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A question for Leaf fans today, as two ex-Leafs head to the Island…

I know a lot of Leaf supporters really liked both Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin in their time in Toronto. It’s hard to forget Grabbo scoring a late game-winning goal in Boston while playing hurt a few years ago.  Grabovski brought passion and talent to the table most nights. And Kulemin was generally a dependable, steady and sometimes physical presence for the blue and white for many years.

Those who follow VLM know I was a big Kulemin fan for years and really liked the way his career was trending early on.  Fair or not, I was not as high on him the past couple of seasons, though I know that many fans still felt be brought a lot to the table.

Grabovski was a lightning rod during the latter days of his time with the Leafs—and also when he left town with some critical comments directed at his former coach.  Many observers saw him as the best all-around center the Leafs had but felt that, under Carlyle, Grabbo was not utilized properly, relegated as he sometimes was to third and fourth line duty while rarely seeing a lot of power play time.

My point today is not to re-hash old stuff, simply to ask a question:  if what I saw late Wednesday is accurate, Grabovski signed for five million a year for four years, and Kulemin signed for better than four million a year, also on a four year deal.


Here’s the question: would you have been happy to see Nonis pay that amount for both players to keep them or bring them back to Toronto?

As I mentioned on Twitter, I see both guys as solid NHL players, but I don't see them worth that kind of contract. You?

31 comments:

  1. Hi Michael.
    Wasn't five million what Toronto signed Grabovski before he was bought out? At any rate it's a bit high I think. I have trouble with Grabo. He's a second liner, but sometimes not quite.
    Much as I like Kulemin 4 million is very high. He works hard, he's versatile and has a good shot but he won't create offense and he's not a great skater. I would have thought around 3 mil. or so. Still, I'm very glad for them both.

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    1. Both guys were certainly popular, and Leaf fans are probably happy to see them both do well- but maybe not get that much money here!

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  2. I'll just mention that Steve Dangle asked Gus Katsaros about Kulemin. Gus said he was a solid player who worked hard most of the time but he has to because he is often a step behind the play, partly because he reacts to, but doesn't anticipate what's going to happen and partly because he's not a strong skater. All of his shots (and goals) are from the same place, the top of the circles. CN

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  3. I love them both, but that's too much money.

    If they fire Randy, I would have been happy to have them both back at about 3 million for Kule and 3.5 for Grabo.

    However, I could see this working our well for the Islanders. 2/3 of a second line for the Islanders with established chemistry.

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    1. If they play well on the Island, they can certainly contribute there, DP.

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  4. Grabovski is being paid almost 1.8M for anther 7 seasons, so he's really making 6.8M on his new contract (almost Paul Stastny money!), but even if the buyout wasn't there, I think 5M is a bit much for him (thought so when he got his contract from Toronto)... but, I guess this is the nature of the league growth and inflationary salaries. I can't forget the buyout, so I think he's really 'cashing in' this time.

    I still like him as a player and have for a long time, same goes for Kulemin who I believe will be missed by Randy Carlyle most of all (and many Leaf fans who didn't appreciate that he's very reliable and consistent - yet at a lower level than I kept believing would be possible). Let's see how they get used on the Island (or in Brooklyn :) but I think that even if a new role for both might increase their profile, I wouldn't have wanted Kuly at over 4M any more than I wanted Bolland at 5M+.

    It's times like these that I'm glad we began building the farm team a few years ago... seems like the well won't be dry when we dip the bucket this time! And... about time, I might add!

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    1. Agreed, InTimeFor62. The Leafs likely have some much less expensive options.

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  5. Hi Michael,

    no, not happy at all. Bringing them back would be a disaster. We need change, not bringing the old problems back. Good deals for them. They will do fine in on the island probably.

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    1. Hi Marcus- yes, sometimes change is good for all concerned. The players get the situation and contract they wanted and the Leafs can bring in some younger, less expensive players.

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  6. Like you, I defended Kulemin for a long time, and thought he was unfairly criticized for not continuing at a 30-goal a year pace. You know that I've always been a big Komarov fan, and his return makes Kulemin highly expendable. As for Grabovski, I was never as enamoured by him as others. He simply seemed to get snuffed out of the play too often trying to do too much. He was a decent player, but I was happy to get the cap space back. What the Leafs do with that cap space of course is an entirely different thing! But short answer, I would not be happy to have invested nearly $10 million a year for these two players for the next several years.

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    1. We're on the same page on this one, Pete.

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  7. That kind of money is crazy for those players. Neither Grabbo nor Kulie have shown the kind of consistency and/or scoring touch that would justify that kind of expenditure. Same goes for Bolland.
    I'm definitely in "wait and see" mode with the team, at this point. I have no faith in Carlyle's ability to coach this group, but I hope he changes my mind. The bigger problem for me is that, up to this point at least, we don't seem to have really improved at all.

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    1. It feels a bit like Nonis is treading water, Gerund. Some moves and signings that may help, but are we really a lot better?

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  8. Michael,

    I'm not sure that we really miss these players. I think that we miss who they were, as well as who they might have become. We all remember Kulemin's 30 goal season, he just couldn't miss when he got an opportunity. Everyone laments that he didn't turn into a consistent 30 goal scorer, some of his utilization by the coach made that impossible. He was often the only forward back in his own zone, and he was almost always the first one out of the offensive zone. Personally, I will miss his defensive conscience on the team. It says a lot about him to me that Malkin really wanted him to play in Pittsburgh, higher praise I haven't seen.

    Grabbo was certainly willing to battle, quite the warrior in his time in Toronto. He scored as well when given the chance. I'm sure he will continue to put up respectable numbers in Long Island. I would pencil him in for 20 goals and 30 to 40 assists, again, given his usage. If he is deployed as Carlyle used him, then no, no player puts up numbers being asked to solely play defense.

    Other commenters are correct here, as fans we always are fond of players for what they have achieved in the past. The truth going forward is both of these players are going to decline in production, and therefore in value to their teams. You can't run a successful NHL team paying for what players used to be able to accomplish. It may seem cold and calculating what GM's like Bergevin are doing, but it seems the prudent course to me.

    So far this offseason, I am not too impressed with what Nonis has been able to do talent wise for the Maple Leafs. Santorelli signed today to a deal paying him $1.5 million on a one year deal. He seems like a dependable two way kind of player, he should score more than McClement. He can play both the wing and centre, also helpful considering we let Kulemin walk.

    I guess the thing that bothers me the most right now isn't my lukewarm feelings towards the lineup as it now sits. We have some talent, some prospects, just like everyone else. The two things that are annoying me right now, first, every deal that Nonis seems to make involves sending the other team a draft pick, or retaining salary, or for crying out loud both. Very short sighted, as a fan I want this team to build for the future, and you guessed it, you do that through the draft.

    The second thing that is troubling about Nonis and co. to me is that the Leafs continue to let talent walk away from the team with no return. The worst part of this is when we have to pay the player to go away. The GM has done this far too often in my opinion. I get that it's not my money, but it seems to me that they are building a team of middling talent and paying a king's ransom to do so. The players that this team just lets walk away, instead of trading them, even for just a draft pick, Kulemin, MacArthur, Bolland, McClement. No matter what we thought of these players, letting them go for nothing is bad business. It's all about assets, who has the most generally wins.

    It is absolutely worse when Nonis and co. trade for, or sign a player to a contract, that they immediately regret, and have to pay the player to go away as well as being unable to get something for him. I think it started with Jeff Finger, Komisarek, Tucker, Grabovski, Liles, Armstrong, and now Gleason have added to the cap purgatory over time. The lack of foresight by this group astounds me, they are supposed to be the guys in the know. But, they keep doing this, and I have no idea why. Anyone else?

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    1. My expectation is that the Leafs should be in a position every season to be serious contenders in the playoffs, Jim. While Nonis has made a lot of moves around the edges this week, I'm not sure we have a team that can play with the best.

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  9. I hate to see players go for nothing too, especially top nine, though I suppose every team has some with all the free agents available this time of year. The buyouts bother me even more with money left to pay on the cap.

    I'm not going to compliment Nonis yet--I think he's had some better guidance this time around and Carlyle has had less input- but I love versatility and creativity and Nonis added that today with very little cost or risk. In spite of the cap being lower than expected, the Leafs still have money left for signing Gardiner and a few other RFA's. I still expect another trade involving Franson but it doesn't have to happen this day. The amount of signings the last three days really took me by surprise.

    If this is how the Leafs are to be run (and it's early yet) under Shanahan, it gives me some hope back.

    Carlyle is another issue, but I think people are less likely to rebel against change once they see the benefits. ( I actually liked Randy behind the bench a lot more than Wilson, it was his systems and decision making I couldn't agree with) Randy wanted to quit, Shanahan wanted him to stay. I don't see the wisdom in the decision to keep him but I am willing to wait and see. Colleen

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    1. Hi Colleen- I sense some Leaf supporters like what Nonis is doing and others remain skeptical. I see progress but I'm still waiting to see if the team is actually better.

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    2. I agree with you Colleen. Let me ask this Michael. Do you think the team is as bad as last year? There have been changes on defense and Gardiner and Reilly will get a bigger role with those changes. Up front it really looks like we will have actual honest to goodness 3rd and 4th lines for a change assuming that Carlyle parks BoatOrr eating popcorn or riding the busses.

      If the changes on D can help keep Phaneuf and others fresher and not burnt out that has to help. If we can play a 3rd line decent minutes and actually dull the skates of the 4th line for a change it can only keep the top 2 lines fresher as well.

      Even with that the team HAS to be better than last year no?? Is it a LOT better only time will tell. Perhaps not but I think the changes to date will make it one step change better anyways.

      This is assuming Carlyle doesn't coach the team with the exact same systems he did last year which is always a big risk. If he does I don't think it matters what changes the management makes with players.

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    3. I do think on paper the Leafs are a bit better, Pep. More sandpaper, seemingly a better 'bottom-six'. Maybe better on defense.

      I'm just not sure we have done much more than get a bit better. That might mean good enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, but the bar needs to be higher. Fans seem prepared to lessen expectations because the Leafs have only made the playoffs once since 2004- and our expectations should be much higher, at least in my view.

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    4. I agree the bar needs to be higher. But I am not sure what the expectation is for making those changes timeline wise? It is easier said than done to make trades in the cap era and what would the Leafs have to give up to add to their top 6 forwards? Quite a bit I suspect.

      And i think most agree signing big name UFA's on July 1 rarely works out due to having to overpay the big names so badly.

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    5. The timeline question is fair, Pep. Most of us are happy Nonis has been prudent this summer, but hopefully the end game is being a serious contender, not just a possible playoff team in the years ahead.

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  10. I don't think it is quite as simple as some people think to always get something for your assets. Sure it would be nice but it is not always possible or practical. With Bolland they couldn't trade him because of the injury they also didn't know that Florida would overpay him. They might even believed that he wanted to stay in Toronto like he kept telling the media. In the end they just decided he wasn't worth the money he wanted. They couldn't move players like Kulemin, McClement and Macarthur the previous year because they were in a playoff race. So now they are looking at what they need and what the players they have bring and want against the money they have and what is available on the market. There are always free agents and all teams lose them but Colorado had a nice asset in Stasny that they wanted to keep but couldn't and losing a player like him would be like losing Kessel for nothing. Now that is something that would upset me..

    Burke really overpaid Grabo with the original deal. Grabo would have been nice to get at maybe $4 but I definitely don't want him at $5. I would say much the same for Kulemin, he would be worth the money if he was a 30 goal scorer but he only had 9 goals and 20 points last season. If you could guarantee the 30 goals which probably means playing on the 2nd line he is worth the money. But there are no guarantees.

    All things considered I am happy with what they have done, I liked going for the home run in the draft and the players today look to be potentially just as good as the players they lost.

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    1. Alton,

      I guess my argument with your point of view could be summed up in two ways. First the management of this hockey team is supposed to be better at evaluating where they fit in those playoff races than the fans do. So far this hasn't been the case, lots and lots of people were stating that the Leafs weren't a playoff team last year, they were not. Management should have realized this and dumped expiring contracts for assets going forward. They do get paid huge sums of money to be good at this kind of evaluation. You can make all the excuses you want for their ineptitude, frankly it still is ineptitude.

      Secondly, why not trade these players after the season for a middling draft pick? Other teams do this to have an exclusive negotiating window, the Leafs do not. To be fair, I would be happy with the Leafs being somewhere in between the never getting something for assets they have, and always being able to do so. I never once suggested that they always let talent walk for nothing, just that they usually do, due to their over inflated view of the mediocre hockey team they have assembled.

      Like Michael, I am not happy with one of the most storied franchises in sport, not to mention the richest in hockey, struggling to make the playoffs. Being a fan of this team, more often than not, can be reduced to wishing for the kindness of a playoff berth. It truly is not enough.

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    2. Hi Stan,

      I am sorry but some things doesn't work out that way.
      Trade deadline was three games after the olympic break. The Leafs were in a very good playoff position, so an addition would have been advisable. Imagine they had traded Raymond, McClement, Kulemin and Bolland that day. It makes no sense. ( I hear the cries of Leafs nation by the way).

      And trading coming UFA's after the season happens very rarely. Who should want that? You only trade the rights there is no guarantee. Only the Isländers did it for obvious reasons. Nearly nobody is interested in these moves. No point in accusing management for failing to do so.

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  11. It seems like most fans agree that what the Isles paid for Kulemin and Grabbo was more than the Leafs should have paid, Alton.

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  12. Another way one might look at this (although I'll admit it's a slightly cynical way) would be to ask:if you were going to spend about $9m/year on a centre and a right wing, would you rather your return was Bozak and Clarkson or Grabovski and Kulemin? Now while bringing them back would never be an option after Grabbo's refreshing but career limiting comments about Carlyle as the door whacked him on his behind, if we 're in the business of turning back the clocks, I would much rather have Grabovski and Kulemin. Always assuming, of course, that Carlyle didn't bury them on the fourth line...

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  13. Toronto is a win now organization and always has been. There are never true re-builds, it's all about plugging holes. I think the team is better now because they have some better material for the plugs. I don't think it can go very far, I do think they can go farther than last year.

    I believe our only hope is that our best prospects, unfortunately very few, may be able to come to the rescue in a year or two. We don't have a lot of those that are capable of making a huge difference. Toronto has never appreciated how very important it is to have those picks nor have they always chosen wisely in the past.

    Few youngsters will ever get a chance on a team that wants to win now and most will simply plug holes, but we do have a few that just might be that difference. We also have youngsters in Gardiner, Kadri and Rielly, two of whom were Leaf draft picks, that haven't yet reached their potential. It's my hope, with these changes, we can hold on until they do.

    Mirtle and Siegel have begun their Leaf podcasts again (TSN) and they are always good. At one point Mirtle said that Nonis and Carlyle have to win now to save their jobs, to which Siegel replied " but what are they winning?" Kind of sad....but the fact is we do want to win now. I'm feeling a bit more optimistic today but I know that actually wining "something" is not likely to happen any time soon. Changes take time. Two or three years down the road, maybe, who knows? Colleen

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    1. Hi Colleen,

      but what is the solution? Losing?

      The so called "rebuild" guarantees nothing. So what to do?

      Shanahan said: we don't tear it down, we try to win now. And Siegel said "win what?"

      But tearing down a team that consist mostly of young players makes no sense.

      I can tell you one thing, making a habbit of losing won't help.

      Look how often the Red Wings made the playoffs in the 80's and 90's until their Cup win in 97.

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  14. This is Grabovski's 4th team in 7 years despite putting up pretty good numbers. He left Montreal on bad terms. He dissed the Leaf coach on his way out of Toronto. While with the Leafs he and Dione Phaneuf had their weddings on the same weekend, and with the picture evidence, it looks like the most of the other leafs went to Phaneuf's. Despite a pretty good season with the Caps they didn't seem interested in re-signing him. He always seems to be excited when he comes to a team but seems to wear his welcome out at some point despite having obvious talent.

    Kulemin is a different story. I always liked him. He was one of the most, if not the most, defensive responsible forwards on the leafs. He played tough, usually leading the leaf forwards in hits. I think that him scoring 30 goals in the one season, while helping him in the wallet, was the worse thing that could have happened to him. It made fans, media, and I think him, have higher expectations than he was capable of delivering. It looked to me like he played last season like a player that wanted to be elsewhere. He did not have his usual hustle and was invisible for long stretches. I wish them both luck but don't think either one of them are worth the money the Isles are paying them. But that can be said for a lot of players.

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  15. No question a lot of players are getting paid more than fans might think makes sense, Stan- Grabbo and Kulemin now included.

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