Goodbye Grabovski


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.

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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]
  • king leary

    Burke was never impatient?
    Are you serious?

    • Nikhil Daljeet

      king leary 

      • 2minutes

        Burke was probably the most patient GM we have seen in decades. Who else would put that much faith in Reimer and let him develop, or let Kadri take his time in the AHL? Luke was rushed, but other than that, I feel Burkie was very patient.

        • king leary

          I think he’s a good man and a good GM and loyal to a fault. Patient, the proof is in the pudding in the rebuild. I don’t disagree with you on Grabbo though.

        • rustynail

          2minutes Luke was already rushed before Burke got here

        • Mattmark

          rustynail 2minutes I believe that was RW’s idea, not Burke’s.

        • rustynail

          Mattmark rustynail 2minutes yup and while Cliffy was asleep at the wheel

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Nice post Nik.

  • mcloki

    This does make me miss Burke more than ever. But say hi to the new boss, same as the old boss. Grabo will be missed and this is the toughest loss that Leaf fans have had to deal with. Most other trades, fans would have drove the player to the city limits. Grabo is different. He had pluck and drive, was a little crazy and we loved that. It’s going to take a lot to replace that. A lot. Good Bye Grabo, we wish you all the best.

    • Jay_Berg

      You lost me at miss Burke

      • Alec Brownscombe

        Jay_Berg Oh come on

  • Uncle Otis

    Picked a bad day to go shopping for glue
    Did I miss anything 😉

    • Uncle Otis


  • mcloki

    Shift_Disturber1 No we’ll still rub it in when Boston shows up here next year. I hear the HNIC broadcast crew is on suicide watch.

  • ProfessorRance

    Great post. Going to miss the little spitfire.

  • rustynail
    Briere most noticably activates his no move clause in the Defensive Zone RT Briere has a no move clause in his deal w/

  • bermudaboy

    Most everyone seems to agree that Grabo wasn’t a true 1C.
    Kadri with 44 pts in 48 games seems a true 2C, and maybe a 1C in time.
    Even Grabo’s supporters feel he is unsuited to play the shutdown role expected of a 3C.
    McClement is as good a 4C is there is in the league.
    So, despite Grabo’s heart etc etc, just where did you expect him to play this coming season?

    • Area49th

      bermudaboy Id rather him over Bozak though, guess we have to see what’s in the works

      • bermudaboy

        Area49th bermudaboy Yeah, hope we get some good news tomorrow for sure.

    • Nikhil Daljeet

      Think about it this way:  will we now get a “true 1C” with Grabovski gone? No.  Will we get anything better at the C position with him gone? No.  So while him and Kadri both trot the line between good 2C and low-end 1C, they were our best option as a duo in the top 6.  Not every team in this league will be able to have a “true 1C” at the same time.  Our top-flight wingers, improved goalies, and (hopefully) improved defense along with proper deployment of Grabovski (via Bolland acquisiton) would have been the source of improvement for the team.

      • bermudaboy

        Nikhil Daljeet bermudaboy Don’t see why the answer to your two questions is “no”, particularly when the season does not begin for three months.

        • Nikhil Daljeet

          bermudaboy Nikhil Daljeet 
          Well we can dream

        • bermudaboy

          Nikhil Daljeet bermudaboy Been doing that since 1967…)

  • Loric76

    Shift_Disturber1 the new ACC chant when Boston is in town is “Where-Is-Se-guin?”

  • Mind Bomb

    Its a sad day, but some one here with there resonable perspective have made me relax and wait for Nonis’s plan develop before judging, but as it is, it seems The leafs spent millions because RC and Grabo were having a Tif. 
    Good bye you little maniac, I will miss your interviews and your Fire.