As the official launch date of free agency draws closer, the Washington Capitals have but one in-house decision to make among their short list of unrestricted free agents: whether to ink Mikhail Grabovski to a contract extension. On Wednesday, the 30-year-old center’s agent again expressed optimism for that possibility.
“I believe [management has] interest in Grabo,” Gary Greenstin said by telephone from his office in southern California. “We have interest to stay in Washington. We’ll see what’s happening.”
Until free agency formally begins on July 1 at noon, Washington still holds Grabovski’s rights, something Greenstin repeated during a brief conversation, as if to say commenting on other destinations would be inappropriate. That said, unrestricted free agents are free to interview with other squads from June 25-30, a new window longer than the previous 48-hour one. So if the two sides don’t reach an agreement before then, other suitors can come calling. (The Capitals are not expected to pursue resigning trade-deadline acquisition Dustin Penner, their only other unrestricted free agent.)
The timetable did not concern Greenstin.
“If we’ve done the deal [by July 1], great,” he said. “If not, not to worry. It has to be right, for Grabo’s camp, for the team. We’re not worried at all.
“We have short time, but we still have time.”
Greenstin and Grabovski have little cause for worry. Between a bigger salary cap and a dearth of available centers on the unrestricted market, Grabovski should do just fine for himself this summer. Last season, Grabovski signed with Washington on a one-year, $3 million contract after the Maple Leafs bought him out for the final four seasons of a five-year deal worth $5.5 million annually.
Given his success with the Capitals last season as the second-line center, leading all forwards who played at least 50 games in Corsi-for (51 percent) — an advanced metric approximating puck possession — and tallying 35 points despite missing 24 games due to sickness (two games) and a sprained left ankle (the rest), Grabovski could command a similar deal to his Toronto contract, especially given the anticipated salary cap increase. According to CapGeek.com, with a projected new cap of $71.1 million, the Capitals would have nearly $15 million in space. (Edit: Based off recent projections of record revenue, James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail estimated a cap somewhere around $69.6 million. A difference, but the general idea of having space still applies for the Caps.)
But Greenstin reiterated his ongoing point that, above all else, Grabovski wants his next contract to be signed with a team that can compete for a Stanley Cup.
“Grabo likes the city [of Washington],” Greenstin said. “Very comfortable. Great organization. I believe he played very good for them. Grabo created moments in every shift for his teammates. He make players better. He’s a great center.”
Rookie general manager Brian MacLellan was attending the general manager meetings in New York and was unavailable to comment, though it’s unusual for the Capitals – and most NHL teams, for that matter — to address ongoing player negotiations.
Greenstin declined to comment when asked for details of Grabovski’s contract demands. This April, in an article about Grabovski’s desire for the Capitals to settle their own future before deciding his – one month later, they hired MacLellan and new coach Barry Trotz – colleague Katie Carrera wrote that Grabovski “is believed to be in pursuit of a four- to –five year deal that could be worth $5 million annually.” That would fall in line with his previous Maple Leafs deal.
“Any years make me happy,” Grabovski said then. “Any money makes me happy. Any team makes me happy. I want to be happy. It doesn’t matter how long. Just want to find the right, best place for my family and for me.”
As early as January, Greenstin told reporters that he and the Capitals had begun discussing an extension, and said Wednesday that those have been ongoing. Though he hasn’t yet spoken with MacLellan about Grabovski, the agent said, he has chatted with assistant general manager Don Fishman, the team’s salary cap guru.
After representing host Belarus in the 2014 IIHF World Championships, Grabovski held his youth hockey camp in Minsk before heading on vacation. Greenstin said he will begin offseason training in southern California on July 1 and a workout camp the agent hosts.
Also training there will be Maple Leafs left wing Nikolai Kulemin, who played with Grabovski for five seasons Toronto. The two became good friends there, and recent reports indicated they would enjoy reuniting somewhere else. In 2010-11, the pair combined for 115 points, the best offensive NHL seasons for both of their careers.
But Greenstin said that, while Grabovski and Kulemin remain close, signing a contract with the same team this offseason – Kulemin is coming off a two-year deal worth $2.8 million per season — won’t dictate discussions.
“Everything is possible, but we’re not talking about package deal,” Greenstin said. “Everything is possible. I cannot discuss, but right now who knows what’s happening on July 1. I’m positive both will be playing in NHL. They have absolute great chemistry together. But we’ll see what’s happening.”