Toronto Maple Leafs' Mikhail Grabovski (84) scores against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price in Montreal, March 3, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
TORONTO - The rest of the NHL now knows how highly the Toronto Maple Leafs think of Mikhail Grabovski.
Brian Burke made the impending free agent his highest-paid forward Tuesday, signing Grabovski to a US$27.5-million, five-year extension.
That vaults the 28-year-old centre just outside the top 30 in terms of cap hit among NHL forwards. It was also the biggest deal Burke has handed out since being hired by the Leafs in November 2008 and bumped Grabovski $100,000 ahead of Leafs winger Phil Kessel in annual salary.
"They know I love to play here and they did everything to keep me here," Grabovski said before Toronto faced the Boston Bruins. "I'm enjoying being part of this organization."
The deal also includes a limited no-trade clause that allows Grabovski to select 10 teams each season he'd be willing to move to.
It's a major commitment to a player who was acquired in 2008 from Montreal for a second-round pick. Grabovski has grown into his own since then and become the team's most reliable two-way forward, not to mention an important presence in the dressing room.
"He's got a lot of heart when he plays," said linemate Clarke MacArthur. "I think that's something a lot of teams would want to build around."
Grabovski's agent, Gary Greenstin, was first approached by the Leafs about a new contract in October and called the negotiations that followed "tough." The Grabovski camp was seeking a six- or seven-year deal but the Leafs GM wouldn't budge off five.
Greenstin believes his client would have earned even more money had he hit the free-agent market July 1, but Grabovski's heart was always in Toronto. He met his girlfriend Kate in the city and the couple has two young children.
"It's a nice feeling," said Grabovski. "You protect your life for five years. Right now you can concentrate on hockey. For sure inside you feel much better than (when) you don't have a contract."
His current deal pays him $3.1 million.
A year ago, Grabovski set career highs with 29 goals and 58 points—numbers he's slightly off pace of matching this season. However, the Leafs were comfortable giving him such a large contract because he'd be very difficult to replace if they let him walk away in free agency.
"His speed and skill are valuable commodities and fit perfectly with our style of play," Burke said in a statement. "He leads by example and his work ethic speaks for itself."
One of the first things new coach Randy Carlyle did after taking over for Ron Wilson was bump Grabovski up in the lineup. He thought the five-foot-11 centre was "the best player on the ice" during a 3-1 victory in Montreal on Saturday.
"The competitiveness that he displays and the size that he is proves to us that little men can compete," said Carlyle. "He's displayed it and he's been rewarded for it."
For his part, Grabovski had no concerns about signing a long-term deal so soon after a major change was made within the organization. He's confident in his role.
"This coach come here and he believe in me," said Grabovski. "I'm a soldier. You know, I just want to work for whatever coach is here."
Grabovski's notorious work ethic has carried him a long way.
Born in Germany, where his father Yury was working as an engineer, he was raised in a small two-bedroom apartment in Minsk, Belarus that his parents shared with his grandparents. He rose through the ranks in that country and was selected in the fifth round of the 2004 draft by the Canadiens.
From there, it took him four years to establish himself as a full-time NHL player.
"I always dreamed to play here in the NHL," said Grabovski. "My parents really wanted (me) to play here. Actually my dad is my first coach, my best coach, and he made me believe I can make it (to the) big level and stay here for a long time. I'm very appreciative of him."
After signing a deal that should set him up for life, he indicated that he'd be sending money home to make sure his family was well taken care of.
"I don't think it was just me," said Grabovski. "I think all my family worked for that."
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