TORONTO - Perhaps general manager Brian Burke isn’t attempting to turn the Maple Leafs into a street gang, after all.
A day after loading up on muscle, with the addition of defencemen Mike Komisarek and Garnet Exelby and forward Colton Orr, Burke decided that somebody has to score goals and re-signed crafty centre Mikhail Grabovski to a three-year deal. Grabovski had become a restricted free agent.
Grabovski’s California-based agent, Gary Greenstin, confirmed yesterday that the deal is worth $8.7 million US over the three years.
“We think there is a great deal of upside with Grabovski,” Dave Nonis, the Leafs’ senior vice-president of hockey operations, said yesterday. “He had a sporadic season last year, a great start, a soft middle and good finish. But it was really his first full year in the league.
“Still, he put up some good numbers and we think he is a top six forward, and judging from the calls we received from other teams interested in him, most teams share that opinion.”
Grabovski played 78 games last season, registering 48 points, with 20 goals - the first Leaf since Sergei Berezin (1996-97) to score 20 goals as a rookie — 28 assists and 92 penalty minutes.
The shifty 25-year-old centre was one of the more exciting Maple Leafs with the puck last season and one of the few with the ability to create scoring chances on his own. He finished the season with 7-10-17 totals in 19 games, playing on a line with Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nikolai Kulemin, a trio which, barring further trades and/or signings might even start next season as the Leafs’ No. 1 line.
“Mikhail is very happy,” Greenstin said. “His priority all along was to stay with the Maple Leafs.”
Nonis, meanwhile, would not comment on rumblings yesterday that a trade with the Boston Bruins is back on the table. A week ago, Burke attempted to get Bruins forward Phil Kessel, 21, for veteran defenceman Tomas Kaberle, but the deal fell through. Getting rid of Kaberle would make sense in light of reports that Burke is interested in signing free agent defenceman Francois Beauchemin, whom he acquired as GM of the Anaheim Ducks from Columbus on Nov. 15, 2005.
Nonis also said there are 10-12 free agents still available that the Leafs have expressed interest in, although they have not put forward any formal offers at this point.
In his first full NHL season, Grabovski ranked third among all league rookies in assists and points. He led the Leafs with a 16.1% shooting percentage, and was second on the team in penalty minutes and power-play goals.
He represented Belarus at the 2009 world championships in Switzerland, averaging 27:23 of ice time and leading the team with three goals, six assists and nine points in seven games.
Grabovski did demonstrate feistiness on occasion last season, such as when he went after Montreal forward, and former teammate, Sergei Kostitsyn more than once, including a Jan. 8 game when he pushed a linesman out of the way to reach his fellow Belorussian and was slapped with a three-game suspension.
Head coach Ron Wilson generally had good things to say about Grabovski’s efforts, although he did scratch the forward for a Feb. 4 game in Buffalo due to a lack of effort in a previous game.