Thursday, July 4, 2013
Dave Nonis has used the Leafs' final compliance buyout on Mikhail Grabovski, ridding Toronto of Grabovski's $5.5 million cap hit. The buyout will cost the Leafs $14.33 million in real dollars over eight years, but nothing against the cap.
“This was not an easy decision to make as Mikhail made numerous contributions to our hockey club," Nonis said in a statement. "This is a roster move that will give us salary cap flexibility moving forward.”
The fear is that Grabovski's money will now be given to Tyler Bozak. The Leafs would be replacing the slightly overpaid Grabovski with an inferior player on a contract that will likely be best described as Calgarian.
The move is complete idiocy because, as Tyler Dellow puts it, “Everybody does better at everything with Grabovski than they do with [Bozak].”
Despite a decline in production during the first year of his deal, Grabovski has been Toronto's best two-way player, and one of their most important since arriving from Montreal. Grabovski scored 208 points since joining the Leafs in 2008. Only Phil Kessel, with 253, scored more for Toronto. Compared to the rest of the league over that same time span, Grabovski scored the 35th most points among all centres—similar to Jordan Staal and Sam Gagner—making him one of the game's best second line centres. Unlike many of the centres ahead of him, Grabovski did so in a defensive role.
But Nonis felt he was expendable anyways. Today's buyout can be largely attributed to Carlyle's mismanagement of his team's best two-way centre. Grabovski apparently agrees.
A taste of Grabovski on Carlyle: "Don’t put me on a [expletive] third line and then [expletive] play [me] six minutes in a game."
— Jonas Siegel (@jonasTSN1050) July 4, 2013
Carlyle pushed Grabovski's defensive role to the extreme this season, crushing him with extremely difficult matchups, and starting him in the defensive zone for two-thirds of his shifts. Carlyle deployed Grabovski as if his name was Max Talbot, using him as a high-priced checker. Ron Wilson matched up Grabovski with the opposition's top lines, too, but not to the extent that Carlyle did and certainly not as much in the defensive zone. Unsurprisingly, after being saddled with tough matchups and dwindling power play time, Grabovski's offensive production shriveled. However, despite the tough matchups, Grabovski was still a positive puck possession forward in relation to his teammates.
Nonis' draft-day acquisition of Dave Bolland could have released Grabovski from his defensive shackles, and the Leafs likely would have received a nice offensive bounce-back season in return. With Bolland, the Leafs would have a pair of two-way centres, one with a little more offense, and one with a little more defence. Carlyle could split the defensive duties between the two, getting maximum production out of both. Instead, with Grabovski's buyout, Carlyle will have little choice but to give Bolland "The Grabovski Treatment"—burying him in the defensive zone under a mound of elite forwards—and people will wonder why he too isn't producing.
Even without Bolland, the Leafs could have let Tyler Bozak walk and still iced a competitive collection of centres. Nazem Kadri could move up to the first line, Joe Colborne could slot in a soft minutes bottom-six role, and a cheap free agent signing like Boyd Gordon could provide depth in a defensive role.
Now the Leafs look paper thin at centre. Unless Nonis has a deal in the works for a centre better than Grabovski (which is unlikely), the Leafs will have to spend some of their vast amounts of cap space on a flawed centre that will inevitably be worse than Grabovski, Bozak being the rotten cherry topping the melting, rancid sundae.
A new bad contract will not be easily erased either; there are no more magic clauses to make mistakes disappear. In a summer devoid of impact free agents, the Leafs were better served holding onto their remaining compliance buyout, providing flexibility next summer. At that time, if Grabovski wasn't able to rebound, Nonis could make him disappear and give himself some more money to spend on not Mike Ribeiro and not Tyler Bozak.
Instead, the Leafs are turning what was once a promising off-season into a car wreck.
Nonis' moves so far this off-season have reeked of Randy Carlyle, a man who couldn't figure out how to play his best players until injuries forced him to. A man who has wrongly concluded at various points in his career that Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner were not worthy of ice time, and who has now pushed Mikhail Grabovski out of Toronto. A man who may as well have been actively trying to take the Leafs down from the inside.
But hey, at least the GM and coach are on the same page.