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Numbers Game: Islanders add Grabovski, Kulemin

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Scott Cullen
7/3/2014 10:11:10 AM
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The New York Islanders made a surprise move, re-uniting a pair of linemates with big free agent contracts.

Numbers Game looks into the Islanders getting Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin.

The Islanders Get: C Mikhail Grabovski and LW Nikolai Kulemin.

Grabovski, 30, has been a productive centre, scoring 160 points in 261 games over the past four seasons, which ranks 98th among NHL forwards.

While that alone is a decent indication of Grabovski's ability to contribute as a second-line centre, he's put up terrific relative possession numbers in four of the last five seasons, the only exception being in 2012-2013 with the Toronto Maple Leafs, when he was effectively buried in a defensive role. That led to his being bought out by the Maple Leafs in one of the more ridiculous decisions in the history of NHL contract buyouts.

One year after he was bought out by the Maple Leafs and could only drum up enough interest to secure a one-year, $3-million deal as a free agent, Grabovski signed for four years and $20-million with the Isles.

Going to the Islanders should offer Grabovski an opportunity to get favourable matchups, with zone starts tilted towards the offensive zone and softer opposition while opponents send their best at John Tavares' line and the Islanders put Frans Nielsen's line out for the toughest defensive assignments.

Grabovski has scored 20 or more goals three times and topped 50 points twice. His career points per game of 0.59 works out to 48 points over an 82-game schedule, so maybe something around a 50-point season is the best-case scenario, but if Grabovski can put up between 40 and 50 points with typically strong possession stats over the course of his contract, he will be a solid addition for the Islanders.

Grabovski's departure from Washington leaves a hole at second-line centre, one that still needs to be filled, unless Marcus Johansson or Evgeny Kuznetsov fit into that spot.

Kulemin is a 27-year-old winger who scored 30 goals and 57 points riding shotgun with Grabovski for the Maple Leafs in 2010-2011, but has failed to generate much offence since, scoring 23 goals and 71 points in 188 games. But, to be fair, Kulemin has been stuck in a defensive role for the past couple seasons, with primarily defensive zone starts against quality opposition.

While Kulemin hasn't scored a bunch in the NHL, particularly recently, he's produced enough to believe that there is more offence to be uncovered. He has 11 points in 20 games for Russia at the past two World Championships and 38 points in 36 KHL games while playing alongside Evgeni Malkin, so it's not like Kulemin can't find his way around the offensive zone, but he likely needs a centre that will be the creator offensively.

With the expectation that Kulemin will skate with Grabovski, he too should benefit from more offensive zone starts and favourable matchups. Maybe that results in Kulemin scoring 35-to-40 points (that 57-point season in 2010-2011 sure appears to be an aberration) and if that comes with solid two-way play then, even at his lofty price, Kulemin can be a worthy acquisition for the Isles.

Toronto didn't seem to be in position to pay Kulemin, and they shouldn't have, based on how he was being used. Wingers that are deployed like Kulemin don't tend to get paid.

Kulemin's contract also runs for four years, paying him $16.75-million, which is a lot given his recent production, but if he gets more of an offensive opportunity, Kulemin has a decent shot at producing enough offensively to justify that price, which is fair for a second-line winger.

All in all, this is an aggressive move by the Islanders and suddenly gives them terrific depth up front. So much that they likely need to find room on the wing for young guns like Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome, but it's an enviable problem to have so much talent that some of your centres need to find room to play on the wing. Their defence can still get better, but these signings put the Islanders into the mix among playoff contenders for next season.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.



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