TORONTO - It was a gamble and Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis knew it. "If we werent able to get Bozak signed or if Clarkson didnt sign then I wouldve had a lot of cap space with no players," Nonis told the Leaf Report. "So it was definitely a gamble and we weighed that against keeping him and playing him." Ultimately, Nonis and his management team opted to exercise their second compliance buyout on Mikhail Grabovski this past summer, ridding themselves of the enigmatic centreman after five years in Toronto. After much debate, they determined that the cap space freed up by his dismissal was just too enticing to pass up; that the players fit on the roster just wasnt there. The 29-year-old, who returns to the Air Canada Centre as a member of the Washington Capitals on Saturday evening, still had four years remaining on a contract that ate up $5.5 million in cap space annually. "It wasnt a decision we made just overnight," Nonis said. "We thought long and hard about it and decided to roll the dice with the cap space and see if we could relocate it effectively." These were nervous times for Nonis. Though he had just acquired 27-year-old Dave Bolland from the Chicago Blackhawks, he had no guarantees that Tyler Bozak would re-sign in Toronto nor whether David Clarkson, their top free agent target, would take their bait and become a Leaf. "We didnt know when we did it that wed be successful in getting some players signed," Nonis said. Also due to be signed were restricted free agents Jonathan Bernier, Carl Gunnarsson, Nazem Kadri, Mark Fraser and Cody Franson. Cap space, predictably, (with the upper-limit dropping to $64.3 million) was going to be at a premium. "We looked at a number of scenarios, including keeping him," Nonis said of Grabovski, who signed for one year in Washington at $3 million. "I said at the time, I think Grabo, wherever he ends up, was going to have a positive impact. Hes a good player and I believe that. But for us we felt we needed to regain that cap space to make some other moves moving forward." A major part of the equation was also the players fit within the roster. Never coming to grips with the role he was required to play in Toronto last season, Grabovski endured the worst season of his career in 2013. He finished with nine goals and 16 points in 48 games, completely off-kilter in the defensive role head coach Randy Carlyle had pegged him to fill. Afforded similar minutes under Adam Oates in Washington, albeit with a more offensive lean, Grabovski has already produced seven goals and 19 points this season. "Again, the notion that there wasnt ice-time available for him or opportunity last year, thats just false," Nonis said of Grabovski, who averaged nearly 16 minutes last season, his lowest as a Leaf. "I think it was more a situation where the fit just wasnt right. And it wasnt his fault. I dont think he ever shortchanged us on effort or being prepared or professionalism or any of those things. There just didnt seem to be a fit. And so to have that much cap space tied up with a player that wasnt fitting with us - it doesnt mean hes not going to fit with other teams, obviously he is - but thats what led to the decision to buy him out." Grabovski made no secret of his disdain for Carlyle and the role he was dealt in his final season as a Leaf. He believed his value came from producing offence - he scored 20 goals three times - and could not comprehend why that opportunity wasnt being afforded him as it had been previously under Ron Wilson. "I think too much is made about the coach being the issue with Grabo," Nonis said. "Look at Grabos ice-time and look at his opportunity and look at his performance and I think Grabo would tell you that he didnt have a great year. Whether it was just because he didnt feel like he was being used correctly or what it might be, but I think its easy to point the finger at the coach and say well its his fault. I dont think thats fair. Theres a lot of things that went into his season last year and I think just saying it was all the coach is unfair." The teams dynamic at centre ice almost dictated the terms for Carlyle. With Kadri making the team out of training camp when the lockout wrapped last January and Bozak already lined up as the teams top centre - the better fit for Phil Kessel in the teams opinion - there was nowhere else to put Grabovski but in the checking role he was assigned. Add Bolland into the mix from Chicago this summer - an ideal candidate to fill the role Grabovski griped under - and the stage was set for change in early July. Nonis, admittedly, could have waited until the summer of 2014 to exercise the buyout - the final year to do so under terms of the new CBA - but risked another poor season in doing so. "From a managers point we looked at it and said Is this the best thing to do for us to rehabilitate him, so to speak, and get him back to playing where we needed him to play or to buy him out and create the cap space. "That was the decision." Wholesale NFL Jerseys
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. Pagan opened the game with a double, went to third on a bunt and raced home when Brandon Belt hit a sacrifice fly in a 1-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.When the St. Louis Blues got back into the playoffs for the first time in four years back in 2008-09, it looked like the team was turning a corner. But the team has failed to live up to expectations since then, missing out on the post-season in each of the last two seasons. They had particularly high hopes entering last season after the team traded for netminder Jaroslav Halak and had plenty of young talent seemingly poised for breakout years. However, a combination of injuries, inexperience and tough luck caught up to the Blues as they finished 38-33-11 and missed the playoffs by 10 points. David Perron, Andy McDonald and T.J. Oshie all missed significant time with injuries and while Perron is being brought back slowly, the other two are ready to go. Their healthy arrival should give fans reason for optimism going into this season. David Backes was impressive last season while scoring 31 goals and 31 assists alongside a career-best plus-32 rating. He should give the Blues more steady production this year. The team also addressed some other areas that were in need of fixing which will further improve the club. Eric Brewers trade to Tampa Bay last season left a void of veteran leadership and GM Doug Armstrong brought in Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott in his two biggest moves this offseason. They will bring a solid veteran presence to the team and should be a big help to some of the teams youngsters. To improve their penalty kill and defence, the Blues also brought in hard-charging centre Scott Nichol and dependable blueliner Kent Huskins. With Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk also on the blue line, the team has a solid defensive core. In net, Halak is the type of goalie who can completely shut down the opposition and win games all by himself. If he can find a bit more consistency and improve on last seasons performance, the Blues could really make some noise in the Central Division. Additions: C Jason Arnott, C Evgeny Grachev, C Scott Nichol, LW Brett Sterling, RW Jonathan Cheechoo, RW Jamie Langenbrunner, D Kent Huskins, D Danny Syvret, G Brian Elliott Subtractions: D Dean Arsene, D Nathan Oystrick, D Tyson Strachan, RW Cam Janssen, G Ty Conklin Prospect Report: Russian RW Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues 16th overall pick in the 2010 draft, is the type of prospect who could be worth the wait. He will play out the final year of his KHL contract this season but intends to play in the NHL as soon as possible. When he does make it over to the Blues they will have a potential star on their hands. Tarasenko is a tank and uses his strength and speed to his advantage. He has great puck skills, strong acceleration and balance and is a terrific scorer. The tenacious winger showcased his skills at last years World Juniors where he helped power Russia to the gold with an incredible comeback win over Team Canada. Jaden Schwartz is another player whom the Blues may have to wait for but who also has the potential for a bright future. Schwartz is an excellent playmaker with great vision and a deadly accurate shot. Last season he posted 47 points in only 30 games for Colorado in the NCAA last year. His biggest asset though may be his character, as hes had to deal with plenty of hardship in his young career. He also showed guts in scoring a goal for Canada at the World Juniors while playing with a broken anklee.dddddddddddd Breakout Player to Watch: Patrick Berglund. The 23-year-old centre signed a two-year contract extension this offseason after establishing new career-highs with 22 goals and 52 points in 2010-11. He also led the Blues with eight power-play goals. There are big expectations for the young Swede this year and having Jason Arnott around should benefit his development. Berglund has the potential to build on last years totals and score 30 goals. Marquee Match-Up: Tuesday, January 10: Halak faced his former Montreal teammates in St. Louis last season, but will make his first trip back to the Bell Centre as a member of the opposition. Theres also a stretch of four potentially critical games against division rivals late in the season. Between March 27 and April 4, the Blues will take on all four of their divisional rivals. First up they get Nashville at home on March 27. Next they travel to Chicago on March 29. Then its Columbus at home on March 31 followed by the Red Wings at home on April 4. It could be a make-or-break stanza. Other Dates To Watch: Saturday, February 25: The Blues travel to Winnipeg for their only matchup with the new Jets franchise. The Blues havent been to Winnipeg since April 8, 1996 when they tied the Jets, 2-2. Reason To Get Excited: Theres plenty of reason to believe the Blues can get back into the playoffs next spring. This is a team that went 6-1-2 to finish up the 2010-11 season and they will have a healthy McDonald and Oshie ready to go. Adding the likes of Arnott and Langenbrunner will be huge for some of their young talent and who knows - maybe Jonathan Cheechoo finds his scoring touch. On the back end, Alex Pietrangelo put up 43 points and was a plus-18 last season. With Kevin Shattenkirk in the mix as well, they give the Blues a potentially potent offensive combo from the blue line. Halak gives the Blues a solid presence in net and has the potential, like he showed in Montreal, to win games singlehandedly. Home Hardware: The Blues dont have a superstar player in the fold, but do have a lot of good players making up their roster. If head coach Davis Payne can pull all his pieces together and make an impact in the always-tough Central Division, some consideration for the Jack Adams Award will definitely be warranted. On The Hot Seat: Again, head coach Davis Payne. The Blues have had fairly high expectations since making the playoffs in 2008-09 but havent been back since. Heading into his third season with the club, its time for Payne to start producing some results with the talent assembled. Another disappointing season could result in a coaching change on the Blues bench. Its Your! Call: The Blues have an exciting, talented lineup but will it be enough for them to get back into the playoffs or will it be another season of unmet expectations? St. Louis plays in, arguably, the toughest division in the NHL. The Central Division has produced two of the last four Stanley Cup Champions in Detroit and Chicago and also features a strong Nashville team and a Columbus team that made several big additions this summer. The Blues, though, have the type of team that on paper should be more than capable of competing in the division. With solid veteran additions, a wealth of young talent and strong goaltending they could be one of the most improved teams in the league this year. All they have to do is live up to their potential. The question is, can they do it? Its Your! Call. ' ' '