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Why Mikhail Grabovski remains in free-agent exile

Greg Wyshynski
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Gary Greenstin has seen Mikhail Grabovski excel when the fit was right and struggle when it was wrong.

So while the veteran agent has watched a multitude of comparable players sign contracts during the summer, he said the priority has always been to find Grabovski “the right team for this year," rather than beating the clock as a free agent.

It’s a process that’s kept him without a contract, even as we’re closer to training camps than to the free-agent frenzy.

Of course, there’s are differing opinions on why Grabovski, 29, remains unsigned after the Toronto Maple Leafs used a compliance buyout on him in July. He had four years remaining on a five-year, $27.5-million contract.

Via Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun last weekend:

According to one NHL GM, he wanted too much money and too much term in the early days of free agency. “He was trying to cash in on getting the buyout and double dipping,” a general manager said. “And once everybody who wanted a centre signed them, there was no place for him to get the kind of deal he wanted.”

If term was the focus earlier in the process, it no longer is. Greenstin told us on Tuesday that Grabovski would likely take a 1-year contract with whichever NHL team signs him, which is the desire for both the player and his agent.

Then there’s that other aspect of Grabovski’s messy divorce from the Leafs: The fact that he trashed the head coach after his buyout, in an interview with TSN:

"I play in the [expletive] Russian KHL, I make lots of [expletive] points and what's going to happen? He make me [expletive] play on the fourth line and he put me in the playoffs on the fourth line and third line again," Grabovski spewed. "Yeah, I don't score goals. I need to work more about that. I know that. But if you feel support from your coach [you'll find success]. I don't feel any support from this [expletive] idiot."

Calling your former coach an idiot in the media … not exactly something you want on your résumé.

Greenstin was quick to say that “in my position, the coach is always right,” but agreed that his client wasn’t given the same offensive opportunities under Randy Carlyle that he was under Ron Wilson when Grabovski flourished offensively. Under Wilson, for example, he was the Leafs’ best possession player. Those numbers fell off a cliff under Carlyle, as Grabovski’s offensive opportunities were more limited and his role was reduced.

“He just played the third and fourth line,” Greenstin said.

So ice time and a significant offensive role are paramount in Grabovski’s search for a new team, which brings us to a salient question: Is there a team willing to bring him on as a second-line center, which is where he clearly wants to play?

Allan Muir of SI.com sees a fit with the Vancouver Canucks, although one wonders how Grabbo plus John Tortorella’s demands would turn out. The Washington Capitals have always seemed like a good fit given their need for offense on the second line, but they seem content to give Brooks Laich a look there.

Greenstin said that there is interest from NHL teams in Grabovski, which is something he’s said throughout the process. He said, specially, there is one with whom there seems to be a fit, but that nothing would be announced in the short term.

He said Grabovski will sign before camp. He also said that despite many overtures from the KHL, Grabovski doesn’t anticipate playing in Russia this season – at least at this juncture.

“There’s no panic,” he said. “For us, what’s most important right now is the team."

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