As mentioned earlier at The Leafs Nation by Danny Gray, the rumour that John-Michael Liles had re-signed a long-term deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs hit the Internet feeds this morning, securing the future for at least one current Toronto Maple Leaf. The deal was confirmed in the afternoon, with Liles signing a four-year extension worth $3.875M per.
Who is the other Leaf that this extension may effect? Mikhail Grabovski.
Frequent readers of TLN may know the high regard we hold Grabovski over here. He’s a very important possession player for Toronto, leading the team in Corsi, a shot-differential statistic that is useful in determining which team had control of the puck when a player was on the ice.
By tallying the salary numbers at NHLNumbers.com, the Leafs will be spending just over $50M next season with rookie bonuses. We have yet to know exactly what the salary cap will be, but with Nik Kulemin and Cody Franson’s contracts coming to an end this summer, one has to wonder whether there is simply the money available for Brian Burke to commit to Grabovski, instead deciding that Joe Colborne is ready to make the jump to the NHL.
We know that Colborne is a big, young centre who can score and is a Brian Burke-type of player. At 6’5″ 213, he’s the guy with size that Burke frequently talks about adding to his top six, who has scored 27 points in 31 games in the American League this season with the Toronto Marlies.
So if that’s indeed the guy Burke wants for this picture, it may leave Grabovski as the odd-man out, which is a shame. I think that Grabovski is the possession forward that has the defensive ability to counteract Joffrey Lupul’s uselessness on the wrong half of centre. But unlike Joey Crabb, Tyler Bozak, or even Dave Steckel, who has taken some shifts with Phil Kessel in key faceoff situations, Grabovski is not a “Brian Burke guy”. He is one of three Leafs, the other two being Kulemin and Luke Schenn, who were playing with the Leafs when Burke was hired as the team’s President and General Manager back in November of 2008.
I’m not convinced that the Leafs are going to, or have the resources after the Liles re-signing, to make a commitment toarguably their best two-way forward. Do the Leafs have the team to win the Stanley Cup this season or to make noise in the playoffs? Probably not. If it’s not in the team’s interests to re-sign Mikhail Grabovski, they should do as David Johnson at Hockey Analytics has suggested and trade him. Pittsburgh, Nashville and Chicago are three teams that the blogosphere-at-large has identified as being in playoff position that require centre depth. The Blackhawks have several young players that could help Toronto; Mark McNeill is a 210-lb forward with Prince Albert in the WHL scoring at a point a game as a “hockey 18”.
Nashville have Austin Watson, the former captain of the Peterborough Petes traded to the London Knights at the OHL’s trade deadline, a 6’3″ scorer who has yet to fill out his frame, while the Pittsburgh Penguins have a couple of good defensive prospects the Leafs may be interested in, the sizeable two-way Joe Morrow, the defensively-capable Scott Harrington, and the NHL-ready Simon Despres.
There are options if the Leafs indeed decide to trade Mikhail Grabovski, and as they should if they do not wish to re-sign him. It makes little sense for this team, as constructed, to effectively “buy” at the trade deadline in an effort to make the playoffs alone.
However, at the risk of alienating readers, my preference is that the Leafs re-sign him. With the team’s commitment to Liles today, that doesn’t appear to be the case.