Bye Bye, Grabo!
Why Mikhail Grabovski needs to be moved
Could this be the year? Not for a Stanley Cup, of course, but for the playoffs? 19 games into the season, the Leafs teeter at 7th in the Eastern Conference. They don't seem to have an killer flaw as past years (the 'Monster'goaltending issues, the Human Pylon, lack of talent, etc). Lines are mixed with both skill-players and pluggers, with everyone having a role to fill. Finally there is a lot truculence (somewhere Brian Burke is pleased...a bit too late though). This team has depth. This team has talent. This team has chemistry. This team competes every night. This is a playoff team (yes Leafs Nation, we've heard this before the past few years).
Our Leafs have also been able to survive injuries to key players (Gunnarsson, Frattin, Lupul, and Reimer). Gunnarsson is back and seams fine. One can only speculate about Reimer; his frequent injuries are earning him an 'injury-prone' tag, which usually leads to the 'half-price sale' tag. Thankfully, it appears Frattin will be back soon, and Lupul should return around the trade deadline (April 3). They wil return, and will score when they do. However, the Leafs' lines are clustered as it is. This Leafs team is built with Burke's image of 'top 6, bottom 6' forwards. It might be time to make some trades to clean up the lines, shed some fat, and really bring the 6 and 6 idea to life.
Their lines look something like this at the moment:
1st: JVR Bozak Kessel
2nd: McClement Grabovski Kulemin
3rd: MacArthur Kadri Komarov
4th : Brown Steckel McLaren
1st: Phaneuf Holzer
2nd: Gunnarsson Kostka
3rd: Franson Fraser
Scratched: Liles, Komisarek
With Frattin returning soon, it appears either McClement or Komarov or both get bumped down a line. When Lupul returns, things will get really messy. If the Leafs want to be proactive, one option makes the most sense: move Mikhail Grabovski.
Trading Grabovski makes sense on so many levels. Kadri has blossomed, but clearly his style of play is made for 2nd lines. Pencil him in there.
JVR and Kessel appear inseparable. However, Lupul and Kessel have great chemistry also. Moving JVR to center would finally give the Leafs the power forward center they've dearly needed, and allows Lupul to rejoin the lineup in a familiar spot. JVR has some history at center, although not much; giving him a month to try and figure it out before Lupul's return makes sense.
Bozak could go to the 3rd line, and be a faceoff/penalty kill specialist. Ditto with Steckel on the fourth. So really, Grabovski has no spot in the lineup. He makes sense as a 1st or 2nd line center; he just doesn't fit the role of a shut-down center, exactly what you want of a 3rd liner.
Financially, moving Grabo would be great. The list of impending free agents for the Leafs to resign include MacCarthur, Bozak, and Kostka in 2013, with Nazem, Holzer, Fraser, Gunnarsson, and Franson all restricted free agents. In 2014 Phaneuf and Kessel will need new deals. Shedding his large contract opens up the possibilites to get cap-creative, and maybe make a move for a big free agent.
Moving Grabo for a decent return could be the hard part. 2013 is the first of a 5 year deal paying him $5.5 mil. a year. In 19 games, he has 8 points. Newsflash: TML overpaid for an undersized, overrated center! However, first rounders should be very coveted this year. This is because this year, any team not in the playoffs is entered in a draft lottery. And the best way to win a lottery is to get more tickets. The draft this year is strong, and stocking up picks would be wise. Grabo for a first is a reasonable asking price for a bubble playoff team or contender. Yet, trading Grabovski for anything decent would be worthwhile; his contract and his lack of place on this team make him expendable.
Phoenix would be a good place to send Grabo. They sit 9th in the West, battling for playoffs. They have tons of cap room (around $20 mil.). They also have terrible centers (Antoine Vermette, Matthew Lombardi, Martin Hanzal). He could instantly become their first line center and would allow Vermette to play on the second unit, a better fitting role. Phoenix could consider moving goalie Mark Visentin, as goaltending isn't an issue courtesy of Mike Smith. Brandon Gormley has never lived up to the hype, and a change of scenery could do him well. If they won't part with anything worthwhile, take the picks.
Anaheim is another option. They have surprised everyone this year, currently sitting second in the West. They would likely listen to talks for Grabo. After Ryan Getzlaf, their centers are weak: Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano. They also have about $15 mil. in cap space; taking Grabovski's contract wouldn't limit future moves. Luca Sbisa could be moved. Maybe even Jonas Hiller, as Viktor Fasth is playing well and Anaheim paid him as such. Hiller may not fit into their future. Similarly as with Phoenix, if no player helps the Leafs, snag those picks.
Detroit, Nashville, Winnipeg, and the Islanders are all other good-fitting options for Grabo. These teams could use an offensive spark, and have enough cap space to be able to work a deal out.
Grabovski should be traded. Soon. Let the team continue to build on their solid chemistry. Make a big deal early. Whether he will actually be moved or not, I have no idea. But if I was Dave Nonis, I would pick up the phone and inquire. It would be the first of hopefully many good things for Leafs Nation this short year.