Prior to the Toronto Maple Leafs' tilt against the Atlanta Thrashers Friday night I was a guest of Louis Pisano on “Get The Puck Out” which airs on MorencySports.com, where, amongst other things, Lou and I debated the validity of Toronto’s second line of Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin being the NHL’s best second unit.
Low and behold, Grabovski, Kulemin and MacArthur went out and scored a combined six goals and 10 points against the Thrashers, helping the Maple Leafs pound a very good Atlanta squad by a final score of 9-3.
MacArthur and Grabovski are first and second in scoring for the Maple Leafs this season, with 33 and 32 points, respectively. Kulemin is close behind with 29 points, which gives the Maple Leafs second unit a combined 94 points on the season.
There may very well be a second line or two that has more offensive output than the Maple Leafs trio, but none of those lines were as unexpected as the Maple Leafs trio of Grabovski, MacArthur and Kulemin, especially by Leaf fans.
Rewind back to last summer. Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke was preparing to re-sign Nikolai Kulemin when all hell broke lose—Kulemin’s agent was looking for first line money. Burke stood by his comments that, while a decent player, Kulemin had benefited from first line and power play minutes and was undeserving of “first line” money, and therefore, wouldn’t pay.
For some, Burke’s assessment of Kulemin was harsh, but, in the end, it was the right call. Kulemin settled on a two-year $4.7 million deal, which seemed like a good deal for both sides.
Looking back on things, $2.35 million per season looks like a bargain for Kulemin, who, outside of Grabovski and MacArthur, has been one of the Best players on a Maple Leafs squad that is littered with under-performers.
Plenty of trade rumors surrounded Mikhail Grabovski (who was cast-off by the Montreal Canadiens) over the summer, but none of them ever came to fruition. Many Maple Leafs fans felt Grabovski might just be the worst second line centre in the entire NHL, with some going so far as to appoint rookie Nazem Kadri as the Leafs second line centre.
Well, after a failed attempt to stick with the Maple Leafs, Kadri is now in the AHL, honing his defensive skills and maturing. Meanwhile, Grabovski is second in scoring on the Maple Leafs with 32 points, tied for goals scored with ‘sniper’ Phil Kessel.
In fact, Grabovski—who has 17 goals on the season—is ranked 13th overall in goals scored, ahead of such super stars as Jonathan Toews (16), Jeff Carter (16), Henrik Zetterberg (15), Evgeni Malkin (15) and the mighty Alex Ovechkin (14).
Grabovski’s 32 points ranks him 45th overall, which helps to illustrate his overall game is taking shape. More importantly, Grabovski is going to the dirty areas of the ice, making hits, digging out pucks and giving a consistent effort—something he was criticized for not doing throughout much of his career.
Then you have Clarke MacArthur, a player that was cast-off by the Thrashers based on his arbitration award of $2.4 million in July.
The Thrashers loss was Brian Burke’s gain, as Burke swooped in and scooped MacArthur up at the bargain basement price of $1.1 million—which may very well be the best signing of the offseason.
MacArthur’s willingness to go to the net and ability to play along the boards has been a godsend for the Maple Leafs, while the chemistry MacArthur, Grabovski and Kulemin have developed is undeniable.
Needles to say, Brian Burke would be foolish to let this group of “misfits” get away this summer, where, given his restricted free agent status, MacArthur will once again be looking for a long-term deal, a deal that should net him around $2.5 million on a three- to four-year deal.
It’s a long season, and as good as “misfits” have been, their team still occupies 27th spot in a 30-team league, but nobody can deny Grabovski, Kulemin and MacArthur are this season’s most surprising line of the NHL season and perhaps the three most improved players in the league as well.
In the end, they have each other to thank, after all, misfits tend to stick together—let’s hope Brian Burke does just that (keeps these guys together).
For more news on the Toronto Maple Leafs check out my Web site at www.theslapshot.com.
Until next time,