The Toronto Maple Leafs have re-signed their restricted free agent centre Mikhail Grabovski before he could make his way to arbitration. For those that only hear when Brian Burke says that he wants to get tougher this signing is already coming as a shock (read the tsn.ca comments at your own peril). What they forget is that Burke wants the top six forwards to be skilled and Grabovski is definitely skilled. Whether he can build on his 48 point season is another question but at the price and term the Leafs will have enough time to evaluate his long-term potential without taking too big of a gamble.
Grabovski is definitely a popular character around these parts. It all started when he came over around a year ago as one of Cliff Fletcher's best trades during his second run. Turns out, Habs fans hate him with a passion. In fact, the feeling is pretty mutual. Before the season started I was a little skeptical about Grabovski's desire to play in the NHL if he wasn't receiving the playing time he thought that he deserved. Turns out that he would get it and he took full advantage as he became a mainstay on one of the Leafs' best lines. He even got his own Barilkosphere meme after Chemmy unearthed some of the world's most ridiculous pictures. He also starred in my favourite series of fanposts: The Adventures of Grabbo Weeble. Grabbo Weeble searched high and low for Sisu Weeble before returning home.
But what did he do on the ice to make him worth $8.7 million over 3 years?
|2008 - Mikhail Grabovski||78||20||28||48||-8||92||6||0||2||1||120||16.7|
Those numbers do not look out of this world. There is no doubt that a part of that contract is paying for Grabovski's potential. He meshed well with Niklas Hagman and Nikolai Kulemin for most of the season. Grabovski allied his offensive instincts to excellent skating, a surprising amount of jam for a player his size, and superb strength on the puck. Grabovski also provided Leaf fans with some of the more memorable nights of the year from his work with Ponikarovsky in destroying the Habs to his antics in defence of his honour:
He actually tied for the team lead in penalty minutes which is probably what spurred Burke to get in players that were actually tough. One of my friends mentioned that he can't wait to see how big Grabovski will play now that he has the goon squad behind him. Some people were not impressed with his Montreal outburst but I think we can all agree that his double peace sign exit from the Bell Centre was indeed high comedy. Grabovski might agitate his own teammates but I'd rather a guy that's trying too hard in practice over a loafer.
This was Grabovski's first full campaign in the NHL and it was clear from some of his slumps that he needs work on his long-term fitness even if he played almost 30 minutes(!) a game for Belarus at the World Championships. One thing that has endeared me to Grabovski is his willingness to work. Even in March he knew that he had to improve some aspects of his game. The Leafs provided him with a workout plan prior to the summer:
Based on Monday's fitness tests, each player will be given a personalized workout plan that they will be expected to follow this summer. Anyone who does not show improvement, Wilson said, will not be in a Leafs uniform next season.
I would assume that, based on the emphasis that Dave Morrison placed on the workouts at the draft, that Grabovski is progressing well. I thought I was putting pressure on him to even match Sergei Berezin's impact as a Leaf but if he fails it looks like it won't be for lack of effort.The community was confident that Grabovski would re-sign despite Burke intimating that asking for arbitration was a nuclear option. We also seemed pretty confident that Grabovski is most likely to improve among the forwards from last year's team. I think that's pretty clear in everyone's reaction. We'll learn a bit about the wisdom of crowds after these three seasons. I don't think that he'll develop into a first line centreman but he certainly has the tools to potentially anchor the second line going forward. We'll have three years to find out if he can reach his potential.