Mikhail Grabovski's second season with the Islanders was a lot like his first: he was somewhat productive while on the ice, but he wasn't on the ice nearly often enough.
When the Islanders splurged for Grabovski and his friend Nikolay Kulemin in the spending spree summer of 2014, it was... unexpected. Adding two veteran forwards completely reorganized the team's depth chart and gave them actual options up front for the first time in ages. Sure, their price tags were high (a $5 million per season cap hit for Grabovski, and $4.2 million per for Kulemin, both until 2018), but that's what you pay when you dabble in the unrestricted free agent game. The important thing was the Islanders were bringing in help for now, not just later.
Since that time, the results have been mixed. Kulemin will get his spotlight article later (I think. Maybe.), but let's focus on Grabovski and exactly what the Islanders have gotten out of him halfway through his contract.
Numbers (courtesy of corsica.hockey)
|GP||G (all)||A (all)||P (all)||5v5 CF%||5v5 SF/60||5v5 P/60|
Grabovski didn't come to the Islanders with a reputation as a big goal scorer (he had a 29-goal season in 2010-11, and seasons of 20 and 23 as well), but he was expected to be a solid possession contributor. Last season he was, although hovering around a 50% corsi for this season isn't exactly great (much like it wasn't for the rest of the team). At 5-on-5, he's averaging well over a point and about six shots per 60 minutes, both of which are behind the numbers he posted prior to signing with the Islanders.
So, when he's in the line-up, he's okay. Right? The problem is keeping him in the line-up.
Injuries (courtesy of a few places)
When you add it up, it's 31 regular season games missed in 2014-15 and 24 this season. (Also, geez: on or about next February 19th, someone please make sure he doesn't leave the house)
Two of the three injuries last season were concussions - first from a hit by John Scott of the Sharks just four games into his Islanders career, then a far more serious one from Eric Nystrom of the Predators a few months later in mid-February. Grabovski didn't return to action until Game 5 of the playoff series against the Capitals in 2015.
This season, it wasn't until February when Grabovski was hurt again and at first, we weren't even privy to what was wrong. He was hurt, missed 10 games, came back to play one, then was out again for the rest of the regular season. Later, Arthur Staple of Newsday made it clear it was more concussion issues keeping Grabovski out.
Of the Islanders' 18 playoff games in the last two seasons, Grabovski has played in just three. That's a lot of time to miss for a guy who's making a lot of money relative to the rest of the roster and counted on to contribute big minutes.
So, now what?
There are a few tools at Garth Snow's disposal here, but they range in probability from "Yeah, I guess..." to "Nope. Never happening."
Between the contract and the injuries, Grabovski has exactly zero trade value, outside of maybe a desperate team in need of help reaching the cap floor (Hey, I remember those days!). He's also not going to retire, especially not with that much cheddar coming his way.
The injuries also keep him from being bought out (unless he agrees to it) or being sent to the AHL through waivers. He would have to first be activated by the team before either process could even begin. So, no.
If the club is seriously concerned with Grabovski's health but doesn't want to cut him loose while still recouping his cap space, they could place him on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR). Designating him for LTIR means they can exceed the salary cap for as long as he's on the list. That would allow them to add another player or players that can contribute where Grabovski couldn't. He would be paid his full salary while on it, and if he comes back, they'll need to get back down below the cap again.
It's still very possible that Grabovski is back in training camp next September. Maybe the extended recovery time helps him get fully healthy and ready for a complete season again. But that also leads to a situation no one wants to see: the anxious knowledge that the next hit he takes (or the next next hit) could end his career.
Players plagued by concussions have recovered and gotten back to "normal" before. Carolina's Jeff Skinner is one example. But it's a tough road filled with risks.
And that's the real shame of this whole thing: Mikhail Grabovski is a good player, who wanted to be an Islander and skate alongside his good friend Nikolay Kulemin. He's got a fun, quirky personality and Staple said he is his favorite player on the team to interview. The dude spit hot fire before even taking the ice in blue and orange.
Much like it was with his former teammate Lubomir Visnovsky, it's very hard for those of us on the outside to sit back and watch a quality player struggle with just staying healthy. Multiply that by a hundred to get an idea of what the player is experiencing.
He hasn't lived up to his contract, but it's impossible to separate the lack of production from the severity of his injuries. Would the contract look as bad if he hadn't received two concussions in its first season?
There's still time for Grabovski to recover and have the last two years make up for the first two. Or Snow could cut his losses and spend the money elsewhere. I wouldn't blame him.
But I don't envy him in this situation, either.