Only hours after his five-year tenure in Toronto had come to an end, Mikhail Grabovski was still trying to sort out the emotions of what had just occurred.
"I'm [expletive] happy right now," he told TSN.ca exclusively early on Thursday evening, shortly after the Maple Leafs announced that they had exercised their second compliance buyout on the 29-year-old.
With the sting of the wound being realized, Grabovski changed tune considerably in a frustrating diatribe that took aim most poignantly at Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle.
"Of course I feel [expletive] sad," he continued in a lengthy conversation, minutes later, "I played [expletive] five years here. I'm supposed to feel upset about that. I loved it [here]. Toronto fans are one of the best fans in the world."
Grabovski finished a disappointing and altogether uninspired 2013 with poor numbers, compiling just nine goals and 16 points in 48 games, used almost exclusively in a checking role under Carlyle. While he performed with renewed fire and urgency in the playoffs, Grabovski ultimately finished goalless against the Bruins, adding just two assists in seven games.
Unwilling to rock the boat throughout the season, which saw the Leafs reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004, Grabovski kept silent, but held nothing back in his feelings toward Carlyle after ties with the organization were effectively cut.
"I play in the [expletive] Russian KHL, I make lots of [expletive] points and what's going to happen? He make me [expletive] play on the fourth line and he put me in the playoffs on the fourth line and third line again," Grabovski spewed. "Yeah, I don't score goals. I need to work more about that. I know that. But if you feel support from your coach [you'll find success]. I don't feel any support from this [expletive] idiot."
Grabovski found a favourite in Ron Wilson, from whom Carlyle took over in the latter stages of the 2011-2012 season, scoring 20 goals three times upon being acquired from Montreal. Inked to a hefty five-year, $27.5 million extension just three days after Wilson was fired in March of 2012, Grabovski never found a similar connection or rapport with Carlyle.
Communication – or lack thereof – was in some ways at the crux of the matter. Grabovski and the head coach rarely spoke, most of the conversation instead streaming through assistant coaches Greg Cronin and Scott Gordon.
"Wilson [expletive] pushed me same hard as this," Grabovski said, months of frustration finally bubbling to the surface, "but don't be an [expletive] with me. If you don't like something tell [expletive] right away, don't put me on the bench, healthy scratch [me] or something. Don't put me on a [expletive] third line and then [expletive] play me six minutes in a game."
Due to be married to his long-time girlfriend on Friday, the news unquestionably took Grabovski by surprise. Initially he called the buyout – which will offer the Leafs a boost in cap space with free agency looming on Friday – a "good present" from the organization and looked ahead to the opportunity he would find elsewhere.
He added that he'd find motivation from the dismissal, just as he had upon being traded from the Canadiens five years – almost to the day – earlier.
"People always in life motivate me," he said.
According to Leafs general manager Dave Nonis, the Leafs desired "cap flexibility" in parting ways with Grabovski and ultimately they chose that flexibility – be it with Tyler Bozak, Stephen Weiss or whomover they manage to acquire – over Grabovski. After buying out Mike Komisarek a day earlier, the organization projects to have upwards of $24 million available heading into free agency period, though they have the likes of Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson, Jonathan Bernier and Mark Fraser still to sign.
Grabovski spent the early months of the most recent lockout in the KHL with CKSA Moscow and wouldn't rule out the league as an option for his next opportunity, though there figures to be NHL interest with a dearth of quality centremen available.
"I need to work harder," he concluded, taking time to thank his teammates, equipment managers and fans, "I need to be smarter, I need to play harder, need to play better and score a lot of goals and do what I do the best."