One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Just one year after signing Mikhail Grabovski to a five-year, $27.5 million dollar contract extension, the Toronto Maple Leafs used the second (Mike Komisarek was the first) of their two compliance buyouts on the 29-year-old center, allowing him to sign a one year, $3 million deal with the Washington Capitals.
It is easy to look at the boxcar stats from last year and think Grabovski isn’t an impact player. After scoring more than 50 goals in the previous two seasons combined, the Belarus native had just nine goals and 16 points in 48 games for Toronto in 2013. But he played much tougher minutes in 2013 than he did in either of the previous two seasons.
Grabovski’s Relative Corsi Quality of Competition, a fancy stat that measures the puck possession ability of the opposition a player faces, was second highest on the team at 1.5. To put that in a broader perspective, only 12 forwards in the entire league saw stiffer opposition in this regard, and one of those was a frequent linemate in Toronto, Nikolai Kulemin. It was also the first season since 2007-08 in which Grabovski was assigned to take more than 30 percent of his even-strength faceoffs in the defensive zone (39 percent, including neutral zone faceoffs).
In essence, Grabovski went from a top-six scoring forward to a shutdown, checking center but still managed to provide decent offensive numbers when looked at in the proper context. Among forwards with more than 500 even-strength minutes and similar zone starts to Grabovski’s 22 percent, his even-strength goal and point production was not insignificant.
But all indications point to Oates maximizing Grabovski’s offensive potential. That likely means more offensive zone starts (Ribeiro started more than 32 percent of his faceoffs in the offensive zone for Oates) anchoring the Capitals’ second line along with legitimate top-six forwards Martin Erat and Troy Brouwer. Those linemates and deployment would be similar to 2010-11, where Grabovski shared ice with Phil Kessel, got 29 percent of his starts in the offensive zone and ended the season with 18 goals and 21 assists during even strength alone. Perhaps more importantly, Grabovski was on the ice for at least one shot attempt in almost two-thirds of those shifts that started in the offensive zone that season.
And I would guess Oates’s strategy for Grabovski includes more power-play time.
Grabovski has seen his power-play time per game go from 3:08 in 2010-11 to 1:42 last season, but he should see a lion’s share of the 3:25 per night Ribeiro was given during the man advantage in Washington. And it should help that the Capitals went 44 for 164 on the power play (26.8 percent, an NHL best), shooting 20 percent.
Simple regression indicates that proficiency will come down, but putting last season aside, Grabovski has produced close to Ribeiro during the man advantage when given the chance.
Grabovski’s role should shift dramatically from what it was in 2013, and it will make Washington a legitimate Cup contender.