Maple Leafs Look Ahead: Where Does Mikhail Grabovski Fit in Next Season?
It's becoming somewhat of a logjam up the middle for the Toronto Maple Leafs of late, and no I don't mean the middle of the net (though that's getting rather crammed as well).
And if there's one thing that too many players at one position means, it's that someone has got to go.
In the case of Mikhail Grabovski, the future is uncertain due to his frequent troubles both on and off the ice as well as injury issues, which begs the question: does he have a spot on the Leafs next season?
To quickly jump to a conclusion, the answer is probably yes, for next season at least; but it's certainly not a sure thing.
His first season in Toronto in 2008-2009 was a huge step forward in his career as he appeared in 78 games. He came out of a difficult situation in Montreal and was thrust onto a team looking for an identity —very similar to him.
He recorded 20 goals and 48 points and many felt that if he could keep his attitude in check —while working on including his teammates when he got the puck —he could be a solid center for years to come.
Then this season rolled around and hopes were high for Grabovski to improve on his previous year and play a larger role. It started off slowly, for everyone on the team, and then things went significantly downhill from there.
He was named to Team Belarus for the 2010 Winter Olympics on Dec. 29 but just days later suffered a wrist injury that not only ended his Olympic hopes, but caused him to miss the next 23 games with the Leafs.
It didn't help his cause that during those very Olympics, just around the corner from the arena during a Belarus game, he was involved in a bar fight that ended with him getting arrested. He was released a short time later, but with his reputation already thinning, sitting in the back of a police car certainly didn't help.
As is usually the case, those pesky police.
He was also involved in at least two fights during practice with fellow teammates, including former Leaf Jason Blake and current defenseman Francois Beauchemin. Rumour has it he actually landed a solid punch to the face of Beauchemin, though I'm sure the stare-down that followed from the burly defenseman ended any chance of a second blow following.
Because of the NHL break and his injury he didn't play a game for over two months, and while the Leafs' younger players began to stand out, many wondered if there would be a place for Grabo when he returned.
He finally saw game action on Mar. 9 and, for the most part, stayed out of trouble in the final 17 games —scoring three goals and seven assists while spending significant time on the first line with Phil Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin.
He finished the year with just 10 goals and 35 points in 59 games, though he did manage to pump 126 shots at the net —six more than last season.
Though Grabovski looked awfully rusty after coming off the injury and not playing much of a role in the scoring department, he still made improvements down the stretch both on and off the ice with his attitude and showed a glimpse of what he could be for the Leafs starting next season.
The thing about these new-look Leafs is that Brian Burke will only deal with "showing glimpses" for so long before he puts on the old boot and sends you on your way. If Grabovski plans on sticking around Toronto for the foreseeable future he needs to use this offseason to bulk up and improve in every aspect.
Because if Tyler Bozak and Nazim Kadri have anything to say about it next season, it could be hard to find much playing time for he or any other Leaf at the center position.
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