The Washington Capitals confirmed Friday that they have signed former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski to a one-year, $3-million US contract.
"Mikhail adds speed and offence to our lineup, and we are very pleased to have him sign with the Capitals," said Washington general manager George McPhee in a statement announcing the deal. "We believe he will be an excellent addition to our club."
Grabovski, who spent the last five seasons in Toronto, signed a five-year, $27.5-million extension with the Leafs in March 2012 before being bought out by following the 2013 season, making him an unrestricted free agent.
But Grabovski thinks he won't have any problems fitting into head coach Adam Oates' system.
"I like the system, I like [the fact] the team really wants me, and general manager [McPhee] and coach [Oates] really wanted me," Grabovski said on a conference call. "They liked how I played before [in Toronto]. I chose Washington because they really trust me and I think I can help them."
Oates met with Grabovski and sold him on the value of playing on an offensive team with a strong power play.
"I said, 'Look, no one's ever had this buyout before in our league. It's a very unique situation, you're a young guy, you're a good player, you've got a very unique opportunity. Make sure that when you make the decision, you go to a team that fits your puzzle,"' Oates said in a phone interview Friday. "I think there's an opportunity there, so we should be a team that you consider."
'I like everything [Capitals coach Adam Oates] said [to me]. I think he understands me, and for me I just need to work hard and try to play my best and I can show coach how I'm a good player.'—Capitals' Mikhail Grabovski
Grabovski said he was endeared with the conversation he had with his new coach and said he wanted to prove himself as an offensive threat.
"I like everything [Oates] said [to me]," Grabovski said. "I think he understands me, and for me I just need to work hard and try to play my best and I can show coach how I'm a good player."
Along with goaltender Tim Thomas, Grabovski, 29, was considered perhaps the top player left on the unrestricted free agent market. He fills the Capitals' need for a second-line centre after Mike Ribeiro was allowed to sign with Phoenix.
McPhee said last month that the plan was for Brooks Laich to be the second-line centre, something that likely changes with the addition of Grabovski.
"We were impressed, very much impressed with Washington coach Adam Oates," agent Gary Greenstin said in a phone interview Friday morning. "I remember as a player he always was an honest player during his hockey career. We talked with Adam, and most importantly he talked to Mikhail. And his enthusiasm, Adam's enthusiasm to work with Mikhail, convinced us it was right."
Grabovski played in all 48 games last season for Toronto under coach Randy Carlyle, putting up nine goals and seven assists in largely a bottom-six role, which the centre revealed he wasn't too thrilled about soon after he parted ways with the club.
"[Carlyle] makes me [expletive] play on the fourth line and he put me in the playoffs on the fourth line and third line again," he told TSN last month.
"Yeah, I don’t score goals. I need to work more about that, I know that, but if you feel support from your coach [you'll score]. I don’t feel any support from this [expletive] idiot."
But Grabovski wants to put any ill will behind him and start fresh in Washington.
"I'm just trying to do my best to improve myself, and play better than last year," the forward said on Friday. "[I want to put] that interview behind me, and think about the future."
Previously under Ron Wilson, the Belarusian was an effective scorer, recording 51 points in 2011-12 and 58 points in 2010-11.
Wilson told The Canadian Press in a text message he loved his former player's work ethic.
"Grabo was a joy to coach," Wilson said. "Works very hard, cares about winning and improving as an individual. As tough a player as I've had and absolutely fearless."
Grabovski's agent said he harbours no anger toward Carlyle, wishing his client's former bench boss all the best.
"The coach is always right," Greenstin said. "I've been around hockey long enough. If something goes wrong between the coach and the player, the agent has to talk to the general manager. Actually [I have] no hard feeling for Carly. I still believe he's a good coach and I wish best success to the Maple Leafs."
60-70-point potential: agent
The Belarussian has 94 goals and 217 points in 367 NHL games with Toronto and the Montreal Canadiens.
Greenstin said he expects Grabovski to be a 60- or 70-point player during an 82-game season if given that kind of role under Oates.
"Everybody knows his capabilities," Greenstin said. "Regarding why he make less points with the Maple Leafs because [of the] short season, first of all, in a longer season he'll get his 20 goals. And second, he had been playing third, fourth line."
Greenstin said it was the plan all along for Grabovski to seek a short-term deal and that "maybe a dozen teams" were interested in signing him, including "top teams" from Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.
Grabovski was set to make $6 million this season with the Leafs under his previous contract, so the 29-year-old is taking a pay cut, but with the salary cap expected to rise for 2014-15, a one-year deal could put him in position for another pay day.
Grabovski didn't get that immediately after the Maple Leafs used a compliance buyout on him. Toronto will pay him $14.3 million over the next eight years as a result.
"He is happy," Greenstin said. "He loves Toronto, he loves the Maple Leafs — they're a great organization. Now he has a new home, a new organization. He'll play for Washington and I believe his goal [is] to win the Stanley Cup. And he's 29. He'll have a great, great hockey career as it continues."