On their first day of training camp the player the Capitals talked about most was the only player not in attendance.
Center Mikhail Grabovski, who was signed to a one-year, $3 million contract by the Caps on Aug. 23, has spent the past week in Toronto, trying to get immigration paperwork processed.
“I can’t seem to put a finger on what’s going on up there, but hopefully it’s another day or so at the most,” Caps general manager George McPhee said.
McPhee spent the better part of his summer trying to find a replacement for Mike Ribeiro, who seemed to be the perfect fit to the Caps’ need for a productive second-line center. Ribeiro finished second on the Caps and tied for 10th in the NHL with 49 points in 48 games last season and was a driving force on the NHL’s top-ranked power play.
But at 33, Ribeiro was seeking at least four more years and when the Caps would not relent, Ribeiro signed a four-year, $22 million deal with Phoenix.
Enter Grabovski, a 29-year-old center who clashed with Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle last season over a lack of playing time. Grabovski finished the season with 16 points in 48 games and the Leafs made him a compliance buyout, agreeing to pay him $14.33 million over the next eight seasons.
Despite the fact that he set career highs in goals  and assists  three seasons ago Grabovski received little attention at the start of free agency and waited all summer before agreeing to a one-year deal with the Caps.
“We always liked the player,” McPhee said. “He’s really quick, brings great speed and really plays hard.”
Midway through the summer McPhee told reporters the Caps would move Brooks Laich to second-line center, but always kept Grabovski in the back of his mind.
“We thought, ‘Boy, if we can get this guy at the right price and the right time, it makes our team better and gives us more depth and more options on how we play people.”
As a playmaking center with a left-hand shot, Oates said Grabovski should be a nice fit with right wing Troy Brouwer, who put up 19 goals in 47 games last season, mostly on a line with Ribeiro.
“I talked to him about that,” Oates said. “Obviously it’s a shame he’s not here yet. We don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but I’m sure he’s very motivated. He’s not happy about what happened at the end of the year and we’re just looking for him to play good hockey for us.”
Brouwer said he doesn’t know a whole lot about Grabovski, but if he can feed him the puck as much as Ribeiro, they’ll become instant friends. Brouwer said he spoke with some of Grabovski’s former teammates and received good reviews.
“They liked him,” Brouwer said. “I think with him it was just butting heads with the coach there and that’s all the problem was. Ribs’ philosophy was any time I give it to you make sure you shoot. I don’t want it back.’ Maybe it’ll be the same with Grabo.”
While it would probably be unrealistic to expect Grabovski to put up the kind of offensive numbers Ribeiro will in Phoenix, it’s also a safe bet the 5-foot-11, 183-pounder will provide more grit, more speed and take fewer penalties than Ribeiro.
“He’s a tough kid, he goes to tough territories,” Oates said. “He’s not a huge man but he goes to territories you have to go to score goals. He has European vision, where he can see all the guys and he knows what to do.”