory (Boston) pursuing a doctoral degree. Contact Nikhil here: [email protected]
1303 comments
Dougie
Dougie

We will miss you grabo

Claymish
Claymish

We wish you all the best Grabovski, thank you for your energy, drive, determination. You never took your foot off the gas pedal, providing a spark for your feel teams. You have been a big contributor to bringing our team to where it is today, but as we all know your job here is no longer needed. I am confident that you will find a new employer who needs your services like we did and you will make even more money combined with our buyout and have a comfortable life. Congratulations on the wedding, they are new beginnings, embrace the experience of new beginnings. 

ConnorCrisp
ConnorCrisp

Grabbos contract ruined the balance of the team, giving players like bozie, our RFA's and next years big UFA's something to point to when renegotiating their deals. It's sad, cuz he will likely kick ass this year, but it was a terrible contract for us, and better to buy it out sooner than later, especially if he couldn't garner any trade interest.

moimoi
moimoi

Hope we have a better day tomorrow. Have a g'night boys!

moimoi
moimoi

P.S. Doubt Carter Ashton is back next year. A birdie told me it's not likely.

 Don Cherry
Don Cherry

Pretty annoyed over this. Is Bozak going to score thirty goals in the NHL at all during his career? No. Grabo was the only player keeping me watching the leafs the past 4 years and Nonis just drops him? Players down the middle are hard to come by and Bolland def will not fill Grabo's void. Why not drop Liles??? he was scratched half the season anyway and his contract makes less sense than grabo (grabo can get points, liles just gets injured). First bad Nonis deal so far in my books. a couple more and he gets 'JFJ' branded on him.

KurtWhite
KurtWhite

@canuckintheuk a lot of love for blacker these days but I really don't think he is nhl ready not before guys like holtzer...just from what I seen but he had a slow start and never was never in the mix to be called up not sure why he is now?

KurtWhite
KurtWhite

@canuckintheuk good point kadri was killing it on 3rd line...but he was not playing shutdown when grabbo played his minutes it was against the other teams top lines...that being said a top 6 center is expected to do that and still produce

Maneet4
Maneet4

@ConnorCrisp exactly my point all along. He is not a good player at that rate for so many reasons including yours. 

Plus, the one year he sucked and played little minutes we made the playoffs! What does that say about his impact on this team?

Maneet4
Maneet4

@ Don Cherry In Randy Carlyle's system Bolland will fill the void of Grabo. Say what you want but Grabo was not a Carlyle player and for people to say well he had a bad year and he will rebound remember this: the one year he played 3-4 line minutes/role with a coach who held him accountable we made the playoffs. 

Nothing to be shocked about. He doesn't fit this coaches system. And right now coach>than one player who is not a superstar. 

djamon
djamon

@ Don Cherry Grabs isn't going to score 30 either. Hate to break it to you.

moimoi
moimoi

@ Don Cherry Only if he trades Rielly and gets nothing for him can he be labeled JFJ

ConnorCrisp
ConnorCrisp

Right its not just about his cap hit, but how it sets an unreasonable benchmark for he massive number of signings we need to do, internally or otherwise.

moimoi
moimoi

@Cameron19 @moimoi He was born in Winnipeg... Edmonton could be. I'm not sure, I just know that he likely won't be back.

djamon
djamon

@Maneet4 Exactly.

How important can the guy be when he has his worst year as a pro (for whatever reason) and the team breaks through and makes the playoffs playing great the whole year? He meant nothing to this team last year and you can't carry a 5.5m guy who means that little.

djamon
djamon

@Cameron19 What you say makes perfect sense...which makes me think it's not just going to be Weiss. I HAS to be something bigger.

And I agree the Komi buyout was a waste.

My biggest fear is that Nonis made his mind made up weeks ago that he wanted Weiss and Clarkson and the prices got so high he had to use both buyouts to afford them.


Cameron19
Cameron19

@djamon @Cameron19 I will, I'm just expressing my sense of dread. I will happily change my tune if we make some savvy moves here.  

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I cannot make them independent events, because they are tied to our compliance buyouts, of which we only had 2, and arguably already wasted one on Komisarek.  

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If the plan is to get Weiss - and I believe it is - then you wasted a compliance buyout on Grabo to replace him with a replica.  Even if he is moderately better than Grabovski, he will still be overpaid, only we won't have the option of the get-out-of-jail-free card anymore.  If the plan is that lackluster, why not just give Grabo the shot at 1C (surely since Randy is such a wonderful coach he can make it work with ONE player he doesn't like on the roster).  Worst case scenario, you have to use the buyout next year and go shopping at that point.  Best case scenario, Kessel makes Grabo look worth acquiring in a trade. 

Maneet4
Maneet4

@djamon @Cameron19 anyways boys great chatting with you two! Fun times. Tomorrow shall be good! See you then. Cheers!

Maneet4
Maneet4

@djamon @Cameron19 honestly if we gave Bozo 4 million and got a Clarkson and saved the rest of money left over I wouldn't be too upset. 

We maintain status quo and gain cap flexibility and let these guys continue to grow. 

Maneet4
Maneet4

@Cameron19 @Maneet4 @djamon I bet it's not ugly. It is not Nonis' MO to make short-sigheted moves. 

In fact the Grabo move is a wonderful sign that Nonis is thinking big picture. 

Cameron19
Cameron19

@Maneet4 @Cameron19 @djamon Not true at all.  In the limited sample space, they played very well together. Again, a myth of Leaf's Nation.  But yes, obviously Grabovski is not the Toews to Kessel's Kane, or the Datsyuk to his Zetterberg.  He was overpaid, there's no question (albeit, I believe only by about 1-1.5 million), but again...that's not really my issue with the decision.   I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when it does, I think it's going to be ugly. 

djamon
djamon

@Cameron19 How bout you wait and see what the Cap space is used for before passing judgment then? As I've said, I'll be disappointed too if this money just goes to Bozak. 

But, to me, where the money goes is independent of the decision to buy Grabs out.

Maneet4
Maneet4

@Cameron19 @Maneet4 @djamon 

1. My apologies!

2. I don't even care about the points this past season. I don't want to pay 50 point guys 5.5 million! It's bad cap management. I felt he was overpaid BEFORE last season when Burke gave him the contract. 

3. But when they played together it was terrible. With Zetterberg and Datsyuk and Toews/Kane at least when they do play together its magic. 

Cameron19
Cameron19

@djamon @Cameron19 I don't give a shit that they bought him out, or what they think of his talent.  He wasn't in my future plans any more than Carlyle's.  I just think that they plan on using his cap space to sign a similar player (Weiss), or worse player (Bozak), and in that case, the move is a complete disaster, in my opinion...

Cameron19
Cameron19

@Maneet4 @Cameron19 @djamon 

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1.), Re-read, I said KADRI gets the soft minutes.  This is a fact.

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2.) It is not unreasonable to expect it, but it is unreasonable to expect a guy to score at a 55 point rate when you put him in a shutdown role.  Jordan Staal was probably the best in the league and had a tough time getting to 40 in that set-up - and even he had better line-mates than Grabovski did this year.

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3.) It is a misunderstanding about them never being put together.  Wilson always put them together in 4 on 4 situations, but hesitated to at even strength for a number of reasons - the biggest of which was the chemistry he thought the MGK line had.  Another being  the speed element each brings to his line.  It's the same reason Babcock really hesitates to put Zetterberg and Datsyuk out together at event strength...

Maneet4
Maneet4

@djamon I agree with you 100%. This is a huge positive step for us. 

djamon
djamon

@Cameron19 Grabs may have had to take the toughest assignments because Kadri was a kid and Bozak was unable to. But the thing is...he did it piss poorly. And we know that as the year progressed Kadri's line got a lot more of those assignments.

Grabs has talent...this wasn't about his talent alone. You know that. This was a business decision based on diminishing returns. I thought they might wait a year to do it, but it was 100% the right decision. If they have to take a step back on the ice in order to have some Cap flexibility I'm all for it.

Maneet4
Maneet4

@Cameron19 @Maneet4 @djamon this doesn't need to be a personal thing. Grabo and Carlyle didn't get along. What Randy wanted for him Grabo obviously acknowledged today was not a role he actually wanted! 

so 4) The coach doesn't see a place in his system for a player like Grabo who by his own admission wants to be an offensive threat so why waste 5.5 and get someone like a Bolland who gives you less offence but more D in a well-defined role at almost 2 million cheaper. THAT is cost effective management of resources.

Maneet4
Maneet4

@Cameron19 @Maneet4 @djamon 

1) how does Bozak get soft minutes against worst d-pairs when he plays with Kessel on the 1st line and then faces teams best d-pairs. Chara, Zdeno anyone?

2) Grabo is solid 2 way no doubt. But name a first line who's job is to carry both offensive and defensive responsibilities. Is that not unreasonable to expect your 1st line to carry that role?

3) The last 4 years why was Grabo not put with Kessel? Even when Wilson was here? There is another point here and this is NOT a knock on talent: chemistry. Grabo and Kessel never seemed to work. 

Cameron19
Cameron19

@Maneet4 @djamon @Cameron19 Well, Grabo was both of those things.  There are two things that people conveniently forget when they start bashing Grabo the way you're doing now:

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1) Grabo had to take all the toughest assignments so that Kadri could get paper soft minutes against the league's worst d-pairs and forwards.

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2.) He also had to take all the toughest forward assignments to spare Kessel's line the embarrassment of trying. 

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Really thankless job, so to me, it's kind of hilarious that we turn around and say he couldn't crack the top two lines. I agree that Bolland is more suited to that role, but Grabovski would have likely done far better than Bozak in the 1C slot - but Carlyle needed someone to take all the heat....

Maneet4
Maneet4

@Cameron19 @djamon @Maneet4 I agree with you that is why my feeling is Statsny or we take bozo on 3-4 at 3.5. If not I am prepared to go into season and this be 1 step back and 2 forward year.

djamon
djamon

@Cameron19 I won't like Weiss for 5 or 6 years either, but I don't think he gets that.

Cameron19
Cameron19

@djamon @Maneet4 For 1 year, not 5 or 6.  Weiss will be another albatross within 1 year.  Stastny you at least get the choice on - and he'll only be 28 after that year. 

Maneet4
Maneet4

@djamon @Cameron19 I think Weiss is a better player than Grabo for what Grabo was paid to be and that is a top line offensive C. 

A C making 5.5 better be 1) play on top 2 lines and 2) not be in the doghouse

djamon
djamon

@Maneet4 I prefer Stastny as a player, but he's going to cost assets as well as have a larger Cap hit.

djamon
djamon

@Cameron19 Nah. He's a better player. I'm sure he'll get more money than I would want to give him, but I know he's a better player so we're better off.

Cameron19
Cameron19

@djamon @Cameron19 I don't think Weiss is the upgrade you think he is. If we sign him, he will become the new Grabo by year's end. 

djamon
djamon

@Cameron19 Weiss is a huge upgrade on Bozak. Bozak is awful...as soon as you see Kessel with an actual playmaking centre (whether it's Kadri or Weiss) you'll see how bad Bozak has been.

To me it's a choice between Weiss and Kadri making 8m, or Bozak and Grabs making 10m. 

Cameron19
Cameron19

@djamon @Cameron19 Bozak or Weiss, it doesn't matter, that is a huge disappointment to me.  I'd prefer they explore trading Kessel for a center if those guys are the closest we can come to giving Kessel a talented center to play with. 

Maneet4
Maneet4

@djamon @Cameron19 yeah Grabs being gone is great. There is no way the Leafs pay Bozo over 5 million. Well let's hope to hell they don't

djamon
djamon

@Cameron19 It'll turn into something. 

But I'll admit, if he just takes the Cap space and spends it on Bozak I'll be disappointed. But at 5.5m I'd even prefer Weiss...that's how little I think of Grabs.

Maneet4
Maneet4

@Cameron19 @djamon @Maneet4 We both agree that cap space needs to be spent wisely and that Grabo served his time well. But Kadri needs to develop now so this is just as much about having faith in what's here then in fully condemning Grabo. 

Cameron19
Cameron19

@djamon @Maneet4 He meant so much to the team last year.  It was only because of him that Carlyle was able to give Kadri such a cozy spot in the roster.  Of course, Bolland will do that now, and probably do it better, but again, that is not the issue with this move.  It was a needless move unless the cap space is used appropriately, and right now, I just really doubt it will be.  So far we're shaping up for an unmitigated disaster tomorrow, in my opinion. 

Maneet4
Maneet4

@djamon @Maneet4 yup! but people just don't see the entire picture. That is why he needed to be dropped and I guarantee was the reason Nonis made this move.