Washington Capitals fans usually spend a lot of the offseason muttering “do something. Do Something. DO SOMETHING!” in the general direction of the general manager. Sometimes they mutter other things as well.
During this past offseason, a lot of muttering focused on center Mike Ribeiro. Although 33, he wanted a five-year deal. He dropped his ask to four years, but he still wanted a sizeable payday. Instead, McPhee decided to let Ribeiro sign a four-year, $22 million deal with Phoenix, then, in a mildly surprising move, named Brooks Laich to replace Ribs as the Caps’ second-line center.
Eight players have filled that role in the past four seasons. Laich, assuming he had recovered from the groin injury that plagued him last season, would have been a steady choice. But at the same time Ribeiro was packing the moving van, so was Mikhail Grabovski, cut loose by Toronto and suddenly a hot commodity on the open market.
McPhee performed his due diligence on Grabovski, who didn’t take the news of his release well and chose to unleash on former coach Randy Carlyle. To paraphrase Ralphie from “A Christmas Story,” Grabovski wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Ontario.
Brian Burke, the Leafs’ former GM, gave McPhee an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Satisfied with what he heard about the 29-year-old from Belarus, McPhee got what he hopes is his second-line center for $3 million.
Three games into the season, it’s too early to know if this will one day be hailed as a great signing or the acquisition of yet another seat warmer, but Grabovski has already made his mark with a hat trick, plus the game-winning shootout goal in the home opener against Calgary last week. He’s in a four-way tie for second in the league in goals and second in power-play goals (Alex Ovechkin leads in both) and his shooting percentage is 42.9.
So he already seems comfortable in Washington. How long does it usually take to get into a rhythm with new linemates — in his case, Laich and Troy Brouwer? “Depends on players, type of partners,” Grabovski said. “Maybe three, four games.
“Maybe an hour.”
Brouwer might not be that quick a study. “For me, it’s really different,” he said of the second line. “With Brooks injured most of last season, all three of us are new to each other. . . . Ribs was a pass-all-the-time guy. Grabo is good at passing, but also wants to shoot. Ribs would pass all the time.”
The Caps need more scoring than passing from their second-line center, especially as they struggle to score five-on-five goals. The Caps have been outscored 10-3 at even strength, and the second line has yet to score a five-on-five.
“Very close. Very close,” Grabovski said. “Need a little luck and hard work. Everything is going to be good.”
That seems to be Grabovski’s motto: Everything is going to be good. Playing with the Caps is going to be good, the four-day layoff so early in the season is going to be good (four preseason games in six days were “another reason for being a little bit not fast”), getting back to Verizon Center after Saturday’s loss in Dallas is going to be good.
Grabovski should love the upcoming schedule: five straight home games, including three against division opponents, beginning Thursday against Carolina. That will give Grabovski another chance to wow the hometown crowd, which he described Monday as “very cool, all red. Very good atmosphere. Feel better if we start winning.”
Who will feel better? Grabovski, his teammates and Caps fans, for a start. And of course McPhee, who did something. Will it be enough? Next summer’s muttering will let us know.
For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.