BELLEVILLE, Ont. – Mikhail Grabovski’s only real link to the Washington Capitals has come in the form of text messages from Alex Ovechkin.
“He always tries to help me, texts me messages and tries (to) explain to me about the area in Washington,” Grabovski said.
The former Maple Leafs centre doesn’t know much about the city he signed in because visa issues have prevented him from joining his new team. Trapped in limbo in Toronto, Grabovski has been happy to spend more time with his family but is also eager to begin a new chapter of his career with the Capitals.
Grabovski was so eager that he made the almost-200-kilometre drive to Belleville to skate with his new teammates Saturday morning before their pre-season opener against the Winnipeg Jets. It was at least a brief chance to get acclimated to a team that’s still unfamiliar to him with the start of the regular season less than three weeks away.
“(I’m) a little bit frustrated but I’m not worried because I know they make for me visa, so everything (is) going to be fine,” Grabovski said. “I’m just excited to see the guys today. I’m very happy to be here.”
Skating at Yardmen Arena represented another high in an up-and-down few months for the 29-year-old, who signed a one-year, US$3-million deal with the Capitals in late August. Earlier in the off-season, the Maple Leafs bought Grabovski out of the final four seasons of a five-year, $27.5-million contract, just before he got married and went on his honeymoon.
Grabovski has since expressed a desire to move on from his tenure in Toronto, which ended with some critical comments about coach Randy Carlyle. Not being able to join the Capitals yet is delaying that process.
“New scenery, you want to get off to a great start and a visa issue kind of derails you,” coach Adam Oates said. “You’ve got to feel for him.”
Grabovski’s not asking for sympathy, though. He would like to be in Washington’s camp but is making the most of some extra time in a place he called “kind of my hometown.”
“I train myself and just work out (in the) gym and just spend time with my family,” he said. “I kind of lost days in the summer, so it was a little bit (of a) gift to my family.”
Grabovski’s gift to the Capitals would be replacing Mike Ribeiro as their second-line centre. Before he can do that, though, he has to practice.
For now, Grabovski and the team are waiting for his visa to get taken care of. They hope the problem will be settled on Monday so he can get to Washington and begin trying to fit in.
“I think he’s very excited and he feels kind of, when you come to new group, little shaky,” Ovechkin said. “But I’m sure the guys and myself are going to treat him well and he’s going to feel much better. “
Once Grabovski gets to camp, he’ll have an adjustment to make. But it’s not an entirely new process.
“It’s not my first time I play for a different team,” said Grabovski, who was traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the Maple Leafs in July 2008. “But it’s always new people and new characters. But it’s a good experience for me. I (am) always looking forward and enjoy this moment. It’s the time of life when you just have a good experience.”
The Capitals would like to make it a good experience for Grabovski, and Oates figures he’ll get into five pre-season games to build up some familiarity with linemates.
Saturday was just a quick introduction because Grabovski wasn’t able to fly back with the Capitals or even play against the Jets.
“It’s obviously short,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “We haven’t really got to know him yet, but it’s nice to have all the pieces in place.”
It’ll be nicer for Grabovski once he can put on a Capitals jersey day after day and feel like a part of the team.
“It’s just tough to come to a new team and new partners,” he said. “But after first ice, everything’s good right now and I feel comfortable.”