Thursday, August 4, 2011
The two premier free agents remaining – assuming they make it to July 1st, which is, admittedly, a total unknown – are Alexander Semin and Zach Parise. Both are high scoring wingers who are capable of topping 40 goals a season. Both will also be only 28-years-old by the start of next season. To suggest they will be highly sought after is an understatement.
After Parise and Semin, the second-tier of forwards consists of Dustin Penner, Ales Hemsky, R.J. Umberger, Brad Boyes, and Mikhail Grabovski – the latter being the only real quality top-6 centre option available.
After Grabovski’s breakout year of 58 points in 2010-2011, the Toronto centreman is likely to receive a substantial increase from the $2.9 million he currently makes. If he decides to test the market come July 1st there’s a very real possibility that he might be making that somewhere other than Toronto.
Grabovski scored 29 goals last season, good enough for a tie with John Tavares for tenth most out of all centremen. He was also a +14 on a Leafs team that had a -33 goal differential, which is even more impressive considering Grabovski faced some of the toughest competition among all Leaf forwards according to Behind the Net. His 48.4% mark in the face-off circle isn’t a positive, but advanced metrics suggest that Grabovski was able to consistently out-shoot his opposition, which somewhat mitigates the fact that Grabovski more often than not lost possession off the draw.
If Grabovski continues his strong two-way play to start the 2011-2012 season, Brian Burke will need to quickly identify what Grabovski’s contract expectations are and attempt to sign him to a long-term deal before the wild, untamed jungles of unrestricted free agency tempt Grabovski.
This past off-season had some crazy deals being given out and it’s informative to look at some of the players who signed UFA deals in July to see what Grabovski might command next summer. Tomas Fleischmann, a 27-year-old with a career high of 51 points and potentially serious health issues, signed for $4.5 million a season for four seasons; Ville Leino, another 27-year-old, cashed in for six years at $4.5 million per after a breakout year of 53 points. Neither of these players are centres, a premium position.
Versatile centre/winger Brooks Laich didn’t make it to July 1st, yet still scored another $4.5 million contract. The Leafs can also look no further than their own free agent signing as well; Tim Connolly, a 30-year-old centre with concussion issues coming off a 42-point season. Connolly signed a two-year deal worth $4.75 million a season.
If Grabovski scores another 50 points this season he can surely command at least $4 million per year, which is a conservative home-town discount type of estimate. A more likely salary would be $4.5-5 million or higher.
Brandon Dubinsky signed a four-year deal valued at $4.2 million per season after scoring 54 points and he was only a restricted free agent. Likewise, Ryan Callahan, also an RFA, signed for $4.275 million for the next three seasons after scoring 48 points in an injury shortened season. Callahan is a year younger than Grabovski and Dubinsky is two years younger, but these are deals they were able to negotiate as restricted free agents. Mikhail Grabovski will be able to use the leverage afforded to him as a UFA to potentially score a larger contract.
If the Leafs are unable to work out a deal with Grabovski it will be interesting to see how Burke handles the situation. Will the Leafs deal Grabovski at the deadline knowing they can’t re-sign him? What if they are in the middle of a playoff race?
It’s possible the play of Joe Colborne will help answer some of these questions for the Leafs’ management team. If he plays well in the AHL and shows himself capable of playing a scoring role in the NHL it could make letting Grabovski leave somewhat easier.
Newly acquired centre Matthew Lombardi also means that the Leafs have some more organizational depth down the middle – that is assuming he can actually play next season, which is a big question mark.
The Leafs will have cap space to spend, which is encouraging, but if Mikhail Grabovski continues to develop into a quality top-6 forward he might just price himself out of Toronto.