Exactly seven weeks after the NHL free agency market opened, the Washington Capitals finally made their first significant signing, inking center Mikhail Grabovski to a one-year, $3 million contract Friday.
Grabovski spent the last five seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, scoring at least 20 goals three times, including a career-best 29 in 2010-11. Yet after a strong 2011-12 campaign in which he scored 23 goals and assisted on 28, the 29-year-old Belarusian only scored nine goals and earned 16 points in 48 games last season.
Grabovski's significant drop in ice time (17:36 per game in 2011-12 to 15:34 in 2012-13) and production can be attributed to head coach Randy Carlyle, who utilized him in a more defensive role where he was tasked with shutting down the opposition's top lines instead of providing offense (further to that point, Grabovski's offensive zone starts plummeted from 53.0% in 2011-12 to 36.7% in 2012-13).
The Leafs, obviously unsatisfied with that type of scoring output from their highest-paid forward, ultimately elected to use one of their two compliance buyouts on Grabovski, who had four years remaining on a five-year contract originally worth $27.5 million. In an exit interview with TSN 1050 in Toronto shortly after becoming an unrestricted free agent, Grabovski ripped Carlyle in a profanity-laced tirade, claiming that he was misused and not given an opportunity to succeed.
That should not be the case in Washington, where Grabovski will anchor the second line (despite general manager George McPhee's previous insistence that Brooks Laich was a more than adequate replacement for Mike Ribeiro, who signed with the Phoenix Coyotes in July) and contribute on the power play while playing under a more offensive-minded coach in Adam Oates. Of course, it will be up to Grabovski to prove himself when presented with that opportunity.
With Grabovski signed, the Capitals have roughly $2.66 million remaining in salary cap space with restricted free agent forward Marcus Johansson still requiring a new contract.
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