- Craig Custance
It took a backseat to the blockbuster deal between the Stars and Bruins, but one of the biggest surprises Thursday was the Leafs' decision to place Mikhail Grabovski on waivers in order to buy him out on Friday.
It meant a couple of things. First, the relationship between Grabovski and coach Randy Carlyle was probably as bad as some expected, with Grabovski confirming as much during an interview with TSN's Jonas Siegel after the news surfaced where he called Carlyle an idiot. Second, Leafs GM Dave Nonis is looking to further transform a team that pushed Eastern Conference champion Boston to the limit in the first round of the playoffs by creating cap room.
My initial inclination with Grabovski was that a team might take a chance by claiming him on waivers. His cap hit is healthy, at $5.5 million per season through 2016-17, and his actual NHL salary being paid out during the remainder of the contract is $21.5 million, which works out to $5.375 million per season.
Considering that he's 29 and younger than some of the other free-agent center options, it didn't seem unreasonable that a team that thought it might not be able to land Grabovski on the open market might just claim him, securing him when it could. He had a rough season in the lockout-shortened campaign, with just 16 points in 48 games, but as he pointed out in his exit interview with Siegel, much of that was spent on the third and fourth lines in situations that weren't always conducive to generating offense.
Among Toronto centers, only Jay McClement played against tougher competition last season, according to behindthenet.ca, and Grabovski started in the offensive zone just 36.7 percent of the time. The previous four seasons, he averaged more than 20 goals per season.
When I checked with a few teams, the overwhelming consensus was that waivers wouldn't be an issue and he was headed for a buyout with Toronto.
"He'll clear," said one Eastern Conference GM, who was still weighing his interest in Grabovski as a free agent.
When he does, there will be interest. His salary was too high, but if he's in the $3.5 million range, suddenly the shortcomings don't look so bad.
"[Grabovski] plays fast and does compete, yet lots of one-on-one play," said one assistant GM. "At $3.5 million, there is some value."
The KHL is an option, but Grabovski is still a legitimate No. 2 center for teams looking for more offense. Brian Burke, who was scouting for the Ducks this season, liked Grabovski in Toronto and would put in a good word if Anaheim GM Bob Murray was interested in him as a No. 2 center with the Ducks. A coach like Bruce Boudreau may be a better fit for a player who is best when he's allowed to showcase his offensive gifts. The Nashville Predators, who colleague Pierre LeBrun reported were in on Tyler Seguin, are another team that needs offense up the middle, although Barry Trotz plays a structured system that may not be ideal. If the Red Wings miss out on free agent targets Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson (who, according to Bruce Garrioch, is not re-signing with the Sens), there might be a fit there.
Grabovski could do worse than signing a one-year deal with the Red Wings, which would allow him to re-establish himself as a top-line player and then cash in again when the cap goes up.
In Grabovski, a team is getting a motivated player who will want the Maple Leafs to regret this decision.
"I need to work harder," he told Siegel. "I need to be smarter. I need to play harder, need to play better and score a lot of goals and do what I do the best."
• Rob Scuderi is potentially the best defenseman available if he turns down an offer from the Kings to return to Los Angeles. On Thursday, he was still struggling with the decision while weighing all options. On Friday morning, a source close to negotiations said it looked like he would hit the market. He's been a great fit in Los Angeles, and the talented Slava Voynov has thrived playing with him. The New York native is expected to move east if he doesn't sign with the Kings, and the Penguins would be a fantastic fit. Pittsburgh still has more than $4 million in cap space, according to CapGeek.com.
• Tim Thomas drew interest during the NHL's new negotiating window, with three teams circling back after initially touching base with the Thomas camp. The reality is that any team that signs him will want to meet with him in person to make sure he's in the right place physically and mentally. This isn't a decision Thomas will rush, with fit being the most important thing for him. He's the kind of goalie who could change the course of an entire season if he returns to form, which makes him one of the most fascinating free agents available.
• Dallas GM Jim Nill was serious about addressing the Stars' lack of depth at center, adding Seguin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff in a busy Thursday. Dallas might not be done adding veteran help. Horcoff is close with Red Wings forward Dan Cleary, with the two training together during the lockout. If Detroit and Cleary can't work out a new deal, Dallas becomes the favorite to land Cleary, who would be an outstanding veteran presence on a young team. Nill knows exactly what he's getting in Cleary.
• The Bruins are closing in on a contract extension for restricted free agent Tuukka Rask, and both sides expect it to be done soon. One source confirmed a report from Elliotte Friedman that the deal will be in the ballpark of eight years totaling $56 million.
Following the Maple Leafs' surprising move to place Mikhail Grabovski on waivers in order to buy him out, Craig Custance breaks down the center's market value and outlines which NHL clubs could be interested in acquiring him.