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19 марта 2013 года.
Grabovski stuck in doghouse: Enigmatic centre says everything's fine, but his coach would probably have something different to say // Toronto Star

Feschuk, Dave.

There were those who questioned Randy Carlyle's logic on Saturday night, when the listing Leafs lost in a shootout to the Winnipeg Jets.

The coach tapped no less than 10 Maple Leafs to take their turn at centre ice but somehow neglected Mikhail Grabovski, only the team's highest-paid forward.

So what, precisely, was going through Carlyle's head?

"If you check the player's past history of shootouts - it hasn't been one he's happy with," Carlyle said of Grabovski on Monday, when he finally was asked to explain himself.

That didn't exactly hold water.

Grabovski is 3-for-12 lifetime in shootouts, a 25% success rate. By that logic Phil Kessel - who was 2 for his previous 15 attempts (or 13%) - would never have been chosen to shoot fourth.

Kessel, like eight other Leafs not named Tyler Bozak, failed to score. And maybe it's not worth criticizing Carlyle for his choice to ignore Grabovski in favour of the likes of defencemen Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson.

The NHL's shootout too often seems as random as a crapshoot, after all. This wasn't exactly Wayne Gretzky left slumped on the bench in Nagano.

Carlyle insisted on Monday that, had there been an 11th Leaf shooter, Grabovski was his man. So there.

But if tactics weren't the issue, maybe tact was. Carlyle is a stubborn operator who's been known to bury players if they don't meet to his rigourous specifications. Witness John-Michael Liles's recent 12-game run as a healthy scratch or Jake Gardiner's lengthy penance in the AHL.

You can argue whether or not that style of coaching can be productive - Carlyle has a Stanley Cup ring from 2007 - but the point is moot. He's not changing any time soon - nor, one suspects, is his professional unhappiness with Grabovski's lack of production.

The 29-year-old Grabovski has just 6 goals and 11 points in 29 games this season. He has precisely zero goals and one assist during Toronto's current five-game winless swoon. They are hardly numbers befitting his $5.5 million (U.S.) cap hit. But while Carlyle furrows his brow in disapproval, Grabovski remains the cheeriest of underachievers.

"Why you think I'm not happy?" he said Monday. "I'm happy about every day. I'm very happy because we're in the playoff position right now. That's more important than my game."

Grabovski has his defenders in the analytics community who'll argue that his lack of offence shouldn't come as a surprise. They point out that he typically plays against some of the other team's best players (and rarely with the meat of the Leafs); that he rarely plays on the power play; and that many of his shifts begin in the defensive and neutral zones, which makes creating far more difficult. Just 36% of his line's faceoffs have taken place in the offensive zone, according to BehindTheNet.ca. Certainly there's merit to some of that.

Carlyle counters that Grabovski hasn't been good enough on faceoffs, no matter the zone, and that in recent games it has fallen to others to line up against the opposition's finest. That was Bozak, not Grabovski, taking most of the draws against Sidney Crosby in Thursday's loss to the Penguins.

"It's about starting with the puck more," Carlyle said of Grabovski's struggles. "We're not having to play defence as much to start. The second thing is to use his speed and his ability to get on the puck on the forecheck. We think the other stuff (i.e. offence) will come with that."

Grabovski is winning 50.8% of his faceoffs this season. But he has gone 47.7% in the past five games, including a 4-for-14 outing in a season-low-point loss in Winnipeg last week and a 2-for-11 manhandling against the Bruins on March 7.

Is Grabovski pleased with his performance in the circle?

"(Carlyle) told me I need to fix faceoff, so I fix faceoff," said Grabovski, who has won 17 of 28 the past two games.

Is he feeling pressure to live up to his contract?

"I just think about (winning) the game. That's it. I don't spend the money. My wife spends all the money," he said. "Sorry wife."

Monday's practice appeared to behold some evidence Grabovski is becoming more firmly entrenched on the coach's blacklist. The Belarusian was demoted from the club's second line to its third, where he played alongside Colton Orr and Clarke MacArthur.

Carlyle said there shouldn't be too much read into that juggling. But the coach said he isn't thrilled with the need for tinkering.

"I don't like change. I would rather not have to change people and move people around," Carlyle said. "I think it's a clear indication at times that we're not playing the way we need to play."

The problem for the Leafs is that they don't have a surplus of skilled forwards with 29-goal seasons on their resumes. Toronto's worst fear is that they've got a rough copy of a young Alex Kovalev on their hands - far more skilled than he mostly chooses to show, far less concerned with maximizing his potential than his employer would like.

"Why you think I'm not happy?" Grabovski said Monday.

The gross presumption won't be made again. Clearly his slump isn't his burden, or maybe it just confirms the old saying is true: Happy wife, happy life.

Still, on a team searching for an exit to a season-threatening slide, it's never advisable to smile while a coach's concerns are defied.

Credit: Dave Feschuk Toronto Star

Страничка Михаила Грабовского на сайте "Звёзды с Востока"


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