A “Mikhail Grabovski to KHL” update

Earlier this morning (or afternoon if live on the other side of Atlantic ocean) top Russian newspaper Sport-Express reported that Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski is about to sign a lockout contract with Dinamo Minsk. However, two respectful Belorussian media outlets suggest the deal is far from being over and they have quotes to back it up.

‘Mikhail is stuck at the crossroads. He doesn’t know what to do. Nobody knows anything for sure and he doesn’t think it makes any sense to go play somewhere else for a month,’ said Yuri Grabovski, Mikhail’s father, in his interview to Goals.By. ‘I would like to see my son play for his native club – Yunost. However, [Yunost head-coach] Mikhail Zakharov said he has nothing to do there. To be honest with you, I’m against these short-term contracts.’

Yunost currently plays in VHL – a farm league for KHL clubs. Its notable alumni include the Kostitsyn brothers. Zakharov in one of his interviews this summer made it clear both Andrei and Sergei as well as Grabovski should sign with Dinamo Minsk come the lockout, no matter how much they wanted to play for Yunost.

Nevertheless, it appears there’s another fish lurking in KHL waters for Grabovski.

‘I’m not sure if Mikhail is in talks with any other team. I know that Dinamo wants him. Although, there is also [Barys Astana head-coach] Vladimir Krikunov, to whom we’re always be in debt. I heard, he’s also interested in Mikhail, but I can’t tell you any details,’ added Yuri Grabovski.

Last lockout Mikhail Grabovski spent his last season in Russia (2005/06) playing for Dynamo Moscow and Krikunov was its head-coach at the time. He also led Team Belarus to a fourth place at the 2002 Olympics and Team Russia to bronze medals at the 2006 Olympics.

‘I talked to Mikhail. We had a very good talk,’ said Dinamo Minsk GM Igor Matushkin to Goals.By. ‘Obviously, Mikhail’s priority is to play for a Belorussian club but there are other circumstances he has to think about. He promised to give us an answer in the next few days. I also would like to add that his agent, Gary Greenstein, was given a good offer by our club. We’re waiting for Mikhail’s decision. Whatever it is, Mikhail’s still going to be our national team’s leader. The important thing for him is to have quality ice-time on a top level. If he opts for Dinamo, we’re going to be very happy.’

Dinamo Minsk signed Washington Capitals star center Nicklas Backstrom Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom and is reported to sign Sergei Kostitsyn. His brother Andrei decided to sign with Traktor Chelyabinsk.

‘We keep in touch with Igor Matushkin,’ said Greenstein to Pressball.By. ‘We’re having a normal negotiation process. I know that Igor talks to Mikhail as well. It’s too early to say the deal is done, though. Believe me, it’s not about the money. Clearly, Mikhail is a top-level player who deserves good money. However, there are a lot of other factors. First of all, he has a family and he wouldn’t want to leave it. Second of all, insurance. His insurance is pretty heavy. He’s obliged to have one by the Leafs. Finally, there are other teams willing to sign him in the KHL and Western Europe. By the way, they contacted us way earlier than Dinamo. Dinamo contacted us just a few days ago.’

‘We think we’re going to make a decision by the end of this week or at the beginning of the next one. I want to point out that our decision can be either about the club we’re going to sign with or that we’ll have for a month and see how this lockout is going to pan out. Don’t worry, Grabovski is going to be in shape. He’s been working in different camps that I set up for him since July, so he’s fit,’ added Greenstein.

So, here’s the deal. Grabovski doesn’t want to leave Toronto for a few months the league’s going to be locked out for. If he chooses to do so, he’s going to end up either in Dinamo Minsk, because it’s located in his home country, or Barys Astana because he likes the coach. However, it is clear Mikhail is going to be back once the lockout is over.

Meanwhile, he may end up playing with Nicklas in front of Backstrom. Not a bad experience.

Correction: An earlier version of the story suggested that Washington Capitals centreman Nicklas Backstrom was joining Dinamo Minsk. It is actually Niklas, the star goaltender for the Minnesota Wild.

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