Updated 10:21 a.m.: Another year, another new center.
Washington now has a little over $2.6 million remaining in space under the $64.3 million salary cap, with restricted free agent forward Marcus Johansson still unsigned.
Grabovski, 29, is expected to be the latest in what has been a long line of players suiting up for the Capitals as second-line center since Sergei Fedorov departed the organization in 2009. The most recent person to serve that role, Mike Ribeiro, signed with the Phoenix Coyotes as a free agent this offseason, leaving a void in Washington’s lineup.
“I believe he as a great future with Washington, especially with the coach,” Grabovski’s agent, Gary Greenstin, said Friday adding that with 12 teams interested in his client it was Capitals Coach Adam Oates that made the difference. “Mikhail was very impressed with Coach Adam Oates. He talked to me, talked to Mikhail, that was important. His enthusiasm to work with Mikhail convinced us that this was right.”
While he doesn’t possess the pure set-up abilities of Ribeiro, Grabovski’s skill set could provide the mix the Capitals need for a more balanced second line. He has the offensive talent to be a consistent point producer, a track record of driving possession and the two-way ability to help round out any forward unit.
In July, General Manager George McPhee pegged Brooks Laich as the team’s second-line center and while he may still receive an opportunity to play there, Grabovski is arguably the better fit. His addition should increase roster flexibility and free up Laich, 30, to serve as a left wing wherever needed or as a third-line center in a more defensive role.
Regardless how the depth chart ultimately shakes out, Grabovski should help make the Capitals better and it will be interesting to see how he fares under Oates. But there’s no question that by bringing in another experienced center, specifically one with the ability to play on the second line, McPhee has addressed one of the lingering question marks of Washington’s offseason.
A native of Belarus, Grabovski has recorded 94 goals and 123 assists (23 and 26, respectively, on the power play) in 367 NHL games. He recorded three 20-goal seasons during his five-year stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs, with a high point total of 58 in the 2010-11 seaoson. He frequently served as the Leafs’ second-line center during Ron Wilson’s tenure as coach but never meshed with Randy Carlyle.
Last season, when Carlyle demoted him to bottom-six duty Grabovski’s output dipped significantly (nine goals, 16 points). The Maple Leafs opted to buy out the four years and $21 million remaining on his previous contract, which would have paid Grabovski $6 million in 2013-14.