Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Importance of Mikhail Grabovski

mikhail grabovski leafs
When the Maple Leafs re-signed John-Michael Liles, the prevailing thought was that Mikhail Grabovski was about to become a cap casualty. Liles took less than $4 million to stay in Toronto, putting next year's cap space at slightly over $11 million. The problem was that Keith Aulie, Cody Franson, and Nikolai Kulemin become restricted free agents in line for raises, and Jonas Gustavsson becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Grabovski will likely make close to $5 million, so to keep Grabovski in the fold the Leafs need some creative cap management, especially if they hope to make other improvements to the squad.

Because of the shrinking cap space and Grabovski's soon-to-be free agent status, his name has inevitably popped up in trade rumours. And unless there's some unlikely fantasy scenario where Ryan Getzlaf comes back the other way, in no way does a Grabovski deal help the Leafs.

Grabovski is the only quality two-way centre on the Leafs. He's the team's best offensive centre, and the best defensive. Letting him go only makes Toronto weaker down the middle, which is something that sounds almost inconceivable.

In 44 games, Grabovski has 35 points, good enough for third on the team. He's on pace to hit last year's point and goal totals in fewer games and he's the engine that often drives the Leafs, not Kessel and Lupul.

Ron Wilson also matches up Grabovski against the best players on the opposition, such as last night in Pittsburgh when Grabovski matched up as often as possible against a red-hot Evgeni Malkin. For most of the game the tactic worked, as it often does. Malkin was very quiet all night, until being in front of the net with 6.6 seconds left and having a puck hit him in the chest for the game-tying goal. Grabovski also couldn't help as Malkin buried a pretty goal in the shootout. Wilson couldn't seem to get his preferred match-up on that one.

The Leafs give up more goals over 60 minutes when Grabovski is off the ice, and when he is on the ice, the Leafs consistently outshoot their opponents. So despite the fact that Grabovski plays against the other team's best players, he does a pretty good job defensively - both in terms of goals against and shots against. The puck is staying out of the net, and it is going to other way, creating chances offensively.

This mimics his performance from last season when Grabovski really developed into a nice two-way centre. His plus-14 rating last season on a team with a minus-33 goal differential really highlights just how important Grabovski is to the Maple Leafs.

Grabovski also brings value to the team in ways that aren't as easily measured statistically. He's a heart-and-soul type player for the Leafs who plays with an edge to his game, despite his small frame. He has a tremendous work ethic as well.

In an interview with Dmitry Chesnokov from Puck Daddy, Grabovski stated he wants his goal totals to always end in nine.

"There should be that one missing from the round number. Because there should always be a motivation to do better."

Sign this man!

He doesn't seem fazed during physical games either, something severely lacking on the current Leafs squad. In fact, he often excels after taking a big hit. Maybe that's because he's too concussed to know better.

Plus, he hates the Habs! Is there a better reason than that to bring the man back?

If there is one major flaw to Grabovski's game, it would be in the face-off circle. Grabovski has only won 48.2 % of draws this season, which is just about the same as last season.

But the positives far outweigh the negatives, so how can the Leafs possibly consider letting Grabovski go.

Joe Colborne may have his name pencilled into the second line centre role, but he's not going to step in and give anywhere near the production of Grabovski next season. That means despite having a high-quality centre prospect who is almost NHL ready, the Leafs will take a major step back next season if Grabovski is not in the line-up.

If Grabovski has priced himself out of Toronto, that represents a major failing by Brian Burke and the Maple Leafs to manage the salary cap. Money shouldn't be the issue when it comes to signing one of your best players, even if they require a raise.

But I've found Grabovski's money. It's quite simple actually. Tim Connolly has it.

If the Leafs can't afford to keep Grabovski, it will be the Connolly deal, not the Liles deal that did it. If that's the case, Burke's signing of Connolly becomes extremely short-sighted as Connolly was never intended to be a long-term fixture on the Leafs, he was meant to keep the seat warm while Burke looked for a long-term solution at centre. Yet it looks like that seat warmer will push out the only real quality centre the Leafs have.

Letting Grabovski go because potentially tight cap space in 2012-13 is another short-sighted move that the Leafs need to avoid if they actually want the team to get better and stay competitive. After next season tons of money comes off the books. Matthew Lombardi, Tim Connolly, and Colby Armstrong are all done, freeing up $11.25 million. That's enough money to give raises to players like Joffrey Lupul, earmark some more money for a future raise to Phil Kessel, make some moves and still sit comfortably under the cap. None of this money would have to go to Grabovski. Remember, he's already paid in this scenario. This is just extra cap space pouring out.

After next season, the cap space occupied by Connolly will instead be occupied by Grabovski, a better, more productive, and more versatile player. The Leafs just need to get through one season with a cap payroll that doesn't give them much flexibility, which really isn't much different from this season as the Leafs have close to the least amount of cap space in the league.

To do so, the Leafs have to find a way to free up a little extra cap space to get them through next season. Assuming Grabovski gets $5 million, Gustavsson gets $2 million, and slight raises are given to Kulemin, Aulie, and Franson, the Leafs will need to find around $2-3 million in cap space to make everything work. (Anything more for these players and Burke will have to get very creative to find some money).

That cap space could materialize through a simple MacArthur for a draft pick deal, placing Lombardi in the minors, or finding next off-season's Florida Panthers, a team desperate to make the cap-floor and crazy enough to take heavy deals to do so.

All of the above options are preferable to seeing Grabovski playing in a different uniform by the start of next season.

The Leafs are taking their first tentative steps towards respectability after years of being the punch-line to a league wide joke. Losing Mikhail Grabovski won't make the Leafs better, and the fact that his spot could be replaced by players with no long-term futures in Toronto is the biggest joke of them all.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...