Mikhail Grabovski Signs, Comparisons Abound

Yesterday, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Mikhail Grabovski to a five year deal at an annual cap hit of $5.5M. As Chemmy noted, cries of ‘massive overpayment!’ were quick to the lips of many an ignorant fan and mittenstringer. There were however a couple of good takes on the deal from the media and one popular comparison of cap hits that could use a lot more examination after the jump.

Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts recognized that had the Leafs not signed Grabovski that they would have had to either promote Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne to a major role in their first full NHL seasons (good player development) or they would have had to dip into a pretty bare UFA market where they would invariably significantly overpay. Take a look at this summer’s upcoming UFA class and try to find a centre that would fill Grabovski’s shoes at his price tag or lower. I won’t hold my breath while you look.

Greg Brady offered up 27.5 thoughts on the deal and the Leafs’ cap situation and nails the head on a lot of them. Among the ones he got right: the Leafs have real cap issues that they will need to address (they can be easily addressed with some testicular fortitude by Burke), that Grabbo’s three year RFA deal at $2.9M each was a great bargain, that comparing RFA deals to UFA deals is embarrassing, and that complaints about him being paid more than Kessel are just stupid. 

As soon as the deal came out, people were looking to make comparisons to other signed deals. Cap Geek tweeted a link to a comparison of 20 comparable cap hits that was immediately seized upon. "Ha! Look! Grabovski makes more than Ryan Kesler!" or some variation thereof made a lot of appearances on twitter.


Here’s the original table that provides zero context to the numbers.

Contract Status

Name Age at Signing 1st Yr of Deal Status Team Length
Patrik Elias 29 2006-07 UFA NJD 7
Mike Cammalleri 26 2009-10 UFA CGY 5
Mike Richards 22 2008-09 RFA LAK 12
Shawn Horcoff 30 2009-10 UFA EDM 6
Phil Kessel 21 2009-10 RFA TOR 5
Ryan Getzlaf 26 2008-09 RFA ANA 5
Corey Perry 22 2008-09 RFA ANA 5
Jason Pominville 26 2009-10 UFA BUF 5
Marian Hossa 31 2009-10 UFA CHI 12
Mike Ribeiro ****** 27 2008-09 UFA DAL 5
Martin Havlat 27 2009-10 UFA SAN 6
Brian Gionta 30 2009-10 UFA MTL 5
Martin St. Louis 35 2011-12 UFA TBL 4
Patrick Sharp**** 29 2012-13 UFA CHI 5
Bobby Ryan 22 2010-11 RFA ANA 5
Tomas Plekanec 27 2010-11 UFA MTL 6
Ryan Kesler ***** 25 2010-11 RFA VAN 6
Jeff Carter ** 26 2011-12 RFA LAK 11
John Tavares* 20 2012-13 RFA NYI 6
Mikhail Grabovski 28 2012-13 UFA TOR 5
David Krejci *** 24 2012-13 RFA BOS 3

I’ve edited this table to include the age at which the contracts were signed as well as the players’ status at that time. I don’t expect the average fan to understand the importance of a players’ contractual status to negotiations. The vast majority of fans just want to enjoy watching the sport and do not care to expand their knowledge beyond the superficial. That’s their prerogative and it’ll cause them a lot less stress. What is a problem though is when ‘professionals’ that are paid to provide their insight also fail to take this into account. Doug MacLean fell prey to this simplistic (and who is really surprised?) understanding of things. He won’t be alone.

However, maybe he just has never had it explained to him? Based on his work in Columbus it is entirely possible. The Cliff Notes version is that an RFA (as Nikolai Kulemin will find out) has minimal leverage. The only way to come close to a bidding war is if the player signs an offer sheet. The first problem is that he needs to find a GM that is willing to break the unwritten rule preventing such gauche behaviour. The second is that he’ll then have to play in Edmonton. He can go to arbitration in certain cases but then he lays his fate at the feet of an arbitrator and his case may not turn out to be as strong as he’d like. Or, he can run off to Russia I guess. Meanwhile, a UFA has a massive amount of leverage. If they wait until July 1 then they could have 30 teams vying for their services. There is a gamble that they will wait too long to sign but if you’re looking for $5M+ then you can be pretty safe that someone will sign you. Especially if you see that the UFA class is thinner than the Leafs’ playoff hopes. 

Recent Point Production

This table shows the point production over the previous two full seasons to signing their deal in the summer. 

Name PPG 2 years prior Rk
Martin St. Louis 1.18 1
Patrik Elias 1.05 2
Marian Hossa 0.94 3
Jeff Carter ** 0.93 4
Mike Cammalleri 0.9 6
Martin Havlat 0.9 5
Jason Pominville 0.89 7
Ryan Getzlaf 0.88 8
Patrick Sharp**** 0.88 9
Mike Richards 0.81 10
David Krejci *** 0.78 11
Shawn Horcoff 0.77 12
Bobby Ryan 0.77 13
John Tavares* 0.75 14
Mikhail Grabovski 0.74 15
Mike Ribeiro ****** 0.69 16
Brian Gionta 0.69 17
Tomas Plekanec 0.66 18
Corey Perry 0.64 19
Ryan Kesler ***** 0.59 20
Phil Kessel 0.57 21


  1. * Tavares signed his deal after the second season of his Entry Level Contract. Garth Snow takes a lot of flak but this deal was well-timed and a good piece of work.
  2. ** Carter signed November 13, 2010 in the third season of his Entry Level Contract at the beginning of a 30-36-66 80GP season.
  3. *** Krejci is interesting because he actually signed December 2, 2011 in year two of a three year second contract. GMs are decrying the death of the second contract but Chiarelli did a good job of bringing Krejci along. The contract was signed during a 17-29-46 61GP season. 
  4. **** Signed August 3, 2011 after year three of four year second deal.
  5. ***** Signed March 19, 2010 in year three of three year second deal. Kesler signed it towards the end of a 25-50-75 82GP season.
  6. ****** Signed January 8, 2008 in the middle of a one year RFA deal. Ribeiro was in the middle of a 27-56-83 76GP season.

Disclaimer: I used Grabovski’s year to date numbers but if I used the two previous full seasons he’d have been at 0.66 points per game which would put him on par with Tomas Plekanec. Of the comparable deals, Grabovski’s in the bottom quarter of the comparables that were pulled. However, these deals were signed at different times and under different caps. How would they look if they were normalized, so to speak, based on the percentage of the cap that they represented when the deals were signed. Before we get to that, a quick reminder of what the cap hits have been:

Season Cap Hit
2006-07 $44,000,000
2007-08 $50,300,000
2008-09 $56,700,000
2009-10 $56,800,000
2010-11 $59,400,000
2011-12 $64,300,000
2012-13 $68,500,000

The 2012-13 figure is based on an estimate that Pierre LeBrun suggested after discussions with GMs. The upcoming CBA is obviously the elephant in the room. There is no guarantee that the cap will not be reduced however I’ll proceed on that assumption because otherwise there’s no post! 

Cap Hit Percentage

Name PPG 2 years prior Rk Cap Hit Cap 1st Year/% 2012-13 $ Rk
Patrik Elias 1.05 2 $6,000,000 13.64% $9,340,909 1
Mike Cammalleri 0.9 5 $6,000,000 10.56% $7,235,915 2
Mike Richards 0.81 10 $5,750,000 10.14% $6,946,649 3
Shawn Horcoff 0.77 12 $5,500,000 9.68% $6,632,923 4
Phil Kessel 0.57 21 $5,400,000 9.51% $6,512,324 5
Ryan Getzlaf 0.88 8 $5,325,000 9.39% $6,433,201 6
Corey Perry 0.64 19 $5,325,000 9.39% $6,433,201 7
Jason Pominville 0.89 7 $5,300,000 9.33% $6,391,725 8
Marian Hossa 0.94 3 $5,275,000 9.29% $6,361,576 9
Mike Ribeiro ****** 0.69 16 $5,000,000 8.82% $6,040,564 10
Martin Havlat 0.9 6 $5,000,000 8.80% $6,029,930 11
Brian Gionta 0.69 17 $5,000,000 8.80% $6,029,930 12
Martin St. Louis 1.18 1 $5,625,000 8.75% $5,992,418 13
Patrick Sharp**** 0.88 9 $5,900,000 8.61% $5,900,000 14
Bobby Ryan 0.77 13 $5,100,000 8.59% $5,881,313 15
Tomas Plekanec 0.66 18 $5,000,000 8.42% $5,765,993 16
Ryan Kesler ***** 0.59 20 $5,000,000 8.42% $5,765,993 17
Jeff Carter ** 0.93 4 $5,272,727 8.20% $5,617,135 18
John Tavares* 0.75 14 $5,500,000 8.03% $5,500,000 19
Mikhail Grabovski 0.74 15 $5,500,000 8.03% $5,500,000 20
David Krejci *** 0.78 11 $5,250,000 7.66% $5,250,000 21

As you can see, Grabovski comes in with the lowest cap hit as a percentage of the cap in the year that the deal begins. If we remove the RFAs then Grabbo is the cheapest cap hit by that metric. Among the UFAs on the above list, Grabovski signed at the average age as the rest of the players (28 years) and scores below the average points per game (0.74 v 0.86). However, he also comes in at almost a $1M less than the average cap hit ($5.5M v. $6.4M). Now, the interesting part is if you compare Grabbo’s numbers as a percentage of the averages. In both cases, his figures represent 86% of the average of the sample group. Hard to see how that translates into an overpayment but with Maple Leafs Derangement Syndrome you cannot always figure out the logic.

Now, this is simply the group that was selected by Cap Geek and spread by fans. I would be interested in looking at a more robust set of comparables based on metrics such as recent production, ice time, and some advanced stats but these are the ones that were presented. But for now, it’s hard to say that Brian Burke did anything other than lock down a key cog at the going rate. Hopefully this is a harbinger of what is to come of Burke’s work this summer.