At the end of June, Mikhail Grabovski was one week away from his wedding and had four years remaining on the contract he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2012.
Center - WSH
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 16
SOG: 80 | +/-: -10
What a difference a summer makes.
The Maple Leafs used a compliance buyout on Grabovski on July 4, abruptly ending his tenure with Toronto and making him a free agent one day before he was scheduled to walk down the aisle. It took seven weeks for the newlywed/scoring center to find a new team, but he expressed his excitement Friday at the one-year, $3 million contract he signed with the Washington Capitals.
"I like the system, it's an offensive team. I just wanted a team who really wants me," Grabovski said in a conference call. "The general manager and coach really wanted me. They like how I play, so I chose Washington. I think I can help them."
Though it did take some time for the 29-year-old to find a new team, it does appear there were a number of teams who wanted Grabovski, who in 367 games with the Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens has 94 goals and 217 points.
Capitals general manager George McPhee said he heard as many as 12 teams were courting Grabovski, and the Belarussian forward revealed that teams from the NHL and Kontinental Hockey League inquired about his services.
"We think Grabovski is a pretty significant signing for us," McPhee said. "He's a really well-rounded player who will bring a lot of speed to our lineup. He should make us a better hockey club.
"We talked to him a couple of days into free agency just to feel him out. He was on a honeymoon for a couple of weeks. So things really in earnest picked up the last three weeks."
Like Grabovski, McPhee had a very different perspective on things when the Capitals' season ended following a seven-game series loss to the New York Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The GM said veteran forward Brooks Laich was penciled in as the team's No. 2 center heading into this season, after last season's second-line pivot, Mike Ribeiro, signed a four-year contract with the Phoenix Coyotes.
But as negotiations with Grabovski's agent, Gary Greenstin, accelerated, McPhee said he saw an opportunity to improve his team.
"We were pretty confident with Brooks as a No. 2 center. On July 8, he was our No. 2 center. But things changed over the course of the summer," McPhee said. "There was an opportunity with Grabovski, and really having Brooks, knowing he can play that position, allowed us to make this deal
"The nice thing is we've got options. If we need a big center, we've got Brooks. If we need speed, we have Grabovski. Just flexibility up and down the lineup at center. We can move people back and forth. It really adds a top-six guy to our lineup and gives us some real depth that we all like to have."
"I kind of liked everything he said. I think he understands me. For me, I just need to work hard and try to play my best. Show coach I'm a player."
-- Mikhail Grabovski on Capitals coach Adam Oates
Each side revealed it was the presence of Capitals coach Adam Oates that endeared the team to Grabovski. In Oates' first year, he overcame a tough start to lead the Capitals to first place in the Southeast Division. He also led an offense that ranked fifth in the League and helped wing Alex Ovechkin find his scoring touch. After scoring two goals in his first 10 games, Ovechkin went on a scoring tear in April and was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the League's most valuable player as well as the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the League's top goal scorer.
Grabovski, asked what in particular he liked about his new coach, didn't mince words.
"Everything," he replied. "I kind of liked everything he said. I think he understands me. For me, I just need to work hard and try to play my best. Show coach I'm a player."
Grabovski should have every opportunity to bounce back from a difficult 2012-13 season. After starting it with CSKA Moscow of the KHL, he had nine goals and 16 points in 48 games for Toronto and fell out of favor with Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle.
But Grabovski is a favorite of the advanced-statistics community because of his ability to drive puck possession and should flourish on a Capitals power play that was by far the NHL's best, scoring at a 26.9 percent rate.
It could be a perfect ending to Grabovski's very eventful offseason.
"The summer was busy. It gave me motivation," Grabovski said. "I train hard the last month to make myself ready for the new [season]. I'm happy to be a husband to my wife. It's a very unique summer for me."