Not a bad few days for Mikhail Grabovski, who led the Leafs to victory with a goal and an assist against Montreal (where Grabovski is essentially Public Enemy No. 1) on Saturday, and then celebrated by signing a five-year contract extension to remain in Toronto through 2016-17.
The deal, reportedly worth $27.5 million, represents a triumph for the Leafs as well, just weeks after Grabovski trade rumours cast doubt on whether the talented Belorussian would be long for the blue and white. While locking up the consistent second-line centre didn’t come cheap (he becomes the second-highest paid Leaf, behind only Dion Phaneuf), it was a necessity.
While linemates Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin have experienced their ups and downs (Kulemin with more downs than ups) and even leading scorers Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul having endured some slumps, Grabbo has been a picture of consistency. The 28-year-old has 20 goals and 25 assists over 59 games this season, putting him right on pace to match his 2010-11 career-high 58 points despite being guaranteed to play no more than five fewer games.
The contract extension isn’t without its risks. For one thing, the Leafs already have about $57.65 million in contracts towards their 2012-13 cap, leaving them with under $7 million in projected cap space (based on the $64.3 million 2011-12 cap figure) while still having three significant RFA’s (Kulemin, Matt Frattin, Cody Franson) and two major UFA’s (Jonas Gustavsson, Joey Crabb) to sign, not to mention any other free agents or what could be a reasonably high draft choice.
There’s also an emotional side of things, primarily connected to Grabovski holding a higher salary figure for the next two years then team leading scorer Kessel. The 24-year-old will no doubt say all the right things about being happy to have his teammate re-upped, but you have to wonder if there’s any frustration from a guy who has had to carry the club offensively throughout much of his Toronto tenure.
Still, you knew that Grabovski was going to get paid after Ales Hemsky – an inferior winger at the same age and with 15 fewer goals – recently managed to get two years and $10 million from the Oilers. The Leafs are simply happy that it was them that got the chance to be the ones to pay up.
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Written by Ben Fisher