Since the NHL is on Olympic break for more than a week, fans can take a break from cheering for their teams and either root for their country or watch the best in the world team up for Olympic gold. For number crunchers like myself, data is at a temporary stand still and we can take advantage of this opportunity for some mid-season analysis. For Capitals fans, the most obvious question coming into this upcoming offseason will be whether or not the Capitals will be able to resign Mikhail Grabovski. Last year, Washington hoped to retain Mike Ribeiro as the team’s second line center, but General Manager George McPhee was never able to bring him back because he was clearly not at the right price.
Desperate to find an alternative, McPhee signed Grabovski to one of the biggest bargain contracts last summer for one year and $3 million. This is after Grabovski was amnestied from the Toronto Maple Leafs from after being forced to play a defensive role under Randy Carlyle’s first full season as head coach. Before that, Grabovski finished having his third 20-goal season. So how did Grabovski get to where he is today?
The Belarussian was taken in the fifth round of the 2004 draft by the Montreal Canadiens as a 20-year old after participating in the 2nd tier of that year’s World Juniors (10 points in five games) and World Championships (3 points in 5 games). Considering how old he was as a prospect and how little a hockey talent pool Belarus has, it was easy to see why he was overlooked in hockey circles, but his offensive resume was something to not be discarded as well. Grabovski would then spend two years in the Russian Superleague where he would score 26 goals and 63 points in 114 games.
Afterwards, he would finally play in the North America in his age-23 season playing with the Montreal’s AHL affiliate in Hamilton. From January 6th to January 9th of that season, Grabovski would play his first 3 games of his NHL career, but would only win 13 of 31 faceoffs and post five shots on goal. Back in the AHL, he would be a part of a Bulldogs team that would win the 2006 Calder Cup (for those curious, notable NHLers from that team include Matt D’Agostini, Andrei Kostitsyn, Kyle Chipchura, Maxim Lapierre, Ryan O’Byrne and Jaroslav Halak. Also, some 19-year old had a 2 game regular season cameo after playing in juniors and became the starting goaltender during that Cup run. His name is Carey Price. No big deal.). Despite all that, Grabbo was behind teammates Corey Locke and Duncan Milroy; two players a year or less older than him. However, those two players would combine for 14 career NHL games. Grabovski would certainly played more than that.
During the 2007-2008 season, Grabovski would get more NHL game time experience, but he would only manage to play 24 games. He would have solid results for any full rookie season, but he was struggling to make the lineup and was at an age where people would assume that this would be the best a player can show. The depth chart at center consisted of captain Saku Koivu, Lapierre, Brian Smolinski and a 25-year old Tomas Plekanec on a Canadiens team that would hit an Eastern Conference best 104 standings points (barring what could happen this year, that was the last Montreal team that has surpassed 100 points). When he was sent down to Hamilton, Grabbo would record 20 points in only 12 games. He was done with the minors. Grabovski needed more playing time. That’s why after he was a healthy scratch for a March 6th game against Pheonix, Grabovski traveled to Los Angeles to discuss with his agent about his future.
It rubbed the Canadiens front office the wrong way and Grabovski was traded to arch rivals Toronto for Greg Pateryn and the 2nd round pick for the 2010 draft. Montreal would trade that pick to Chicago for a then 38-year old Robert Lang. In short, Toronto won the trade easily as not only would Grabovski have his break out year, but he established himself as a consistent offensive threat in the NHL. At age 25, he put in a 4.2 point share season while scoring 20 goals and 48 points while also averaging 2:13 per game on the power play. Toronto’s offense was solid considering that Matt Stajan, Alex Ponikarovsky and a 35-year old Jason Blake were only ahead of Grabovski in scoring.
|Season||Age||ESTOI||PPTOI||PP Usage%||SHTOI||SH Usage%||Corsi%||On-Ice Sh.%||On-Ice Sv%||FO%||OZS-OZF||QOT|
The next two seasons were very dark for the Maple Leafs offensively as they finished in the bottom eight each year. Part of that was Grabovski missing 25 games due to a broken wrist during the 2009-2010 season. The other was the lack of top tier depth that Toronto was consistently not able to produce during Grabovski’s tenure (with that said, Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Steen were getting their first taste of the NHL through the Maple Leafs and it took a while for Tyler Bozak to come through). Despite the blockbuster Phil Kessel trade before the 2010-2011 season, Grabovski stood on top as their best forward with a career high 29 goals, 58 points and 7.4 point shares. To make matters worse, Toronto was absolutely awful defensively during Ron Wilson’s tenure as head coach. It was so bad, that in that 2010-2011 season (Wilson’s last full season as head coach), Grabovski was average 1:00 per game on the penalty kill. Wilson’s penalty kill units would never eclipse 80% during a single season. He has never hit 3% of any of his team’s penalty kill output amongst his forward group since, let alone the 9.1% he picked up that season.
When Randy Carlisle replaced Ron Wilson and had the chance to set up his regimen, things went completely different. Players like Bozak and Jay McClement would step in to the penalty kill unit and the likes of Bozak, Joffrey Lupul, James Van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri would take over as the team’s best goal scorers. Rather than using Grabovski as depth to the offensive side of the rink, Carlyle put him in a checking role with horrible results on and off the rink. However, the Maple Leafs were starting a 5 year, $27.5 million contract with him that season. Thankfully, a lockout happened and the NHL granted teams to amnesty two players before the beginning of the 2014-2015 season.
Grabovski was one of them and the Washington Capitals chomped at the bit to get him. Since he has been a Capital, fans, teammates, coaches and executives alike are more than happy to have him as not only the team’s current answer as another scoring centerman to Nicklas Backstrom, but also as a stop gap replacement to the scoring that was lost from Alexander Semin. Most importantly, Grabovski has established himself as one of the best puck possessors in the game. On a team that has flat out plummeted on that metric since Bruce Boudreau was fired as head coach, the Capitals desperately need to keep players like him on the team.
Before the 2008-2009 season, Grabovski was solid to mediocre despite playing decent competition. As a Canadien, he was terrible at maintaining offensive pressure as his offensive zone start percentage of 54.8% would finish at 47.3% when he came off. Having a terrible 44.5% off of 957 draws certainly don’t help that either. After the trade though, Grabovski’s faceoff percentage has never dropped below 48.4% and he is having a career year on the faceoff dot at 53.8%. As Tyler Dellow wrote on his own blog, by the time a centerman hit their mid-twenties is when we have a feel for how good that player is on the dot and that skill either slightly increases or stays constant until they rot and decay into retirement (Marcus Johansson fans should shiver in fear on that analysis). Grabovski clearly matched this conclusion, but like the rest of his professional career, he bloomed about a year or two later than people expected.
Since 2009-2010, there have clearly been two sides Grabbo’s career as a Maple Leaf: The Ron Wilson era and the Randy Carlisle era. During the Ron Wilson era, he was a advanced statistician’s favorite. From 2009-2010 to 2011-2012, he has had a combined 20 linemate pairings that have played at least 5% of Grabovski’s total time on the ice. Of those 20 pairings, 18 of them had corsi percentages over 50% and 16 of them had better corsi percentages with Grabovski than without him. The Carlyle
error era was a different story. Of the eight teammates Grabovski played with at least 5% of his minutes with, only Clarke MacArthur and Matt Frattin were over 50% but six of those eight teammates had better corsi percentage’s with him than without him. As stated before, these numbers came as a result of Carlyle giving Grabovski a shocking 36.7% start on the offensive zone (he would finish in the attacking side 43.3% of the time though) with his toughest set of opponents of his career. Outside of Grabbo’s familiarity with Nikolai Kulemin(who is the only player Grabovski has played with 5% of his time on ice for every season as a Maple Leaf and have played a whopping 2131:54 together), there is no excuse for placing a pied piper of puck possession on the defensive end.
As much as that season was horrible, Carlyle had Grabovski face his toughest competition of his career and he performed masterfully. Outside of Patrick Wiercioch, Dougie Hamilton and Luke Schenn, every single forward or defenseman that played the ten most minutes against Grabovski are considered the best on their respective teams. Of those 20 forwards and defensemen, despite only beating Alex Ovechkin and Dennis Seidenberg in the corsi battle, Grabovski would either have 50% or more of the goal total against 14 of such opponents.
Since the 2007-2008 season, Grabovski has won 35 of his 60 matchups in goals for% and 28 of his 60 matchups in corsi% against his ten most played against forwards every season. Against his ten most played against defenseman, Grabovski has smoked them 35 out of 60 times in corsi% and a whopping 42 out of 60 times in goals for%. His ten best forwards and defenseman have been the following before he got amnestied and signed by Washington. As you will see, it’s not a bad list at all
|Ten best forwards|
|Ten best defensemen|
So now that Grabovski is a Capital, how has he looked this season? Welp, it looks like he is back where he left off. With Troy Brouwer, Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera, Joel Ward, Ovechkin, Brooks Laich and Martin Erat being the linemates he has spent 5% or more of his ice time with, only Chimera and Laich have not had a corsi with% of 50% or better and only Laich has had a worse corsi% with him than without him. In terms of his 10 best forwards and defensemen against, his list looks a little weaker than usual. For every Eric Staal, there is a Patrick Dwyer and for every Ryan Suter and Brooks Orpik, there is a Brett Bellemore and Anton Stralman. Of those 20 best opponents, Grabovski has won 12 of them in the corsi% battle but a shocking 5 in the goals for% one. This is very fascinating considering that this season could be Grabovski’s best in terms of PDO and on-ice save%.
Finally, lets look at where Grabbo likes to shoot. After compiling all the numbers from somekindofninja.com (the most underrated NHL advanced stats website, and it’s not even a contest), you will get these fancy tabulations
|TOTAL||scoring||0-10 ft||10-20 ft||20-30 ft||30+ ft||Avg. Distance|
|CAREER||scoring||0-10 ft||10-20 ft||20-30 ft||30+ ft|
|28.7||61.2%||10.0%||30.1%||22.8%||45.6%||% of shots from that distance|
|76.5%||11.2%||46.9%||29.6%||26.5%||% of goals from that distance|
|2013-2014||scoring||0-10 ft||10-20 ft||20-30 ft||30+ ft||2013-2014|
|23.4||79.7%||18.8%||37.5%||23.4%||26.6%||% of shots from that distance|
|77.8%||11.1%||44.4%||22.2%||22.2%||% of goals from that distance|
Look ma, more evidence that Grabovski got screwed over during the Randy Carlisle era!!! Only the 2009-2010 season had Grabovski suffered a worse shooting% than he did during that 2012-2013 season. The difference was that Grabovski has his worse on-ice shooting% of his career in 2010 and Grabovski shot from the farthest average distance of his career in 2013. In fact, 58.8% of his shots came from outside of 30 feet that year. The league average for this year is 57.7% and considering that defensemen will almost always shoot from that region, Grabovski’s 58.8% is shockingly high.
This year, Grabovski has been beautiful with his shot selection by firing from the shortest average distance of his career. He may not be Mike Knuble, but I have not seen a Capitals top six forward that has attacked from between the faceoff dots (40 out of 64 shots!!!) better than Grabbo since. For those curious, the numbers in bold indicate that Grabovski is above the league average in these categories. Even though he has been brilliant from over 30 feet in his career. Grabovski loves firing from the 10-20 foot range and should continue to be recommended to target that area.
COMPARABLES: So now that Grabbo’s biography has been written and published at a Border’s near you (wait, they don’t exist anymore?!?! Crap!!!), now is the time to finally answer this week’s question. In order to figure this out, we need to grab all the centermen that signed contract extensions after their age 29-32 seasons since capgeek recorded contract histories. With the salary cap reaching $71 million next year, teams will love the chance to sign free agents with their additional cap space. But what smart teams need should recognize that the average player salary does not change all that much.
|Season||Cap Limit||Cap hit/player|
What this means for this piece is that rather than comparing Grabovski to a player’s cap hit signed in the summer 2007 (hello Danny Briere’s 8 yr/$52 million to Philadelphia), we need to compare Grabovski to a player’s value over the average cap hit during any season. Here is a list of players that are comparable to Grabovski’s situation.
|Age after contract||contract year||contract||$ over avg cap hit||cap hit||# of teams before contract|
|Shawn Horcoff||30||2009||6 yrs/$33 million||3.03||5.5||1|
|Saku Koivu||32||2006||3 yrs/$14.25 million||2.837||4.75||1|
|Stephen Weiss||30||2013||5 yrs/$24.5 million||2.104||4.9||2|
|Michal Handzus||30||2007||4 yrs/$16 million||1.813||4||4|
|Derek Roy||30||2013||1 yr/$4 million||1.204||4||3|
|Matt Cullen||30||2006||4 yrs/$11.5 million||0.962||2.875||3|
A very fascinating list indeed. Of all those seven comparable players on that list, only Derek Roy and Saku Koivu received contracts that no one will ever complain about. The lesson, as always, is that you better be careful how much money you give to a guy in the second half of his career.
If you are wondering if one can find better comparisons for this research, here are the 31 remaining centerman that signed a contract extension during those age 29-32 seasons.
Players better than Grabovski: Patrick Marleau, Daniel Briere, Joe Thornton, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis
Players worse than Grabovski: Matt Stajan, Boyd Gordon, Jarret Stoll, Rich Peverley, Paul Gaustad, Jeff Halpern, Manny Malhotra, Chris Kelly, Vernon Fiddler, Travis Moen, Marcel Goc, Dominic Moore, Jim Slater, Gregory Campbell, Jay McClement, Jarred Smithson, Derek McKenzie, Zenon Konopka, Jesse Winchester, David Steckel, Ryan Craig, Ryan Carter
Players that are as good as Grabovski but did not attempt enough faceoffs per game during that stage of his career: Johan Franzen, Dainius Zubrus, Jiri Hudler
With that, I tried Spotrac’s method of analyzing a potential contract by grabbing the average percentage difference out of various statistical categories that could be used in contract discussions and then use it to conclude Grabovski’s annual cap hit. I then used that number to determine how high his value over the average cap hit should be, which would lead to how high his personal cap hit should be and thus, his potential contract extension.
|Age after contract||Games||PPG||GPG||APG||SPG||TOI|
|OPS/82||DPS/82||PS/82||2-way%||Seasons over 4 PS||Seasons over 7 PS||FO%||FOA/game|
CONCLUSION: With all the percentage differences combined, the average percentage difference is 5.76%. Sure, Grabovski’s seasons above 7 point shares (the approximate number that will make a skater one of the 100 best in the NHL every season) is an absolute outlier, but teams and agents obsess for stuff like this and it can not be ignored. But if we decide to ignore this category, Grabovski’s average percentage difference is -6.62%. With these two numbers, Grabovski’s contract has to be either $1.86 million or $2.11 million above his cap hit. As a result, the Washington Capitals should resign Mikhail Grabovski with the following contract extension:
4 years, $19.8 million or 4 years, $20.4 million
The biggest thing to watch out for in Grabovski’s future is that his PDO and on-ice save percentages are at a career high, while his shot rate is the lowest it’s been as a full time NHL player. Considering that the Capitals have already been burned out from contract extensions that George McPhee horribly overvalued (hello Brooks Laich), I would like to see if Grabovski’s cap hit can drop to that $4.95 million range. I just won’t write off the fact that he’ll get his $5.1 million instead.