Former Caps defenseman John Erskine didn't get the best goodbye in team...
The Grabovski Factor
Mikhail Grabovski (Photo Credit: Bridget Samuels)
George McPhee has proven, once again, that you should not underestimate the man behind the desk. With the Capitals’ remaining cap space seemingly limiting them to minimal moves, let alone making any major improvements to the roster, McPhee managed to tie down the quietest most-wanted man on the market. It should also be pointed out that McPhee does have a history of taking players just off the Leaf boat, while giving nothing back, though not usually as high-profile as Mikhail Grabovski.
While all of that sounds pretty good, there are still some doubts at play. First of all, with Marcus Johansson still waiting for his contract to be sorted out, it could leave his future in question – and asks whether or not he is truly needed with the extra addition at centre. Contracts aside, there’s also the question of where Grabovski will fit in. Talent-wise, it isn’t a question. Adding the skill and creativity of Grabovski to the Capitals will no doubt improve their situation. The issue has more to do with placement, and where he’ll fit in the best. On one hand, you wouldn’t expect to see him in a first line role, especially with Nicklas Backstrom being the obvious choice. However, chemistry brings on strange combinations (just ask Adam Oates about line-combos), so the idea of him being a first-liner shouldn’t be written off.
When it comes to Mikhail Grabovski, there’s a lot you can say (and a lot that has been said) about how he gets along with teammates. There’s the infamous Kostitsyn rivalry, starting during his time with the Montreal Canadians, and don’t forget his past incidents with then-Leafs teammates Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin. Don’t fret, however! Mike Komisarek went on to praise Grabovski as a teammate and a player via tweet at the news of his buyout (shortly after his own).
Disregarding his few conflicts, his reputation with teammates on the ice is actually very positive. His speed and creative style help him almost immediately fit in wherever he is placed. So, there’s no real doubt that he will find his place on the team, wherever that will end up being.
In a perfect world, playing with Ovechkin would be a great fit for Grabovski. Aside from the obvious shared culture and language benefits, which have worked well for them both in the past (see: Nikolai Kulemin, Alexander Semin), they are both known for their explosive plays which, when done right, can lead to amazing things. In theory, Grabovski’s ability to create plays on the fly could not only boost Caps’ scoring, but help give Ovechkin that extra spark he’s been searching for. This would also leave room for Backstrom to carry his own line, creating the double-threat that the Capitals were once known for.
Another guess is that Grabovski could also find his footing with Brouwer or Ward. Both wingers haven’t been as consistent as some would have hoped, but neither has the team as a whole, so perhaps filling that offensive gap could restore confidence in some of their larger contracts and help them see their potential.
Avoiding speculation on where he’ll play, knowing what it is that Grabovski brings to the team as an individual is important as well. I’ve mentioned that he’s fast and creative, but that can be said about anyone. Like Ovechkin, Grabovski has been known to go from leisurely strides to explosive blasts down the ice in effort to make a play. He goes after the puck like a dog playing fetch, and does anything to get the puck in the net. The same could be said about his physicality – something Caps fans could be familiar with, as he has frequently shown his enthusiastic approach to leveling the competition against the Caps. He’s obviously not a fighter, but he makes up for his size with power.
And then there’s the creativity. Something that wasn’t showcased very well under recent Leafs coaching changes, was Grabovski’s ability to create plays and put them in practice. Under Ron Wilson, Grabovski started to confer with his linemates about what they could do differently, which included new – and sometimes frightening – scoring ideas. Factoring in the huge upgrade in skill that he’ll be playing with, and it’s really anyone’s guess what that could turn into on the score sheet.
I find it hard to expect anything but positive results for both Grabovski and the Capitals with this move. It’s a one year deal with potential to re-sign in the future and it’s at a good price (and an upgrade from what they were dealing with before). While trying not to get hopes too high, Grabovski could be a missing link in the Capitals playoff troubles. His lack of experience isn’t a knock against him, either. Last season’s stint against the Bruins showed that Grabovski can lift his level of play to playoff mode, regardless of how he’s used.
Some fans may still be a bit apprehensive when it comes to Grabovski – his 16 points last season really doesn’t scream top six player, but it should be taken into account that under Randy Carlyle, Grabovski was inexplicably reduced to bottom of the barrel minutes and next to no special teams action.
Grabovski plays with his heart on his sleeve, bringing everything he has to every game, and under Adam Oates, he should flourish in the Capitals system.
It should also be noted that Caps fans should mark dates they play the Leafs on their calendar, as Grabovski has probably made it his personal mission to score ALL the goals against his former team, just as he did when he moved from Montreal. His return to Toronto’s Air Canada Centre should be no-less exciting than a playoff game, so be on the lookout for that as well.