George McPhee has drawn a lot of criticism during his 15 year tenure as General Manager of the Capitals, and much of it has been deserved. He’s made questionable free agent signings, offered up crippling, expensive contracts, and, of course, has made some pretty baffling trades (even at the time, it was tough to justify trading away a consensus top prospect in Filip Forsberg for an aging Martin Erat). Picking up Mikhail Grabovski as a free agent, however, should not be counted among his many mistakes.
In a season that has shown the Caps to be wildly inconsistent as a team, Grabovski has been a steady bright spot. He is third on the team in points despite being 13th in time-on-ice; his +2 rating, though hardly impressive by league standards, is the best amongst all Caps forwards; and aside from his brief stint centering Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer, Grabovski’s lines have often been the best, especially at even strength (and, to be fair, Mario Lemieux would look bad playing with Laich and Brouwer this season).
When Mike Ribiero left for a long term contract in Phoenix over the summer, the Caps found themselves once again without a true second line center behind Nicklas Backstrom—a problem that, in the last five years, has become chronic. Initially, McPhee confidently declared that Brooks Laich was a more than capable replacement, but I like to think that he was just putting on a brave face. No offense intended towards Brooks Laich, but, even at his best, he is not a second line center.
Now, whether the events leading up to Grabovski’s signing were a result of McPhee’s savvy, or simply dumb luck, is unclear. McPhee inquired about Grabovski earlier on in the offseason, but ultimately didn’t pull the trigger until much later. Did Grabovski’s stock fall, allowing McPhee to nab him for a reasonable price, or did McPhee begrudgingly admit to himself that, without a true second line center, the Caps were going to have a serious lack of scoring depth?
Either way, Caps fans everywhere should be thankful that he made that move; Grabovski has been better than advertised.