Leafs Will Regret Buying Out Grabovski + Potential Replacements
The Toronto Maple Leafs have used their final compliance buyout on centre Mikhail Grabovski.
According to capgeek.com, the Leafs now have $24.5-million in cap space. Jonathan Bernier, Cody Franson, Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, Carl Gunnarsson, Frazer McLaren, and Mark Fraser remain unsigned as restricted free agents.
It's difficult to understand the decision from general manager Dave Nonis' perspective, as he recently said Grabovski would have to "earn his ice-time" next season. What he and the Leafs' management fail to understand, however, is that Grabovski was tasked with tough, defensive minutes under head coach Randy Carlyle. His offensive zone start rate was a mere 36.7 per cent, and he played the third toughest minutes among Leafs forwards.
Knowing that, how does one expect Grabovski to score at 50-point rate under those circumstances? It's troubling that the Leafs failed to identify the arduous task that had been placed on Grabovski.
Maybe fans shouldn't be surprised, however. The Leafs were one the worst puck possession teams in the league last season. According to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, the Leafs ranked 30th in Fenwick For % (shots plus shot attempts that missed the net at even strength). They were also 30th in Shots For % with a 43.9 per cent, which correlates with ranking last in the league with 1248 shots against at even strength.
Consider that over 80 per cent of the Leafs' wins came when being outshot by the opposition. That's an alarming statistic and one that suggests the Leafs may have benefited from the shortened season. With the loss of Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur, two of the Leafs' best puck possession players, how will the Leafs fare moving forward?
That said, Nonis now has the opportunity to quell his doubters and use this newfound cap space to fill the many holes on the Leafs' roster, whether it's up the middle, on the right wing, or on defence.
Concerning the centre position, the best options on the free agent market are Stephen Weiss, Mike Ribeiro,
Grabovski, and Derek Roy.
Weiss is 30 years old and has a career-high 61 points. While his playmaking abilities would certainly help the club, his best days are behind him and it's unlikely he produces anything more than 60 points. Ribeiro is 33 years old but does have an offensive pedigree, notching 314 points in his last 352 games. He may not be a Carlyle-type player, but if he's signed on a reasonable contract it'd difficult to dislike the acquisition. Roy is 30 years old and has proven to be an effective puck possesion player that can produce anywhere from 60-70 points under the right circumstances. If he plays in between Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel, he'd have ample opportunity to display his offensive prowess.
The best option is perhaps Paul Stastny. The 27-year-old would have to be acquired via trade, but the Leafs have the cap space to take on his $6.6-million cap hit. His playmaking abilities would be helpful and he's a decent puck possession player that has played tough minutes in Colorado.
With free agency kicking off tomorrow, the Leafs' top-six might be clarified soon enough.