The Toronto Maple Leafs used their second and final compliance buyout today on 29-year-old centre Mikhail Grabovski. Grabovski will go through waivers, and if he clears, he will become an unrestricted free agent starting at midnight. The move will save the Leafs $22 million in cap space over the next four seasons. That’s the good news.
The bad news is now Dave Nonis will have to use that money to fill a massive hole at the centre position. Over the past three seasons, Grabovski has scored 61 goals. That’s 15th out of all NHL centres who have played at least 80 games in that span (Evander Kane and Brad Marchand are full-time wingers but are listed at centre by hockey-reference for some reason). You know who’s 46th on that list? Tyler Bozak. Yes, the same Tyler Bozak who is looking for an eight-year deal worth close to $5 million per season and will probably get it now that Nonis has cleared the needed cap space.
Let’s not forget that Bozak has scored less than Grabovski despite playing alongside Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, and James van Riemsdyk. The last two seasons, he’s seen first line minutes, playing with one of the highest-scoring wingers in the game, and he still hasn’t come close to putting up Grabovski’s level of production. This past year was an off-season for Grabovski in terms of offense, but it’s not hard to see why. He faced the second-toughest competition out of all Leaf forwards, and saw the third-fewest offensive zone starts. He played only 15 minutes per game; a full two minutes less than last season and close to four minutes less than 2010-11.
Head coach Randy Carlyle used Grabovski as a defensive, shut-down centre playing against the league’s best forwards, then acted surprised when Grabbo had his worse offensive season of his career. This isn’t rocket science. Grabovski is arguably the team’s second-best offensive forward, yet Carlyle didn’t put him in any situations to succeed this year offensively. It’s a coach’s job to get the most out of his players. Carlyle absolutely buried Grabovski, and his offensive numbers this year are proof of that.
So what’s Nonis’ plan from here? Well, if nothing else, he has the cap space to take a run at a few high-priced free agents. As I showed back in March, the free agent options at centre are painfully thin this year, and as a result, they’re all going to be wildly overpaid. And none of those options have scored as much as Grabovski over the past three seasons. So, ironically enough, Grabovski will probably become the best free agent centre on the market if he clears waivers.
All we know is Nonis isn’t done yet, and now he has a ton of cap space to play around with. It remains to be seen whether or not he knows how to use it in a smart manner. It may be the Fourth of July, but the fireworks are likely to continue all summer long.