Ex-Leaf Mikhail Grabovski is a Washington Capital

Cam Charron
August 22 2013 08:05PM

It looks like everything but the official announcement is to come here. Mikhail Grabovski appears to have signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3-million per season.

This comes as some vindication for the hardcore Mikhail Grabovski observer. Some of us watched and writhed in agony as our favourite Toronto Maple Leaf was bought out by Dave Nonis on July 4 and had our birthdays ruined. It was none too pleasant watching NHL teams snap up other players inferior to Mikhail Grabovski as Grabovski patiently waited for contract offers.

But there was always buzz, and there were always teams interested. It appears the Capitals have made the move on a "show me" contract for the bought-out centreman.

Let's get it out of the way first: Grabovski's contract was hazardous, if it was signed on the basis of Grabovski's offensive production between 2010 and 2012. In 2013, it was showed that he could be a perfectly mediocre checking centreman. There are certainly reasons Grabovski produced just 9 goals and 18 points in 55 games last season, but that doesn't mean it's risky having a scoring centreman paid at first-line rate through his 33-year-old season is a good idea.

Not to say that I'd have bought out the deal. It was a waste of a compliance buyout and the chances of finding an upgrade are slim, because so few No. 1 centremen are passed around at affordable prices. I can understand why a team would be wary of going long-term on him, and it looks like Grabovski is going to bank on having success in the 2013 league year and cash in at the end of it.

I made the point a few days ago that Grabovski was this year's Alexander Semin. It took a while for Semin to sign a one-year deal in Carolina last summer, but midway through the season, he wound up signing a five-year extension at the same price. I have to think that the Capitals will think of doing similar with Grabovski if he starts off the season with any sort of success, and it is a good situation for him.

The Capitals have Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Brooks Laich signed beyond 2016. The team lost Mike Ribeiro to free agency this past year to the Phoenix Coyotes—he was a point-a-game player in 2013, playing most of his time with Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer.

The dirty secret to Ovechkin's game last year is that he was helped by a huge shooting percentage boost on the powerplay, which is likely unsustainable. With Ribeiro last season, Ovechkin had just a 45.9% Corsi rate and the team was out-scored 0.97 to 1.04 at even strength per 20 minutes of play according to Hockey Analysis.

Ovechkin had 16 goals and a 22.54% shooting rate in 5-on-4 situations in 2013, a huge bump considering his shot percentage at 5-on-4 between 2007 and 2012 was just 13.12%. Ovechkin was 20th in goals per 60 minutes at even strength, so you know there's some need for him to improve in that aspect, especially considering he hasn't been a plus-possession player since 2011. This is I suspect where Grabo fits. Grabovski and Phil Kessel have been dynamite together in the past with a 54.0% Corsi rate and out-scoring the opposition 1.48 to 0.98 per 20 minutes of play. That's just 350 or so minutes of action so the sample is pretty small, but you can see that those two trended in the right direction.

Kessel, like Ovechkin, is a dynamic skater and scorer with puck-possession deficiencies. Adam Oates transferred Ovechkin onto the right side last season, and given the success Grabovski has had centring the right shot, right wing Kessel, I suspect that Grabo will at least get a shot with Ovechkin in place of Mike Ribeiro. Failing that, Grabovski being a left shot, could play on the right wing on a line with Backstrom and Ovechkin. Russian Machine Never Breaks noted that George McPhee stated he wanted to give Brooks Laich a shot at the second-line centre job, but that Laich is more suited to playing a tough minutes, grind-em-out-type game that Grabovski was used to last year.

I would suspect though, that Grabovski took a while to sign because he was looking for the right situation, and he wouldn't be happy playing in a third line role again. Grabovski will probably have a chance to prove himself offensively, a tall task for a 30-year-old that is probably through with his scoring prime.

So, if and when this goes through, the Capitals may be a team worth keeping a tab on. Other than the Pittsburgh Penguins, there aren't any standout teams in the new Metropolitan Division but I think this move, combined with the offensive mindset Adam Oates got the team back into last season, could bring the Capitals closer to their late 2000s style that culminated in an unexpected, philosophy-altering loss to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games in 2010.

In the short term, however, it's worth noting that the Maple Leafs host the Capitals on November 23, the only time Washington will visit Toronto short of a playoff matchup. That game is on CBC and could draw quite a big national audience if Grabovski has a quick start to the season…

UPDATE The rumours were confirmed Friday morning, and we didn't have to wait until Monday.

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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 DP
August 22 2013, 09:29PM
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I really am going to miss Grabby; He's a Doll

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#2 nonikhanna
August 22 2013, 11:03PM
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I'm gonna miss the energizer bunny :(

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#3 Avro
August 22 2013, 09:27PM
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Funny how Two Ex Habs will have played second line center for the Caps, Ribeiro and Grabs.

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#4 leafer4life
August 22 2013, 11:03PM
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I'm not sure how this is vindication of any sort. Grabbo only got a one year deal. And he got less then any other center this year and even less then Roy. Rather, this is a prove me (or move back to KHL) type of contract. However, he will be playing for Adam Oates instead of Randy.

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#5 MaxPower417
August 23 2013, 01:50PM
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If Grabo gets to play with OV...watch out. It will also be a perfect way to show how ridiculous the idea was that Kessel and Grabo's "styles couldn't possibly mesh".

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#6 leafer4life
August 23 2013, 08:57AM
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The only player whose saw their possession # (corsi) decrease when playing with Grabbo was another ex-leaf and ex-cap in Crabb. That is impressive for Grabbo but mind boggling for what it implies about Crabb.

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#7 ABC
August 27 2013, 09:44PM
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What vindication Cam?

The guy got a lowball 1 year deal to prove he is not KHL bound because no one else wanted him.

Grabovski was desperate because he had no one else want him.

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#8 ABC
August 27 2013, 09:48PM
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If Advanced stats advocates were correct, Grabovski would never have been bought out, he would never have been outproduced by Kadri.

Stats are for losers that's all I can say.

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