Toronto Maple Leafs: It's Time to Try Mikhail Grabovski on the Top Line

Jon Reid@@JonReidCSMCorrespondent IIMarch 20, 2013

TORONTO, CANADA - MARCH 16:  Mikhail Grabovski #84 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates in a game against the Winnipeg Jets on March 16, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Jets defeated the Leafs 5-4 in an overtime shootout. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

It was just a few years ago that the Toronto Maple Leafs' Mikhail Grabovski tallied 58 points and centered one of the more impressive second lines in the Eastern Conference.

During the 2010-11 season, Grabovski helped elevate the games of Clarke MacArthur (21 goals and 41 assists) and youngster Nikolai Kulemin (30 goals and 27 assists). To be fair, they also helped bring his game to a new level, and the three of them seemed to form some great chemistry playing together.

It was the chemistry that Grabovski, Kulemin and MacArthur had formed as linemates that kept the Leafs' coaching staff from moving Grabovski to the top line to play alongside sharpshooter, Phil Kessel.

Fast-forward to this shortened 2013 regular season.

Grabovski is now earning $5.5 million per season and, as a result, is starting to feel the pressure of increased expectations.

Through 29 games, reports have surfaced that Grabovski has found his way into head coach Randy Carlyle's "doghouse".

The fact that 10 shooters were chosen ahead of him (including multiple defensemen) for the Leafs' shootout on Saturday night against the Winnipeg Jets would speak to that assertion.

So what can be done in Toronto to get Grabovski going offensively?

After all, 2013 is primed to be a lot worse than his previous two seasons.

Consider that in 2010-11, Grabovski put up 0.72 points per game. In 2011-12, he managed 0.69 PPG, but through 29 games in 2013, he's on pace for just 0.38 points per game.

It's clear that what once seemed to be such a cohesive and balanced second line is no longer working for the Leafs.

Toronto's third line, centered by the emerging Nazem Kadri has been much more effective offensively than Grabovski's line, and many Leafs faithful are calling for him to be assigned to Toronto's top line.

Yet, anointing the 22-year-old Kadri with the title of first-line center just 29 games into his first full season with the team is something the Leafs aren't prepared to do, and rightly so.

Allowing Kadri to grow on the third line is probably the best move at this point, as opposed to forcing him to play night-in, night-out against the league's top players (the offensive balance he provides on the third line isn't too bad either).

To me, all signs point to one solution: moving Mikhail Grabovski up to play on the first line with Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk (or Joffrey Lupul when he gets back up to speed and re-unites with Phil Kessel).

At this point, there doesn't seem to be a reason not to bump him up a line.

The chemistry he'd developed with Kulemin and MacArthur clearly isn't doing anything for the Leafs in the offensive end anymore, and Grabovski would be a definite upgrade over Tyler Bozak.

Consider this. Last season, Mikhail Grabovski managed to tally 51 points in 74 games, despite Nikolai Kulemin only managing seven goals and MacArthur potting 20.

In fact, his two linemates averaged 0.50 points per game, while Tyler Bozak's linemates (Kessel and Lupul) managed 1.01 points per game. Yet Bozak only posted 47 points in his 73 games.

If the Leafs want to get their most expensive forward back on track, they'll need to put him in a position to succeed. Bumping him to the third line (as the article linked above mentioned) won't do it.

As a center that has shown he can be effective in the offensive zone, play responsible two-way hockey and hold his own in the faceoff circle, Grabovski deserves the chance to play on the team's first line.

While holding players accountable for their offensive woes must happen, Grabovski's struggles shouldn't be blamed entirely on him. His linemates haven't helped him at all, and head coach Randy Carlyle just hasn't put him in a position to be productive in the offensive zone.



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