Friday, July 5, 2013

Underrated and Unappreciated - Saying Farewell to Grabbo

We here at BCP are deeply saddened by the departure of Mikhail Grabovski, on two fronts. Firstly, he was a heck of a player who when on his game was a dynamic second line center capable of playing in all situations. Secondly, neither one of us understand how to properly use Photoshop which means changing our blog header is going be a headache.

James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail has summed up the view of Leaf Nation:

The Leafs bought out Grabovski’s contract on Thursday afternoon, spending a little more than $14-million to punt a player who had become incredibly divisive in Leafs Nation, primarily for his lack of offensive production.

It was disappointing to watch Grabovski fall out of favor with many Leaf fans this season, while the majority of those in the blogging community, more attune with advanced stats the deeper metrics continued to support him. It is even more disappointing to believe the Dave Nonis would have actually bought out Grabovksi because of pressure from fans who decided that Mikhail 9 goals in the lockout shortened season made him expendable.

Listening to morning radio shows this year fans lambasted Grabbo daily, calling him for to be more productive on the offensive end, to help provide the ever valuable secondary scoring. Few analysts took the time to explain properly to the public that Grabovski spent the majority of his time on the ice with Jay McClement, Leo Komarov, and Nikolai Kulemin (courtesy FrozenPool). While I like Jay and Nikolai as players they do not possess the offensive talent of Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, or James van Riemsdyk. Yet, almost inexplicably, Grabovski regularly had his goal and assist totals compared directly to that of players skating in the top six.

In 2011-12 Grabovski averaged just over 2 minutes each night on the power play. In 2010-11, a season in which he recorded 58 points, including 29 goals, he averaged over 3 minutes a game with the man advantage. This year his power play time continued to dwindle, finishing with an average of only 1:42 per game, being deployed primarily on the second unit or not at all.

Compounding the issue for Mikhail was where he started most shifts. According to Behind the Net Grabovski started 36.7% of his shifts in the other team’s zone, the third lowest percentage of any player on the Leafs roster. Compare that to Phil Kessel (49.0%) and Joffrey Lupul (47.7%) and it is clear Grabbo was not being put in a position to contribute goals and assists.

All of this would have been fine had the team and Randy Carlyle simply explained that Mikhail's role had shifted to that of a defensive centerman. Grabovski being utilized as a shut down 3rd line center, playing important minutes against the oppositions best players. Helping to shield the less experienced Nazem Kadri from opposition he likely couldn’t manage in the defensive end.  But they never did, choosing instead to let the growing negatively fester all season until it finally reached an end yesterday.

What is most troublesome is the common theory that Grabovski wasn’t living up to his 5 year, $27.5 million dollar contract. I’m willing to admit that Grabovski was slightly overpaid. In an ideal setting his deal would have carried a cap hit in the 4.5 to 4.75 range. Was it worth losing a player with the diverse skill set of Grabovski over an $800,000 discrepancy in pay? My initial reaction has been no, especially if the dollars saved are earmarked for Tyler Bozak.

This post no doubt reads like an angry Leafs blogger venting his frustration over losing a favourite player, and that is to a degree factual. However, there are a number of circumstances under which I’m willing to forgive Nonis for this buyout, or at least understand his view.

Phil Kessel is due a contract extension sometime this coming season, a deal which will be 8 years in length and close to if not exceeding $8 million dollars a year. Additionally, Dion Phaneuf will be looking for a new contract, albeit not as lucrative, but at least $6 million and substantial term. If buying out Grabovski was a necessary move to make the contracts of these two core players work than I can least understand what lead to the decision, even if I cannot wholeheartedly support it.

Right now the Leafs center ice depth chart reads Kadri – Bolland – McClement – "some guy". That would be one of the lesser groupings in the league, at least on paper. It is unlikely that Nonis has completed his offseason makeover; we can only hope that there is still at least one move to come that will help round out the center ice position.

Whatever free agency and the trade market bring the Leafs lost a significant player yesterday. We wish you the best Grabbo, you will be missed. 

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