In the early stages of NHL free agency this July, the Capitals reached out to Mikhail Grabovski and his agent to see what the center was looking for in his next contract. Not much developed, though, according to General Manager George McPhee.
At that point, McPhee said he was comfortable naming Brooks Laich as second-line center heading into this season. But as the summer pressed on, the possibility of signing Grabovski for an agreeable term and salary became a reality.
“On July 8 [Laich] was our No. 2 center but things change over the course of the summer,” McPhee said Friday, adding that things came together on a deal within the past three weeks. “It looked like there was an opportunity with Grabovski and really having Brooks, knowing that he could play that position, allowed us to do this deal. We could take our time and get the right deal.”
Typically, the free agent market slows dramatically after an initial flurry of signings within the first week and that was the case this year. Grabovski’s wedding and honeymoon also extended the process.
By the time he returned, it was clear market drop off had been exacerbated by the salary cap decreasing roughly $6 million to $64.3 million, leaving teams with less money to spend. There is still a relatively large number of unrestricted free agents who remain unsigned with training camps a little over two weeks away.
“Taking $180 million out of the marketplace made for some late-summer signings and this is one of them,” McPhee said. “There’s just not a lot of liquidity out there right now, not a lot of opportunities for players right now.”
In landing Grabovski, Washington proved to be a beneficiary of the slow market. While a deal might not have seemed probable in the opening days of free agency, by late August with Grabovski still looking for a spot in the NHL, the Capitals held had a blend elements that made for a logical partnership.
In addition to being one of only 10 clubs with over $5 million in space under the salary cap prior to signing him, Washington offered Grabovski the chance to earn significant playing time on a team with playoff expectations and play alongside all-star caliber teammates.
That combination of factors is what Coach Adam Oates chose to emphasize when he visited with Grabovski earlier this month. He didn’t feel the need to make a “hard sell” but talked about Grabovski’s options and laid out the possibilities the Capitals offered clearly.
“We talked about for a guy like him, what’s success for a guy like that?” Oates explained. “Winning, but obviously he’s a point-producing player, he wants to get his points, he wants to get his minutes and he wants the responsibility of that. That’s what I liked and I’m a guy that believes in that. I told him ‘I believe we have a good mix for you, consider us.’ ”
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