Kevin SchultzThe Islanders looked like they were done in free agency – well the GM said as much, anyway – but they were clearly not done, when they signed Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin to four-year contracts for lots of dollars – the same dollars that had probably been earmarked for Thomas Vanek.
This move is good — Grabovski was on pace for 50 points last year in Washington — and adds some serious forward depth to the Islanders. I would be sweating right now if I was Colin McDonald or anyone else who could be in the Islanders bottom six. There are now 16 forwards projected for the Islanders roster, which if you’re scoring at home is four more than they are allowed to ice in a game. And it’ll be interesting to see how that pans out too, as the Islanders are not a team that likes to risk players to waivers.
But what will be interesting to watch is how, and if, Grabovski (or Grabbo for short) and Kulemin can recapture some of the magic they had with Toronto before the Leafs front office started thinking they were smarter than everyone else and torpedoed the whole thing.
The season was 2010-11, and the Leafs had one of the better second lines in the entire league as Grabbo centered a line with Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur on the wings. Grabbo hits a career high 29 goals and 58 points, Kulemin goes 30 and 57 and MacArthur has 21 and 62. 80 goals between the trio. The following season they combine for 50 goals, still solid, but the Leafs are on pace to miss the playoffs for the seventh straight year so coach Ron Wilson gets fired and Randy Carlyle gets hired.
If you know anything about Carlyle’s leafs, it should be that they get outshot by opponents like all hell. In 2012-13, the lockout shortened season and Carlyle’s first full season as coach, everything gets more defensive minded and the goal-scoring trio are played in more defensive roles.
It does not work. At all. They combine for 24 goals in the lockout season.
After that, Clarke MacArthur becomes a free agent and leaves for Ottawa, where he scores 55 points in the full season as opposed to 20 in the lockout shortened one. And the Leafs use one of their compliance buyouts to remove Grabbo from the roster, a move which needs no further explanation than the following blogs posts. Here’s one from Leafs Nation: Stupid Team Makes Stupid Move — Second Best Player to Be Bought Out. And this one from Pension Plan Puppets with the subtitle: The Leafs have bought out their best center because they are run by morons.
During the summer of 2012, Grabbo got a five-year, $27.5 million extension. One year later, the Leafs were buying him out. They used the extra money on David Clarkson and Tyler Bozak, which is really a hilariously bad decision, and maybe made with a dash of some xenophobia (here’s a TSN story calling Grabovski enigmatic, which is pretty much stamped on Europeans around the NHL an awful lot) and a whole lot of player and coach not fitting together. The demotion and defensive role from Carlyle bothered Grabovski who, after being bought out, ripped his former coach on the radio on his way out.
That summer, Grabovski got picked up by the Capitals after the buyout and, lo and behold, bounced back for 35 points in 58 games (pace of 50 points over a full 82) after only putting up 16 in the lockout year. It put him back in the area of production that he had pre-Carlyle and pre-lockout in Toronto.
Now, the Islanders have reunited Grabovski and Kulemin, overpaying for the latter and probably in the vicinity of the market for the former. They’ve also promised to have them play on the same line as the pair are good friends and were negotiating themselves as a package deal in free agency. Here, we’ll give you exactly what you want and you come here and try and get back to working your magic.
It’s a worthwhile gamble for the Islanders who can afford the cap hit — hell, needed to get to the floor — and have space on the bottom lines to bump some players down (looking at McDonald/Martin/etc). It also makes some of those 16 forwards available for trade to acquire a defender.
In a decent scenario, you hope for 60 points between the two players. If it works out really well, you add two more 20-goal scorers to the roster. Or better. Just don’t make the same mistake Toronto did of using them in a defensive role. It’s not what they do.