Grabovski's deal fair for both sides + 30 Thoughts | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaGrabovski's deal fair for both sides + 30 Thoughts

Posted: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 | 01:20 PM

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Despite a career high 58 points, Mikhail Grabovski is the best offensive option down the middle for the Maple Leafs, even if he doesn’t technically hold down the No. 1 centre spot. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press) Despite a career high 58 points, Mikhail Grabovski is the best offensive option down the middle for the Maple Leafs, even if he doesn’t technically hold down the No. 1 centre spot. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

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Mikhail Grabovski's five-year, $27.5 million US contract with the Maple Leafs is fair for both player and team. The real question is: What would it cost to replace him? Toronto knows what it has with Grabovski. Without him? Right now, no clue.

Wrote about this a little bit last week, but with Mikhail Grabovski re-signing for $27.5 million US over five years (a $5.5 million cap hit), it bears further investigation.

Clearly, I'm in the minority on this one. It's a fair deal for both player and team. But, there are plenty who disagree, saying the figure is too high for someone with a career-best 58 points.

The Toronto Maple Leafs believed the fairest comparable was Tomas Plekanec, who signed a six-year, $30 million deal in 2010. Grabovski gets a little bit more, and with that will come expectation to perform to a higher level. If last Saturday's game was any indication, Randy Carlyle will lean on him to do just that.

The real question is: What would it cost to replace him?

It's the same thing Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini asked about Ales Hemsky and Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford asked about Tuomo Ruutu.

The Maple Leafs are not strong down the middle. Grabovski is their best offensive option, even if he doesn't technically hold down the No. 1 spot. (He does need to become a better faceoff man.) Even with him, they're going to have to look for someone else. If he walks as an unrestricted free agent, exactly how does Toronto replace that?

There is one potential free-agent centre outscoring Grabovski this season (two if you want to play Zach Parise full-time at that position). It is Olli Jokinen, who is six years older. Even if, for argument's sake, you let Grabovski walk and signed Jokinen, you're still in the same position, at least one centre short. Plus, with so few potential free-agent options, it's probably going to cost you a similar amount.

Of course, there's the worse-case scenario of letting Grabovski walk and not being able to sign Jokinen or anyone else who can fill that position. Then where do you go? Trade? Anyone feel like giving up Jake Gardiner for the one impact centre you'll absolutely need to have? And who do you give up for the second one?

Leaf fans will argue there's Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne coming down the pipe. You have to think that, if Leafs GM Brian Burke really thought one (or both) could give him more than Grabovski, negotiations would have gone differently.

Hemsky drives me crazy and I'm sure Carolina would like to see Ruutu spend a little less time wrapped in gauze. But both are 29 (Hemsky in August) and play important roles on franchises that have trouble attracting players.

"Better the Devil you know, than the one you don't," said one executive Tuesday morning when I asked about Grabovski. Funny, it's the same line I heard last week when talking about Ruutu.

Toronto knows what it has with Grabovski. Without him? Right now, no clue.


1. Think the Grabovski deal could have been done a week or two ago, but Burke probably wanted to see if he'd get a ridiculous offer.

2. Spent a lot of time over the past six days researching the Cody Hodgson/Zack Kassian deal. (As mentioned in last week's blog, have a "man-crush" on Hodgson's game.) It's tough to know the exact truth, because so many of the particulars didn't want to talk about it. Here's some of what's out there: First, there was some surprise the Canucks did it, as opponents figured they were going to make Hodgson the centrepiece of a "bigger" deal. (You're going to ask what that means. Can't give you any specifics, other than to say it would probably be for whatever Vancouver decided it needed after the season.)

3. Why did it get done now? When the Canucks were in Nashville, there was some kind of conversation between Hodgson and head coach Alain Vigneault. As reported on Hotstove, I'd heard it was about playing time. And, on a team where Cory Schneider (who is four years older) waits for his opportunity, Vancouver didn't want the distraction in what could be a Stanley Cup season.

4. Equal time: heard from a friend of Hodgson's who told me it was unfair to say that, "since only Hodgson and Vigneault know what was said." That is true, although I stand by my reporting. The same person also took issue with my comments that Hodgson had to tell "people around him to stop ... if you have interference, whether it's family or anybody else, you just have to say 'It's enough.'" Whatever the case,  he's got a fantastic opportunity now. Hopefully, he reaches his vast potential.

5. Couple of teams did ask about Hodgson at the deadline. It's been reported that Dallas wanted him in exchange for Steve Ott. Toronto tried, too.

6. Vancouver "targeted" a few clubs that had the kind of player it wanted in exchange. Obviously, Buffalo was one (and Kassian was very high on the list). I believe the others were Carolina, Washington, Florida and one more I can't nail down. Don't know what the Canucks wanted from the Hurricanes. But, almost certain they asked for Brandon Sutter (can't see it, GM Jim Rutherford loves him) and an educated guess is the wanted Capital was young defenceman John Carlson.

7. Both Niklas Backstrom and Tuukka Rask went down with non-contact injuries last week. What if Josh Harding or Tim Thomas got hurt too? (Not every team has a Connor Crisp -- the Erie forward who strapped on the pads Sunday when the Ontario Hockey League team's lone goalie was injured.) Teams cannot use anyone with any professional experience in that situation. So, if you're Chuck Fletcher, what on Earth do you do on the road? Should the home team have a beer-league goalie in the crowd? 

8. One Jet on Winnipeg's 7-0 win over Florida: "I'm not sure who was more surprised, us or them."

9. That crowd was unreal for the Buffalo/Winnipeg game. One GM said Winnipeg would make playoffs this year "because they'll go 41-0 at home." Laughed at that, but he had the right idea.

10. Thanks to Ken Hitchcock and Paul MacLean, Claude Noel has zero shot at the Jack Adams. But he's done a great job with the Northern Thrashers.

11. Dallas Eakins said that if he was Brian Burke, he would've hired Randy Carlyle, too. (He wants to follow Carlyle's path from AHL head coach to Stanley Cup champion.) But Eakins admitted to being disappointed because he wanted the job, badly. When asked if he discussed an assistant's job for next year, Eakins surprised me by saying he doesn't want it. "Already did that for two years (under Paul Maurice)," he said. He wants to make the decisions, to be in the hot seat. Would rather be an AHL head coach than an NHL assistant. His big-league time will come.

12. Toronto reporters were tweeting Monday about the length of Carlyle's practices. His former players say, "Get used to it." Unlike many coaches who regulate that, he is unafraid to skate guys hard the day before (or after) games.

13. You've heard a lot already about Carlyle's love for line-matching. Apparently, he is also an excellent in-game bench coach. One executive said it best: "He will determine who you play against. You will determine how much you play."

14. Look at Anaheim's last few seasons. In 2010-11, the ice-time drop from number 11 (Luca Sbisa) to 12 (Brett Festerling) was two minutes. In 2009-10, it is 1:21 from 10 (Aaron Ward) to 11 (Joffrey Lupul). 2008-09 is pretty amazing. Four players (Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Beauchemin, Whitney) went 24 minutes a night. Eight skated 18:36. No one else was more than 16:40.

15. Asked James Reimer on Friday if there was any possibility concussion-related symptoms are a reason for his struggles. Answer: "I wish I could say it was that." Points for honesty.

16. Despite rumblings to the contrary, Tom Gilbert said he did not demand a trade from the Oilers. And he didn't like the suggestion of it, either.

17. Gilbert said there was one major difference in defensive-zone coverage in moving from Edmonton to Minnesota. Down low, the Oilers play man-to-man. The Wild prefer zone.

18. Nick Palmieri, who came to Minnesota from New Jersey, said the Wild's zone in that area of the ice isn't as aggressive as the one Peter DeBoer brought to the Devils. A couple New Jersey defencemen said DeBoer was asking them to do things they'd never done before, like leave the front of the net to overload down low. "We're pressuring the puck more than ever," one said. Seems to be working pretty well.

19. One Devil on Ilya Kovalchuk: "Boy, does he want the puck right now."

20. Carey Price went almost a period without facing a shot in last week's win over the Wild. Brought back memories of a great childhood moment. My father got tickets for a Montreal/Toronto game at Maple Leaf Gardens, one of those nights where the Canadiens absolutely toyed with the Maple Leafs. Rick Wamsley didn't get much action in the Montreal net and, in a quiet moment, the guy next to us yelled, "Hey Wamsley, getting bored?" Wamsley looked up and nodded. To an 11-year-old, that was pretty awesome.

21. Had a chance to chat with Canadiens captain Brian Gionta for about 10 minutes. He called this "the toughest season of my career," because he hasn't been able to help as the team collapsed. What did he see? "When you look at our overtime/shootout losses (10) and all of our blown leads, you see a team that is not confident in itself. We've been fragile during games."

22. Gionta praised David Desharnais and Alexei Emelin for their development during a difficult season. He added that the Canadiens must be better prepared to start next season (they lost seven of their first eight in October) and finished with "losing is not in us. We are not content with where we stand."

23. What's wrong with San Jose? Here's an idea. The Sharks have an internal saying: "Play to three." Basically, it's a belief that if they score three goals, there's no excuse to lose. On Jan. 7, they beat Washington 5-2, running their record to 20-1-2 in those games. They are 4-7-1 since.

24. Before his injury, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said the danger of the "play to three" philosophy is that a team can switch from a defensive mindset ("let's prevent another team from getting there") to an offensive one ("let's get there first"). When they were in Toronto, he showed players video of cheating on defence, or gliding when an extra stride would make a bigger difference in getting somewhere. San Jose won that night, but is 1-4 since.

25. How badly did Chicago need another defenceman to help Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook? Johnny Oduya played a season-high 25 minutes 25 seconds Sunday in Detroit.

26. Islanders' statistician Eric Hornick with a good one: Anders Nilsson is the fourth goalie ever to get his first win against Martin Brodeur. (Others: Brian Boucher, Henrik Lundqvist and Adam Berkhoel.) Good for Nilsson, who was served up to the Penguins for his first NHL start - Sidney Crosby's return. Always wonder if a guy's going to get ruined by something like that.

27. The Ontario Hockey League is going to have some kind of additional fighting penalty next season, but elimination of fisticuffs isn't going to happen. "I'm 99 per cent in favour of abolishing it, but I'm worried about 'the rat' taking over junior hockey," said one GM. Said another: "I don't hate fighting, I hate the bull (bleep) that comes with it." He's referring to staged fights, players taunting via social media and guys who can't do anything else.

28. The other thing they want to eliminate is fisticuffs after clean hits. Limiting the number of fighting majors a player can get during the season should cut down those kinds of brawls. Let's say the maximum is 10. Fight number 11 gets two games. Fight number 12 is four, and so on. You'd probably cut down on a lot of that. 

29. Will the OHL do this on its own? Yes, if necessary. The WHL has little interest and the QMJHL is a tossup.

30. -- very impressed with the initial launch.

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