In the end, Mikhail Grabovski
got exactly what he wanted, exactly what he and his agent had been asking for.
Grabovski signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract extension late Monday night. His agent, Gary Greenstin, confirmed the dollar amount and said it was a complicated negotiation that started in early October, but he was always asking for between $5 and $6 million per season. The contract also comes with a modified no-trade clause.
"They know I love to play here," Grabovski said after the Leafs morning skate Tuesday. "They do everything to keep me here and I enjoy being a part of this organization. They believe in me and right now it's like starting a new life. I'm very happy to stay here. I always want to be in a place where people believe in me and give me a chance to play."
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Grabovski grew up in a small two-bedroom apartment in Belarus with his parents and grandparents. He credited them for helping him become a professional hockey player.
He has settled down in Toronto with his girlfriend, Kate, who is from this area. They have two kids, including a two-month old infant. He said it was important for him and his family to remain here.
"It was important because my girlfriend is from here, and for her to be close to her parents and family is nice," Grabovski said. "I know her, it doesn't matter where I go, she'd go with me, but for me it's better I stay here than go anywhere else. I like everything here."
On the ice, Grabovski has become Toronto's most reliable two-way center. He has 45 points in 58 games this season and has been playing mostly on the second line, but usually matched against the opposition's best line.
He impressed new coach Randy Carlyle
with 2 goals and an assist in this past Saturday's 3-1 win over Montreal.
"I knew coaching against him the competitiveness he displayed and the skillset that he has, and in the game the other night he was the best player on the ice," Carlyle said. "So, that's my view on him and he just reinforced that in one game. But it's only one game. It's better to start that way than start the other way. Players like Grabovski demonstrate the will and the compete that is going to be required for this hockey club to continue to have success."
Grabovski has been a key member of the Maple Leafs since coming over from Montreal prior to the 2008-09 season. The Canadiens selected him in the fifth round of the 2004 NHL Draft, and he started rising as soon as he came over to North America. He helped the Hamilton Bulldogs win the Calder Cup in 2007, but he never could catch on in Montreal under coach Guy Carbonneau
, who tried to use him in a checking role.
Grabovski was eventually traded to Toronto on July 3, 2008. Ex-Leafs coach Ron Wilson showed a lot of faith in him as a rookie and was rewarded as Grabovski scored 20 goals and dished out 28 assists. He was signed to a three-year extension worth $8.7 million.
Grabovski has since firmly established himself in the NHL and in the Leafs' top-six. Tuesday night he will play his 200th game since he signed his original three-year extension. He has 59 goals and 79 assists in the time span, but is also noteworthy for the speed and defensive acumen he brings to the Leafs' lineup.
"His speed and skill are valuable commodities and fit perfectly with our style of play," Leafs GM Brian Burke
said. "He leads by example and his work ethic speaks for itself."
"Players like Grabovski demonstrate the will and the compete that is going to be required for this hockey club to continue to have success."
-- Leafs' coach Randy Carlyle
Burke clearly felt late last month that the deal was close to being done because he refused to trade Grabovski prior to the deadline. Greenstin said he never once thought about Grabovski getting traded. Grabovski likely would have been one of the most coveted centers available on July 1 had the Leafs let him hit unrestricted free agency.
"I was positive the whole time," Greenstin said. "I never worried about the deadline. He was the most-wanted center."
Even with the peace of mind and comfort that comes with a five-year, $27.5 million contract, Grabovski said he has nothing special planned for himself.
"I have two babies right now," he said with a smile, speaking of Leeliah and Jaeger. "I want to save my money."
He might have to spend a little of it on the Leafs' upcoming trip to Florida.
"Oh yeah, a few dinners," said Clarke MacArthur
, Grabovski's linemate. "A steakhouse every night."
All kidding aside, MacArthur said he was thrilled for Grabovski, and that "he's worth every penny" of the contract.
"The length of the deal just shows how much they really wanted him here," MacArthur said. "It's nothing but positive for both sides. It's a good deal and a great player they're keeping here."
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