Grabovski Signs With Capitals?
Capitals fans everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. The ongoing quest for a second-line center may finally have come to a close – at least for this season. Former Toronto Maple Leaf Mikhail Grabovski has reportedly signed a 1-year deal worth $3 million with the Washington Capitals, a team in need of a 2C who can put up points and offer defensive support. While Mike Ribeiro gave an outstanding performance last season, the Caps refused to sign the center to a four-year contract. Instead of remaining in Washington, Ribeiro signed a 4-year contract with the Phoenix Coyotes worth $22 million.
Naturally, the hunt was on for a center who could replicate Ribeiro’s impressive point-per-game numbers. Capitals GM George McPhee insisted that all-around veteran Brooks Laich would replace Ribeiro, but there were several glaring disparities between the two players: Laich, while a talented forward, was simply not the offensive powerhouse the Caps had in Ribeiro. Having missed the majority of the 2012-13 season due to injury, questions also arose about Laich’s ability to remain healthy. Nevertheless, McPhee was adamant about Laich’s role on the second line – this time as a center.
Although his name was rarely mentioned, top Russian prospect and KHL star Evgeny Kuznetsov was surely in the back of McPhee’s mind. Despite a less than stellar faceoff percentage of 37.3%, Kuznetsov has proved that he can score efficiently – a quality found in Mike Ribeiro. Unfortunately, Kuzya has made no firm plans to sign with the Caps, leaving McPhee to temporarily banish hypotheticals and focus on finding the best possible fit.
With uncertainty surrounding Kuznetsov’s NHL future and Laich’s playmaking skills, many pundits and fans voiced their support for signing Mikhail Grabovski. Bought out by the Leafs this past season, Grabovski had an unusually poor season under Randy Carlyle and denounced his former coach shortly after being waived. Grabovski made known his dislike of minimal ice time, especially when playing on the third line. With the Caps, it’s highly unlikely that Grabovski will have this particular complaint. In addition to much-needed offensive talent, Grabovski also has a slight defensive component to his game, a characteristic notably absent in Mike Ribeiro. The Belarusian center also comes at a relatively lower cost than his predecessor, which should please the Capitals organization. After all, Marcus Johansson remains unsigned.
In an ideal world, Laich, Kuznetsov, and Grabovski add some much-needed depth at center. Nicklas Backstrom has already established himself, while Mathieu Perreault seeks to eventually earn a spot on the second line. Regardless of that outcome, the Caps must focus on the here and now, and that means security on the second line.