The Maple Leafs are coming off three straight losses and some of the wind has been transferred from their sails and into the bags of bombast popularly known as cynical sports talk radio callers who would have you believe the organization can’t get off the wrong track.
As we told you last week, this particular collection of Leafs players isn’t like the ones of past years. These players are at the beginning of their NHL prime, not the tail end as we’re used to seeing.
But there are other stark differences that bode well for Toronto’s future. And perhaps no single player embodies that difference better than the bone-crushin’ Belarusian himself, center Mikhail Grabovski.
Okay, “bone-crushing” may be pouring it on a little thick. But don’t be fooled, because though he’s just 5-foot-11 in stature, Grabovski, has shown all kinds of guts – not to mention, a dazzling array of offensive moves – in this, his breakout season as an NHLer.
When Grabovski first became a Leaf in the summer of 2008, he wasn’t arriving with a squeaky clean reputation; the Montreal Canadiens found him toxic to their dressing room and dealt him to Toronto for a prospect and a second round pick.
His play that season was promising – he had 20 goals and 48 points in 78 games – and he was rewarded with a three-year, $8.7 million contract extension. But in his sophomore campaign last year, Grabovski was injured, ineffective (10 goals and 35 points in 59 games) and looked more like former Leaf Sergei Berezin: a skilled European who couldn’t excel at the North American game.
Now, he’s become Toronto’s best all-round player, a point-producing menace (he led all Leafs with 53 points in 69 games) and (unlike Berezin) a ferocious backchecker who doesn’t mind going into the dirty areas to produce goals.
Now, he fights through apparent head injuries to return to the ice to score game-winning goals. If Grabovski were Canadian, certain commentators would have their statues of him already built.
Nevertheless, at $2.9 million a season, he’s a bargain for the Leafs – and a boon for their future.
This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.