TORONTO - Mikhail Grabovski has come a long way from the two-bedroom apartment he grew up in in Minsk, Belarus where he lived with his parents and grandparents.
In fact, after signing a five-year contract extension with the Maple Leafs, which was announced Tuesday morning, Grabovski can now afford penthouse living — and he can bring the entire clan along with him if he so chooses.
Yes, the 28-year-old centre is suddenly a rich man. Richer than any other forward on the Maple Leafs (that’s right Phil Kessel), and second only to defenceman Dion Phaneuf, who makes $6.5 million a year.
While the Maple Leafs do not release financial terms of deals, NHL sources say the extension that locks up Grabovski through 2017 is worth approximately $27.5 million US. That’s a cap hit of $5.5 million a season, which ranks him among some pretty elite NHL company (Martin St. Louis, $5.5 million; Corey Perry, $5.325 million; David Krejci, $5.25 million; Ryan Kesler $5 million and so on).
That can buy an awful lot of draniki.
But Grabovski doesn’t seem to have any plans on buying that penthouse, or a sports car, or a bling, bling watch. Instead, he plans to spend it on family.
“I have two babies now, I’m going to save my money for them,” Grabovski said after the Leafs’ morning skate on Tuesday.
Of course he was joking, sort of, but those two babies and his girlfriend, Kate, a Toronto native, are a big reason why Grabovski wanted to stay with the Leafs, and the comment speaks volumes about what a character guy he is.
So, too, does the long list of people he thanked after the skate, which included the coaches and management.
“I always wanted to be in a place where people believe in me and give me a chance to play,” Grabovski said. “For me, it’s better to stay here than go anywhere else. I want to say thank you very much to the organization … I’m very happy to stay here and I want to say thank you to my parents who gave me a chance to play hockey. It wasn’t just me, it was my whole family who worked for that, same for my girlfriend and same for my agent.”
But is Grabovski really worth that kind of money? Well, on the face of it, no. More than $5 million a year is a lot to pay for 20 goals and 25 assists, the numbers he had heading into Tuesday night’s contest against the Boston Bruins. And you have to wonder if he’ll ever get much beyond the career numbers he posted last season, when he had 29 goals and 29 assists.
But the Leafs might have felt they didn’t have much choice. Grabovski, in the final year of the three-year, $8.7-million deal, was set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and with a shallow pool, he was sure to be a sought after commodity. And after the Oilers recently gave Ales Hemsky, a guy who has five goals and 29 points this season, a two-year, $10-million extension and the Hurricanes signed forward Tuomo Ruutu to a $19-million extension over the next four years, the Leafs probably figured they were stuck paying Grabovski’s asking price of around $5 million a year.
As well, Grabovski is the kind of player new coach Randy Carlyle should like. He’s pretty physical for his size (he’s listed as 5’11”, 183) and he plays with some sandpaper.
“I knew coaching against him the competiveness he played with and the skill-set that he has. And the game the other night (a 3-1 win over Montreal in which Grabovski recorded two goals and an assist) he was the best player on the ice,” Carlyle said.
Grabovski has been one of Toronto’s best players all year, right up there with first-liners Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, and the effort he brings every night is unmatched, as his team-best plus-7 rating will attest.
“He has a lot of heart when he plays and I think that’s something a lot of teams would want to build around. It’s nice to see he’s staying here,” said Clarke MacArthur, who has been his linemate for most of the past two seasons.
And now that Grabovski is in Toronto for the foreseeable future, both he and the Leafs can concentrate on the task at hand — making the playoffs.