Mikhail Grabovski likes Washington. He appreciates the trust he earned from the Capitals’ coaching staff and the opportunity to contribute in multiple situations, and his family has grown comfortable in the area.
But although Grabovski says he would be happy to stay, with the future of General Manager George McPhee and Coach Adam Oates yet to be decided by owner Ted Leonsis, the veteran center will wait to see how the organization proceeds before agreeing to a new contract.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen here, so it’s made me disappointed too,” Grabovski said Tuesday. “I want to know, first before I sign, who’s going to be coach, who’s going to be general manager, because nobody knows and lots of stuff is being said.”
Grabovski is one of three Capitals, along with trade-deadline acquisitions Jaroslav Halak and Dustin Penner, who will become unrestricted free agents on July 1. Of that trio, though, Grabovski appears to be the most likely to return because of his role in the lineup and positive experience with the team.
Washington signed the 30-year-old center to a one-year, $3 million contract last August after he became a free agent when he was unexpectedly bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Grabovski filled the perennial vacancy at second line center; the Caps have rotated eight players through that spot since Sergei Fedorov departed the organization in 2009.
There was no question Washington needed someone with Grabovski’s skill set — a natural playmaker willing to play defense — but despite those attributes he fell out of favor with Toronto Coach Randy Carlyle the previous season.
Grabovski signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract extension with the Maple Leafs the same week Carlyle took over in Toronto in 2012. Because that deal was later bought out, Grabovski wants to make sure he understands the trajectory of the Capitals before making any decisions.
“I just don’t want to have same experience I have before in Toronto when [former coach] Ron Wilson is gone just after I sign, and they bring in a coach who don’t really want me,” Grabovski said. “For me it’s important that people believe in you and trust. Adam Oates, he bring me here with McPhee. They trust me as a player, and I do my best in the half-season I played. I can do better. [When] people trust me, I feel this and I play better, good hockey.”
Grabovski missed 24 games this season, two when he became ill in December and the rest with a sprained left ankle. In 58 games, he recorded 13 goals, 35 points and was one of Washington’s most consistent players at even strength, regardless of who his linemates were.
Among Washington forwards who played at least 50 games, he finished with the best Corsi-for mark — a proxy for possession that examines shot attempts, misses and blocks — at 51 percent. That means when Grabovski was on the ice, the Capitals had the puck more than half the time.
Grabovski’s agent, Gary Greenstin, said recently that the center’s primary focus is to play “where he can compete for the Stanley Cup.” While Greenstin declined to divulge the type of contract Grabovski is seeking, the center is believed to be in pursuit of a four- to five-year deal that could be worth $5 million annually.
The NHL’s salary cap will increase for the 2014-15 season; depending on the weak Canadian dollar it could reportedly be set as high as $71.1 million or as low as $68 million, up from $64.3 million this season. Even using the lower estimate, the Capitals would have more than $11 million in space to maneuver.
Until the front office and coaching staff is set, though, it’s tough to predict whether they would use some of that to bring back Grabovski.
“Any years make me happy. 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,” Grabovski said. “Right now it’s nowhere because I don’t know what’s here. I believe here is right for me but I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next month.”
Capitals note: Defenseman Tyson Strachan cleared waivers Tuesday and was reassigned to the AHL’s Hershey Bears.