What you need to know about Mikhail Grabovski can be summed up in the following story.
When he was a kid, maybe eight years old, Grabovski was gifted with a hockey stick. It was a new Titan. The white paint was soon worn off from use.
Hockey sticks didn’t fall from the skies for a kid from a working class family in Belarus. His parents waited until Christmas to give him the stick.
“I had it for a year and I was playing at a rink outside when somebody stole it while I was getting changed,” he said the other day.
“My Dad went around asking who had been at the rink. He got the names of the guys who played before. He went to their apartment and got it back.”
The suggestion, unspoken of course, is that whoever stole the young boy’s stick was investing in his own health by returning it.
Grabovski still has the stick. It is riveted to the wall of his cottage in Belarus.
Mikhail Grabovski is the Leafs stick guy and it only stands to reason that if his father was willing to strongarm a stranger to get his stick back, the boy would be just as stubborn in getting the right twig.
The Leafs stick room abuts the dressing room and when they pass on their rounds, reporters often stride right past Grabovski in his unofficial office, tinkering, working with reps and generally driving everyone crazy.
He doesn’t seem care about the rest of his equipment but he is obsessive about his stick.
This wasn’t supposed to happen any more. Every player in the NHL uses composite sticks. Each player has a pattern that includes the length, lie, makeup, flex as well as the blade size and angle.
None of this stops Grabovski from obsessing and it is this attention to detail that has earned him a five-year contract extension.
Grabovski is a fixture of the Leafs’ videotape station at MasterCard Centre. He is in terrific physical condition and while he is long on talent he is longer on try.
In his fourth season with the Leafs, Grabovski has scored 20, 10, 29 and now 20 goals. He is a legitimate second-line centre, good on the forecheck and wondrous with the puck.
After a couple of well-publicised dustups with the Kostityn brothers and an abrupt departure from Montreal, Grabovski has found a new maturity. His speech is still heavily accented but if you take the time to know him he is a thoughtful, kindhearted guy.
Grabovski would have commanded plenty of attention had he been allowed to move into unrestricted free agency this summer. Only Zach Parise and perhaps Alexander Semin stand out as a better summertime bets among forwards. Grabovski’s five year-deal is reported to be $5.5 million per season.
Whether this means the Maple Leafs have given up on landing Parise is an open bet. The Leafs have$55 million committed for next season with the Jonas Gustavsson the only remaining unrestricted free agent. Restricted free agents Nikolai Kulemin, Matt Frattin and Cody Franson are left to do.
Based on this year’s $63 million hit and the industry wide expectation that the salary cap will trend down under a new collective bargaining agreement, signing a front –line talent such as Parise seems out of the question. According to the good folks at GapGeek.com the Leafs have about $7.5 million uncommitted dollars for next season. There remains the possibility of an amnesty that would allow each team one big buyout or release and who knows what moves the Leafs could use to shed salary in much the same way they took on dollars to land Matt Lombardi, Cody Franson, Joffrey Lupul and Matt Frattin.
There is a sly motivation at play here. Last season, Grabovski wasn’t the Leafs best forward. That status belonged to Kulemin who is struggling through an abysmal season that mirrors Grabovski’s desultory 10-goal 2009-2010 campaign.
Despite scoring just seven goals, Kulemin is a difference maker and the kind of defence-first forward who should get much wear with the Leafs’ new emphasis on keeping the puck out of their net. Grabovski’s signing certainly does nothing to diminish the odds of retaining Kulemin. That in itself figures as a big bonus.