Second-line center is a role that Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee has been unable to properly fill for most of Alex Ovechkin's career with the club.
McPhee acquired a great second-line center in Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars via trade last offseason, but after the 33-year-old veteran bolted to the Phoenix Coyotes during free agency in July, a hole down the middle was once again created on Washington's second line.
The next solution for this position will be Mikhail Grabovski, whom the team signed to a one-year deal worth $3 million with on Friday. In a statement shared with NHL.com, McPhee said he was pleased with the signing:
Mikhail adds speed and offense to our lineup, and we are very pleased to have him sign with the Capitals. We believe he will be an excellent addition to our club.
Is Grabovski an adequate replacement for Ribeiro as the second-line center on a team that will move into a tougher Metropolitan Division next season?
From an offensive standpoint, it's unlikely that he will score at a point-per-game level like Ribeiro did in 2013. With that said, Grabovski is fully capable of finding the back of the net 20-25 times in Washington.
He's scored 20 or more goals three times in his five-year career with the Toronto Maple Leafs while never failing to tally fewer than 25 assists in a season.
The Belarus native has the skill set that the Capitals need at the No. 2 center spot, including good vision, strong playmaking skills and the ability to balance scoring goals with creating offense for teammates.
Despite a disappointing performance for the Leafs in 2013 (just nine goals and seven assists in 48 games), Grabovski didn't play much of an offensive role for Toronto. He can expect that to change in Washington, where head coach Adam Oates plays a much more uptempo and open style of hockey than Leafs bench boss Randy Carlyle.
Grabovski's offensive zone start percentage was just 36.7 last season, which shows how little he was put into scoring situations as a third- and sometimes fourth-line player.
Ribeiro's percentage was 50.8, and if Oates gives those same offensive opportunities to Grabovski, there's no reason he should fail to produce 50-70 points for a team with some impressive scoring talent that finished fourth in goals scored last season.
Grabovski is also a more aggressive player than Ribeiro in the attacking zone. He's outshot the former Capitals center in each of the last three seasons.
As a top-six forward, Grabovski will be expected to make a contribution to the Capitals' power play, a role that Ribeiro excelled in as the NHL's co-leader in points scored with the man advantage in 2013.
It would be unfair to expect the former Toronto center to provide the same level of power-play production as Ribeiro, but he has scored a combined 23 PP goals in the last four non-lockout seasons.
From a defensive perspective, Grabovski is an upgrade over Ribeiro. The former Leafs center won 50.6 percent of his faceoffs last season compared to Ribeiro's disappointing percentage of 44.8.
The 28-year-old is also a more versatile forward given his willingness to fight for loose pucks and go to the dirty areas. Grabovski should also be able to tally 50-plus hits, 30-plus takeaways and at least 20 blocked shots for Washington next season.
Another reason Grabovski is a suitable replacement for Ribeiro is the fact that it won't cost the Capitals much salary-cap space. TSN's Gord Miller assesses the move perfectly:
At $3m on a 1-year deal, Washington's signing of M. Grabovski is a low-risk bet with lots of upside. If he scores 25+ again, it's a steal.— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) August 23, 2013
Is Grabovski a suitable replacement for Ribeiro?
Washington was already up against the salary cap before signing Grabovski, but CapGeek indicates the team currently has $2,665,705 of cap room with 21 players under contract for next year, which is still enough to sign another free agent for additional roster depth (another defenseman is needed).
Top-six centers are expensive, which is why replacing Ribeiro with another quality player while saving $2 million is a great move for the Capitals.
Grabovski will be highly motivated to revive his career in Washington with the hopes of earning a rich, long-term contract in the summer of 2014. Luckily for him, the Capitals are the perfect team to reach this goal. He will be put into offensive situations where his impressive skill set will be used.
McPhee had a difficult challenge this offseason in adequately replacing Ribeiro with limited cap space, but after adding Grabovski, it's safe to say that he's accomplished this mission.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft. Advanced stats from BehindtheNet.ca and salary information via CapGeek.