By Tony Ambrogio
Mikhail Grabovski isn’t complaining.
“See my smile,” the Maple Leafs centre said after a shootout loss to the New York Rangers. “I’m not frustrated at all.”
He isn’t bothered by playing on the fourth line with noted tough guys Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren.
"It doesn't matter who I play with," said Grabovski, who saw just 11 minutes of ice-time Wednesday night, while firmly entrenched in coach Randy Carlyle's doghouse. The game before (also against the Rangers) he played a season low 10:39, while being benched for much of the third period.
"I just want to play. On the ice, I'm happy," the Leafs forward said.
Is this a relationship that is beyond repair? Grabvoski said he doesn't speak much to Carlyle but rather "the second coach" (assistant Greg Cronin).
For his part, Carlyle said he was pleased with Grabovski's game in New York and gave him more shifts in the third period, after using him sparingly in the first two periods of the game.
"I thought he played fairly well," Carlyle surmised. "I thought he was on the puck, showed more desire and more effort out there, and he was very noticeable out there."
This has been a trying time for Grabovski, who last year signed a five-year, $27.5 million deal. His fire, passion and tenacity evident in his game under Ron Wilson, has been missing this season.
He was a fixture last season on the Leafs second line, averaging 17:36 of ice-time a game.
This year he is averaging 16 minutes of ice-time a game and has become more of a third-line player.
His time on the power play has been cut back dramatically thanks in part to Nazem Kadri.
While the Leafs have picked up points in 12 of their last 13 games, Grabovski hasn't been an offensive force in this stretch. He has managed just five points in his last 18 games.
He has eight goals in 40 games this season. That would equate to a 16-goal season in an 82-game campaign. Not the kind of numbers you want to see from your highest paid forward.
The Leafs need Grabovski to return to form soon, as they march on towards a playoff spot for the first time since 2004.
Carlyle has shown to be consistent in his demand for his players to be at their best at all times. John Michael-Liles was a healthy scratch for 12 games. Jake Gardiner has been used sparingly (healthy scratch in five of the last six games) and Matt Frattin (a healthy scratch in four of the last eight games, and last scored a goal February 11) has lost his place in the lineup.
It doesn't matter what experience you have or how much money you make, if you don't perform, you don't play.
No one knows that better right now than Mikhail Grabovski.