A confused direction: Adding and subtracting players after down seasons

Cam Charron
July 04 2013 03:45PM

One of the reasons I liked the David Bolland trade is that even though he was coming off a playoffs where he won the Stanley Cup and scored the Cup-winning goal, he had played a real lousy regular season, possibly his worst in the NHL, and lost his job as the Chicago Blackhawks' primary defensive faceoff man.

In 2011, Bolland was Jonathan Toews' shelter. While Toews earned a Selke Trophy nominee, it was controversial in the online community because Bolland was on the ice for 334 defensive zone faceoffs while Toews had just 268, despite way more minutes. The next year, Marcus Kruger gradually took over Bolland's role and eventually ended up as the primary defensive zone faceoff option in 2013.

Bolland isn't a good player because he starts a lot in the defensive zone—that would be an awful argument. It is worth keeping in context though because offensive and defensive zone starts, while there's a dispute onto how effective they are in helping scorers score, it's tough to deny that there isn't a practical purpose in establishing who are the offensive and defensive options for a coach.

So Bolland was Quenneville's, until he wasn't. Absent a role and on the fourth line, Bolland was the only negative Corsi player on the Chicago Blackhawks until Michal Handzus showed up midway through the season. He scored just 7 times, and his 0.40 points per game rate was the lowest of his career.

But it was only one season. Bolland's PDO was also the lowest on the Blackhawks' forwards. Despite Corey Crawford and Ray Emery being nails all season for the Blackhawks, the team's goalies had just an .884 even strength save percentage when Bolland was on the ice. While it would seem that certain players and teams can help out a goalie's save percentage by restricting high quality shots, the data doesn't bear that out.

Team shooting percentages are definitely a bit trickier, but one year samples of shooting percentage can be attributable partly to luck. Bolland's on-ice shooting percentage, or the overall shot percentage of the Blackhawks when he was on the ice, was just 8.42%. That was a career-low for Bolland.

Combined, Bolland's PDO of 968 (88.4% plus 8.42%) showed that he hadn't produced last year the way that he performed, and his 0.40 points per game rate and his minus-7 were partly the result of low percentages. He played poorly, but he could probably rebound after a bad season, and he certainly didn't play as poorly as his basic statistics showed.

And that brings us to Mikhail Grabovski's "down" season.

Steve Simmons has tried to make the argument that Grabovski's 5-year, $5.5-million extension was a poor one because "he's a lone wolf centre who doesn't make teams better". There was perhaps a case for that this season. Grabovski was buried defensively and didn't get many opportunities to show his value on offence.

From 3:08 of powerplay time a game in 2011 and 2:05 in 2012 when he was the second highest scorer on the Leafs, Grabovski had just 1:42 in 2013. While Grabovski only had 9 goals and 16 points, his PDO was also just 988, the lowest on the Leafs and the only Leafs forward to be below 1000 on the season.

There were flashes of brilliance, but ultimately Grabovski's Relative Corsi fell to just 1.0 as he stockpiled defensive zone starts and shifts against other team's top competition with Nikolai Kulemin. In previous years, in a slightly easier role, Grabovski would be among the league leaders in Relative Corsi with numbers up in the +20s. While Simmons can dispute the importance of Grabovski's goals and points, there's no disputing that the Leafs got way more shots "for" than "against" with him on the ice.

While Simmons quotes Grabovski's plus/minus in the playoffs, he fails to note that over the larger sample, the two years between 2010 and 2012, Grabovski was one of two plus players that were regulars on the Leafs at a +14, the other being Nikolai Kulemin. Nobody criticized Rod Brind'Amour for scoring a single goal in the 2001 playoffs and being a minus-7, the lowest in the league. He and the Carolina Hurricanes played in the Cup Finals the very next season. In 2009, the lowest minus in the playoffs was Patrick Kane. He was second on his team in scoring and scored the Cup-winning goal the very next year.

I'm not sure whether Grabovski's year was good or bad. He was a plus player in Relative Corsi, but he fell off from his perch as one of the top in the league in that category. Surely that can be attributed to losing Clarke MacArthur on his wing, and how defensive his minutes were, but I'm reluctant to say that Grabovski was as good in 2013 as he was in 2012 or 2011… and yet his Relative Corsi was still in the pluses, and he still had just five fewer even strength points than Tyler Bozak in 58 fewer minutes, and 578 fewer minutes with Phil Kessel.

Will the Leafs even get to buy him out? $5.5-million for four years of an excellent centreman is a deal that's real tempting to claim off of waivers, and I know that there are teams in the NHL that use Corsi and other measures to make personnel decisions.

Dave Nonis had better have a good plan of what he's willing to do with the money, but simply accepting Randy Carlyle's faith in players like Jay McClement and Dave Bolland is not going to make me confident that next season the Leafs will ice any line that isn't a blue collar checking line. Randy Carlyle is more replaceable than Mikhail Grabovski ever would be, and his usage of Grabovski, which wasted the talents of the Maple Leafs' second best forward, combined with the Maple Leafs trying to buy him out represents some of the worst asset management in hockey.

Picking off a player after one down year like David Bolland makes sense, but not when you turn around and get rid of a better player a week late after, wait for it, a down year. Getting rid of Grabovski for free is inexcusable. A smart team will pick him up, play him in situations he will succeed, and Grabovski will have success. Unless Jonathan Bernier gets a .924 save percentage next season, I don't see the Leafs making the playoffs. Nonis better know something about him that I don't.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 Viktor
July 04 2013, 11:11PM
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Firstly, Grabo did NOT fly alone to coast in first class... Grabo is without a doubt the hardest-working player in Toronto. No one works harder and gives more out on the ice.

Secondly, a player's agent does not negotiate with the coach regarding ice-time, are you stupid? In many cases, player's agents have no interaction with the coach altogether.

The coaching and management in Toronto is making this team worse. You just threw away your best center, good job Nonis.

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#2 sir_jamez
July 04 2013, 11:32PM
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jasken wrote:

Its not what you dont know it's stuff you ignore. Like who Grabovski is In March, 2008, after being a healthy scratch for a game against the Phoenix Coyotes, Grabovski left the Montreal Canadiens and flew to Los Angeles to consult with his agent. The incident prompted his trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs that summer. He got mad he wasn't performing and was benched for it. This is one of many incidents like demand to travel first class because he was star instead of riding with the rest of the team even though Saku Koivu made arrangements that Grabovski be seated with him. As these have nothing to do with performance on ice right wrong. These type of things are poison to a team and this is what he has done I love his talent but the fact is he believes in individual performance over a team performance and he was treated as such.

What is never mentioned is that after this incident, Grabovski's agent got him in contact with Igor Larionov who had a long chat with him about professionalism and what it means to play and compete in the NHL. The Habs shipped him off that summer and no one on the Leafs EVER had anything bad to say about Grabbo or his work ethic (see: Komisarek's tweet today).

Carlyle is just a moron who wasted one of his best players, because I guess #YOLOSWAG.

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#3 DarrylY
July 04 2013, 03:53PM
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Honestly, this coming season is going to be hilarious.

On the bright side, it's likely to cost Nonis/Carlyle their jobs. So at least there's that.

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#4 Badger M
July 04 2013, 03:56PM
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@jonasTSN1050 Grabovski had some pretty blistering remarks toward Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. Called him a "stupid coach" among other things.

lol

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#5 jasken
July 04 2013, 04:04PM
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Its not what you dont know it's stuff you ignore. Like who Grabovski is In March, 2008, after being a healthy scratch for a game against the Phoenix Coyotes, Grabovski left the Montreal Canadiens and flew to Los Angeles to consult with his agent. The incident prompted his trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs that summer. He got mad he wasn't performing and was benched for it. This is one of many incidents like demand to travel first class because he was star instead of riding with the rest of the team even though Saku Koivu made arrangements that Grabovski be seated with him. As these have nothing to do with performance on ice right wrong. These type of things are poison to a team and this is what he has done I love his talent but the fact is he believes in individual performance over a team performance and he was treated as such.

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#7 jasken
July 04 2013, 04:14PM
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Cam Charron wrote:

So... Mikhail Grabovski is a poison because he prefers to fly first class?

(rushes to edit the poll)

No it was his demand to be separated from team to be treated different. He is a player 1 not a team throwing insults, whine because you dont get your own way. Demand to be trade because your benched for lack of performance seriously you agree with this?

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#8 Russell
July 04 2013, 04:17PM
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Do we even have faith that Nonis tried to get something back for Grabovski? As recently as the draft he said he wasnt going to use *both compliance buyouts. Was there seriously no one who would have given us a 7th rd. pick for the guy?

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#9 Jeremy Ian
July 04 2013, 04:28PM
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So far, I am inclined to think this is a bad move, and agree with your assessment; certainly the way Grabbo was played last season was a misuse of resources. If that's the precendent, then this decision isn't so shocking. But what's the #@$% model now? I once thought there was a strategic plan, but it started to come undone with the Bernier deal (actually, I have a feeling it was the loss of Frattin that may be the issue). If defense at No.1 C remain the priorities for what is essentially a good team with a lot of promise, Nonis has drifted way off the plantation, so he better have a map.

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#10 jasken
July 04 2013, 04:33PM
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Russell wrote:

Do we even have faith that Nonis tried to get something back for Grabovski? As recently as the draft he said he wasnt going to use *both compliance buyouts. Was there seriously no one who would have given us a 7th rd. pick for the guy?

Dont be surprised if no one picks him up after buy-out Grabovski really needs to understand about his image and how others view him. My guess he goes back to KHL unless his agent talks to him about control. Everyone could probably agree with Grabovski or even sympathize with him as we all worked for some pretty stupid supervisor's, fact is we dont tell them their stupid unless were looking for new employment.

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#11 Matt
July 04 2013, 05:05PM
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jasken wrote:

Dont be surprised if no one picks him up after buy-out Grabovski really needs to understand about his image and how others view him. My guess he goes back to KHL unless his agent talks to him about control. Everyone could probably agree with Grabovski or even sympathize with him as we all worked for some pretty stupid supervisor's, fact is we dont tell them their stupid unless were looking for new employment.

You're straight-up out of your mind if you think Grabovski doesn't get signed *tomorrow*, and for several million a season.

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#12 jasken
July 04 2013, 06:10PM
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Matt wrote:

You're straight-up out of your mind if you think Grabovski doesn't get signed *tomorrow*, and for several million a season.

I didn't say he wont be, he should because of talent alone. I said "dont be surprised" I just meant keep an open mind GMs and coaches talk and his little commentary on 1050 you honestly think GMs wont take that into consideration. Are they to believe that if he drops in production and gets reduced ice time or even benched he wont lash out at them in same way. Who's kidding themselves no player likes to be benched or reduced ice-time but you tell your agent you let your agent deal with it. Business side of things you never insult former employer when out of a job and looking it reflects badly on you common business sense.

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#13 jasken
July 05 2013, 12:13AM
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Viktor wrote:

Firstly, Grabo did NOT fly alone to coast in first class... Grabo is without a doubt the hardest-working player in Toronto. No one works harder and gives more out on the ice.

Secondly, a player's agent does not negotiate with the coach regarding ice-time, are you stupid? In many cases, player's agents have no interaction with the coach altogether.

The coaching and management in Toronto is making this team worse. You just threw away your best center, good job Nonis.

Really you want to know why the Leafs got Grabovski so cheap here's the article

http://www.hockeyinsideout.com/news/why-the-habs-traded-mikhail-grabovski

A player tells his agent he dont like his minutes the agent goes to management the management tries to work out something. If a player is unhappy with ice-time or shift he informs his agent lets him deal with it.

I knew enough about who Grabovski was people should actually read it before they judge Leafs management on the type of player they got so cheap.

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#14 jasken
July 05 2013, 12:28AM
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sir_jamez wrote:

What is never mentioned is that after this incident, Grabovski's agent got him in contact with Igor Larionov who had a long chat with him about professionalism and what it means to play and compete in the NHL. The Habs shipped him off that summer and no one on the Leafs EVER had anything bad to say about Grabbo or his work ethic (see: Komisarek's tweet today).

Carlyle is just a moron who wasted one of his best players, because I guess #YOLOSWAG.

I never argued his on ice ethics I said he was highly talented and skilled hard working. The fact is it was only a matter of time he didn't like the way he was being played, his ice time etc... I dont blame him, but there are right way and wrong ways of dealing with issues.

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