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|Grabovski won't lack motivation in return: Former Leaf has rejuvenated his career since bitter buyout ended his time in Toronto
23.11.2013. McGran, Kevin. Toronto Star
Mikhail Grabovski used to play his best against the Montreal Canadiens, the team that drafted him and disrespected him by sitting him as a healthy scratch as a rookie before trading him to Toronto.
Imagine what he might do the Maple Leafs.
"He is probably going to play harder against us than any other team," said Leafs forward Nikolai Kulemin, Grabovski's friend and former linemate.
Grabovski returns to the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, his home for five seasons until he was unceremoniously bought out by GM Dave Nonis on the eve of his wedding. Grabovski left town with a venom-filled tirade against his former coach.
"For me, this is the place where I grew up as a hockey player in the NHL," said Grabovski, who says he now considers his "home" to be Toronto.
"It's always exciting to play in my home. It's going to be my first time against the Leafs.
"I am excited."
Grabovski seems to have found a new home with the Washington Capitals. He already has more points this year through 22 games (18) than he did all of last season (16) when he found himself confined to Randy Carlyle's doghouse.
"I think it's a good move for me here," said Grabovski. "Of course, I felt terrible when they bought out my contract.
"(But in Washington) I can play my style of hockey. You can play when people trust you and give you a chance to play."
Grabovski won over a lot of fans as an undersized player with skill and heart in his early years with the Leafs. The front office - then with Brian Burke in charge - even gave him a five-year, $27.5-million (U.S.) deal. With Burke gone, Nonis in charge and Grabovski not playing up to snuff for Carlyle, the Leafs bought him out a year later. They owe him $14.3 million over the next eight years.
He signed a one-year deal for $3 million with the Caps.
And after calling Carlyle an "idiot" in that post-buyout tirade, Grabovski managed to say something nice this week about his former coach.
"He's a tough coach, prefers disciplined play in the rink and a very defensive style hockey," said Grabovski. "It helped me here (in Washington) a little bit."
But he couldn't bring himself to credit Carlyle directly.
"They have second and third coaches - great assistant coaches. I learned a bit how to play hockey a different way."
Whatever the bad blood, his former teammates remember him fondly.
"He was a fun guy to be around," said Bozak. "He'd make you laugh. His English isn't amazing, but when he was telling stories, everyone was always listening.
"It looks like he found a really good spot for himself. He enjoys it there. It will be fun to play against him. I'm sure he'll bewanting to put on a good show here in Toronto. He'll want to play well for sure."
The Leafs don't hold the anti-Carlyle tirade against Grabovski.
"He wasn't happy with how he played or how they used him in games," said defenceman Carl Gunnarsson. "But even though going out to the media like that might not be the right answer to it, that's up to him. I don't think anyone would happy to be bought out like that.
"It'll be fun, I haven't seen him in a while. That's always the thing with playing old teammates and old buddies ... you want to give that little extra and show the crowd that you're still doing good."