Grabovski > Ribeiro is the Hill I Will Die On


Since Thursday, our comments and Facebook page have sort of been railroaded by Ribeiro loyalists. These folks have been saying that Mike Ribeiro is the superior player compared to Mikhail Grabovski. I’m gonna let two guys in particular have the floor for a moment, and then I’m gonna be a jerk and tell them why they’re wrong.

Alex: This is ridiculous. Grabovski didn’t do anything for the Leafs last year. How can you possibly compare Grabovski to Ribero? It’s a good signing for the caps, but he does not replace Ribero at all.

Nick: Yeah, Ribeiro knows some crazy [fecal expletive] with the puck. Grabovski has potential, but he seemed pretty much worse than useless last season.

Nick: I prefer to look at real stats. You know, goals, assists, PPG? As opposed to teammate-played-better-assists. tl;dr Objectivity over subjectivity.

Alex: Grabovski can’t even replace Ribeiro, let alone be an improvement. Nick’s right; you cant judge two players by some [fecal expletive] stats. The only stats that matter are the real ones. The other stats are just a replacement for not actually watching the guy play.

Nick: You can say that Grabo was playing with terrible linemates, or that Ribeiro had more favorable ice time, or whatever. The fact still remains that Ribs has produced way better. [. . .] Plus Ribeiro is just jokes to watch [. . .] Anyway, Grabovski will do well, good signing, but I can’t see this is an upgrade.

(Comments were edited for clarity, brevity, and profanity.)

So the argument goes like this: Grabovski didn’t help the Leafs in 2012-13. Ribeiro had more goals and assists, which are better indications of how those players will produce in the future anyway.

And also Ribeiro is something called “jokes”, which is apparently good.

Okay, my turn.

Rob Vollman, author of Hockey Abstract (which I recently reviewed and I think you should read), created Player Usage Charts, which visualize how a coach deployed a player and how the player did within that context. Using these charts we can classify player assignments as “sheltered” (lots of offensive starts against weak competition) or “shutdown” (starting in your own zone against really good players). Here’s how those classifications break down by quadrant:


And now here’s how Mike Ribeiro and Mikhail Grabovski performed and were deployed in the last few seasons (chart courtesy of Rob Vollman):


Click to embiggen


  1. Grabovski’s 2013 season found him starting in his own zone a ton. In fact, in offensive zone start percentage, Grabo ranked 365th out of the 395 forwards who played more than 20 games last season. He was almost an entirely defensive player.
  2. Grabovski played against tougher competition last season than he or Ribeiro have faced before.
  3. Despite observations #1 and 2, Grabovski’s line attempted more shots than they allowed– hence the blue color of the bubble.
  4. Last year, like every year, Mike Ribeiro started in the offensive zone a lot (he’s 183 spots above Grabovski in the list I mentioned in #1).
  5. In his defense, Ribeiro does play against better-than-average competition. He was not sheltered.
  6. Mike Ribeiro’s bubbles started big and blue back in 2009 and have steadily grown redder. That means his possession skills have eroded each season.
Photo from Carl Gunnarsson's Twitter

Photo from Carl Gunnarsson’s Twitter

Until last year, Ribs and Grabo were used a lot alike. But Randy Carlyle turned Grabovski into a grinder in 2013. That resulted in Grabo not scoring many goals, but he still excelled as a shutdown defensive center. Most players that high and left on the chart would have big honking red bubbles.

So if you want to count only goals and assists, please go ahead, but the chart above tells you how foolish that is. Ribeiro and Grabovski were used in entirely different ways last season, and their point production reflects that.

Points Per Season 2009-2013

2009-10 2010-11 20011-12 2012-13
Grabovski 48 58 51 16
Ribeiro 53 71 63 49

There had similar output until last season– when Grabovski’s deployment changed dramatically and Mike Ribeiro made out like a bandit on the powerplay. But the important differences are under the surface, and they are drastic.

Ribeiro demands $2.5M more per year. Ribeiro is 3 years older. Ribeiro’s possession has steadily declined for three years. Ribeiro commits more penalties than he draws. Ribeiro doesn’t make his teammates better.

The only way in which I don’t consider Grabovski an upgrade over Ribeiro is Swag.

ribeiro swag

Finally, I looked up “jokes” on Urban Dictionary.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure Grabo is jokes too.

Thanks to Robert Vollman for the Player Usage Chart.

  • yv

    I dearly hope that those comments are not from Caps Alex and Nick!)
    Grabo should be notified that he now has a big responsibility from stats community and that this year is his year. If his line will score 60+ goals under AOates system, then he would be ‘The Moneypuck’ of the Caps, steal of the year and his future, hopefully with Caps, will be secure!

  • Dark Stranger

    I’m a supporter of Grabovsky over Ribeiro as well. From the age standpoint, Grabbo wins out. He is age 29, essentially at the peak age of an athlete. Ribs is 4 years older, at the very tail end of an athlete’s peak. Signing him to a long team deal would have been more risky, to say the least. You guys have worked out the numbers showing the difference in performance. Could some of the decline in Ribs’ possession skill be due to the fact that he’s aging?

  • Igor Kleyner

    Grabo’s got swag!

  • Stirling Wright

    Wish they had signed Grabovski for a longer term. He has a huge upside and his speed is worthy of respect in itself. His ability with the puck while still in stride is also better as he does not get muscled off a puck as much as others. The void left by a veteran wanting 2.5 million more is not realistic when the NHL is reducing salary expenditure. Sorry to see one go but glad to see Grabovski and think he will surpass the previous points and be more responsible defensively as he was thrust into that roll with the Maple leafs last season.

  • SeanL

    One of the reasons many people doubt advanced metrics in hockey is because of stances like this. Peripheral metrics are just that, peripheral. They exist to help explain and predict, not to justify that one player is “better” than another. They’re to be used IN COMBINATION WITH more “traditional” statistics, not as a replacement.

    Even in a sport with much more refined advanced metrics, peripherals often don’t get it right. Look at Jeremy Guthrie, a player with traditional stats that have consistently (and sustainably) been better than his peripherals. No metric is perfect, even in baseball where individual events are much more easily quantified and isolated than in hockey.

    Both RMNB and Japers (as well as many individuals around the hockey internet) seem to be writing off Ribeiro on the powerplay. We saw two substantial changes to the powerplay unit between the prior two seasons. The change in system from Hunter’s more traditional overload scheme to Oates’ 1-3-1 deployment, and the change of Semin to Ribeiro on the top unit. As a result, the PP unit jumped from 16.7% (18th) to 26.8% (1st). Just over 30% of the goals the Capitals scored all season came with the man advantage. Taking Ribeiro off that unit is not a trivial matter, the powerplay was the Caps’ offensive bread and butter.

    While Ribeiro was the leading powerplay scorer on the best powerplay in the league, Grabovski couldn’t even crack the top powerplay unit for a team that was in the middle of the pack. He only tallied three PP points for Toronto all last season, the same amount Joffrey Lupul did in a mere 16 games and one more than defenseman Jake Gardiner scored in 12 games. And this isn’t a new trend for Grabo, who has struggled to crack the Leafs’ top PP unit for years.

    Nor is Grabovski a good stylistic fit for much of what Washington needs on the powerplay. As a dangling, shoot first center he’s terrific in transition and effective in the slot. But the Caps already have Brouwer, Fehr, and Ward to play the slot in the powerplay, rendering his skillset somewhat redundant. The players along the right wall are relied on more heavily as playmakers in Oates’ powerplay scheme. Since the Caps essentially never reverse the formation, the player on the right halfway rarely functions as a triggerman, rendering Grabovski’s biggest weapon as less useful if he’s aligned there. Unless Oates changes the scheme, it looks like Grabo will be a 2nd unit powerplay guy in Washington as well, and the load will be placed on Johansson or Perreault to pick up Ribeiro’s slack on the first unit.

    I understand the salary cap logic and overall fit of Grabovski, but let’s not overstate the position here. He’s a fine replacement who brings a lot to the table that Ribeiro did not. But he’s not a better overall player than Mike Ribeiro.

  • seandlax9

    Grabo is a major upgrade over Ribeiro in 5 on 5 play, both ways. He commits way less penalties, is three years younger, drives possession, is 2.5 mil cheaper, and was generally misused by Caylyle in a defensive role during a shortened season. He also provides another shooter to the Caps offense, which basically only had 2 in their top 6 last year, Ovi and Broweur.

    I’d rather, and so would any other hockey fan with at least a basic understanding of the game, have an improved 5on5 game with a slight hit to the PP. It’s not freaking rocket science.

  • I haven’t addressed Ribs on the PP lately, but here’s what we know about the Caps power play:

    They didn’t generate a lot of shots on net.

    They scored a lot based on high scoring percentages.

    High scoring percentages, particularly on PP, don’t persist from year to year.

    (Here’s a discussion of PP from the halfway point:

    Anyway, the Caps PP is almost certainly gonna fall off next season UNLESS they drastically increase the number of shots they put on net, which is something Grabo is pretty good at.

    I disagree with your characterization of these stats as both advanced and peripheral, but I’ll put that aside for now.

  • Jake Green-Go

    Peter I click link is no disco.

  • seandlax9

    While I’m at it, arguing last years PP at all is pointless, on accounts that it was horribly one dimensional, literally pass the puck around until Ovi gets open, and not sustainable over a full season.

  • Any swag points he gains from that AC DC DVD, he loses with that late 80s haircut and black turtleneck

  • Igor Kleyner

    I am glad you are not hating on his early 60s slippers!

  • Pingback: Mike Ribeiro in Nashville, Corsi-In, Corsi-Out, And Other Reasons Why Grabovski is No Good()

  • he’s awake enough to rag on Grabo and yet he doesn’t respond to my text messages!

  • SeanL

    Corsi, Fenwick, and any other shot-based metric is a peripheral stat. You don’t win a game by having more shots than your opponent. Even ignoring the significant challenges to accurately and objectively tracking shot based metrics (NHL scorekeepers aren’t very good at this), shot based metrics are meant as approximations of puck possession, which in itself is only a mild predictor of who actually wins a game.

    It’s the same kind of ass backwards logic that leads to bloggers championing Wojtek Wolski because he’s got good fenwick numbers. It doesn’t matter how good you are at directing play towards the other end of the ice if you consistently flub open nets. You can make all the PDO and “puck luck” arguments you want, but at the end of the day nobody in the NHL disagreed with Oates’ assessment to staple his ass to the bench, as proven by the fact that Wolski is no longer in the NHL.

    I understand regression towards the mean, and how it applies to the Capitals’ powerplay. However, it’s impossible to argue that Grabovski is a better stylistic fit for Oates’ popwerplay than Ribeiro. He doesn’t have the same passing and playmaking abilities that allowed Ribeiro to thrive on the halfboards or that Oates’ 1-3-1 scheme demands from a player in that position. Grabo’s best use with the man advantage will be in transition, a situation that’s far less common on the PP than at ES.

    I understand the importance of 5v5 play and that Grabovski did well in a very tough assignment. None of that, however, actually means that he’s a better player than Ribeiro. The only thing it actually does mean is that Randy Carlyle, justified or not, didn’t feel Grabovski was a better fit for Toronto’s top lines than Kadri or Bozak.

  • I don’t know why Wolski was benched. Neither do you. Rumor mill said he had a bad attitude. Doesn’t matter.

    You make a good point about bad data collection, but puck possession is still the best predictor of future wins that we have. That’s a fact.

    Attached is a table from Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract. It shows how possession is just as important to scoring as actual goals scored and even better at predicting the future because it doesn’t wobble as much as other stats.

    I guess I’ll accept your point on Grabo’s style on the PP, but I still think you’re unwise in attributing PP success to qualities in Ribeiro’s game. For a while he was scoring on half of his power play shots. That’s insane-o, and awesome, and not something we should factor in when trying to guess what’ll happen next.

    Though I’m glad you finished your comment by saying what happened to Grabo was based on Carlyle’s feelings and not anything based in fact.

  • UnleashDaFury19

    yeah that PP sure was effective against the Rangers.

  • Pat Magee

    He’s European, which makes 5 out of out top 6 euros.

  • Pat Magee

    Don’t know how or why that’s relevant to anything, but it begs the question: Do we have the most Euros of any team? lol

  • Jonathan Kenny

    The idea that this is a Grabo vs. Ribs discussion is sort of absurd. The Caps–and McPhee–are fortunate to be able to sign Grabovski, not mention get him for the price they got, which is a deal. It was known that Ribs was gonna get more than the Caps would–or should–pay and so he was as good as gone at the end of the year. So the question was, “Will the Caps sign a 2nd line center to replace Ribs, who is a significant loss no matter how you slice it.” Up until a week or so ago the answered appeared to be “No” and the Caps were looking like they were going into next year at a big net loss in talent/attitude with Ribs and the Paralyzer (important member of the Wagons–I still miss you #26 and am disappointed in GMGM for not offering you a decent extension) both gone. Yes, we do get #21 back and that is huge; but he was already on the team (as with the injured Erat). if McPhee saw this signing coming at the end of the year then every GM in hockey needs to hire the best cat burglar in the country to come and steal his secret crystal ball from his office. The signing of Grabo is akin to landing Vokoun two years ago: with so many potential teams who could use him nobody saw this coming at the seasons end. As with Vokoun, we are lucky to have Grabo for this price…and, of course, it makes GMGM look like a patient genius, which he’s not.

    I initially was not too impressed by this signing when I saw Grabovski’s drop in offensive production last year (ironic that it ended up being the year the Leafs got back to the playoffs). But when I learned that he had been ‘demoted’ to the 3rd and 4th lines by Randy Carlysle, then a drop in offensive numbers should be expected and I became more optimistic. It reminded me of what happened to Mike Knuble, who had six straight seasons of 24 or more goals playing on the top two lines and was dumped by Dale ‘I don’t talk to my players’ Hunter down to the 4th line for reasons of “plus/minus” or whatever and he went from 24G to just 6G, 12A (his final assist as a Capital on the GWG by Ward in G7 OT versus BOS). Everybody–including RMNB–said Knuble was done, especially considering his age, and shouldn’t be resigned; but I was disappointed to see him go as I thought that he was a player with the right attitude, work ethic, and maturity that the Caps sorely needed and, if utilized properly, could give you 15-20 goals with an equal amount of assists. But another reason I wanted Knuble resigned was that I knew, given his offensive drop off, he could be had at a significant discount from the $2M he made in his last year as a Capital. Knuble had 4G/4A in 28 games for the Flyers last year, which works out to 12G/12A in an 82 game season. Again, this was mostly on the 3rd/4th lines. That may not seem like much but the Flyers only had to pay him $750,000, which seems very reasonable to me.

    While opinions seem to be focussing on goals/assists or SOG by teammates when looking at Ribs vs Grabo there doesn’t seem to be much talk of maturity and smarts. Ribeiro came into a new and apparently complicated system w/o a training camp and thrived no matter where he was slotted. Presumptive top center Backstrom, on the other hand, like a child who sulks when he doesn’t get what he wants, was terrible unless he was playing alongside Alex Ovechkin. For the first month of the season Ribeiro was the only consistent producer on a Caps team that looked totally discombobulated and ended up with better stats than Backie. Why is that!? Why DID Grabovski fall out of favor with Carlysle while other top-six forwards on the Leafs did not!?

    PHX gave Ribeiro more than the Caps should and not matching the Coyotes offer was the right thing to do, just as signing Grabovski for only $3M is a no-brainer. Grabos effectiveness will depend largely on his level of maturity and work ethic. He will at least get a training camp with Oates’ system and will have no excuses.

    NONE OF THIS WILL MATTER, however, if the Caps can’t do one thing: get past a hot goalie in the playoffs. RMNB did a long analysis of why the Caps lost to the Blueshirts in seven games, attributing it mostly to King Henrik’s brilliance. I beg to differ. While Lundqvist was great in net vs WAS, he didn’t just suddenly become Evgeny Nabokov (an exaggeration, I know) vs the Bruins, who lit the lamp 16 times in dispatching Lundqvist and the Rangers in 5 games. to answer the question, “Why did the Caps lose to NYR” maybe we should start by asking, “What did BOS do to be able to score so much on the apparently unbeatable Lundqvist that the Caps didn’t. Perhaps this vid of the end of G3 with the Caps on a 6-on4- PP will give us a clue. How many difficult screens did King Henrik have to fight through to see the puck. I couldn’t see one…

  • johnnymorte

    Grabovski > Ribeiro for one reason and one reason only. He costs less than half the price and he comes with no strings attached. The rest will be revealed this season. You can’t say that Grabovski is as creative or talented as Ribeiro. Denying that Ribeiro was a factor in the Caps power play last year is just silly. We all watched the games and we all know how many primary assists he had on Brouwer’s and Ovi’s goals. That comes partly from Oates’ coaching but it does take a lot of talent to serve a biscuit on a plate hot and steamy. Shooting % is based on luck as the stats show, but a one-timer goes off a stick into the net a lot easier when it’s put in the wheelhouse. Ribeiro has a knack for that.
    However, Grabovski is clearly a better two way player and he drives possession which is key to winning hockey games.
    The biggest question marks for the caps this season are: Can we sustain the same PP this year? Can Brouwer repeat last season’s goal spree? What kind of player is Erat for the Caps, and can Chimera score without Alex Semin as a linemate? So many x-factors are going to make this season really interesting.

  • Priscilla Villanueva

    Yeah, you can’t out-swag a guy that wore a white fedora to his second wedding to the same lady. It’s like impossible.

  • Priscilla Villanueva

    Those boots on the guy that is or looks like Mike Green are very 90s. Not in a good way. He appears to be looking at Ribz wondering how he might be able to steal his shoes.

  • Bman21212

    But also, the Caps knew Grabo was available during the UFA bidding war. If Grabo wasn’t, GMGM would have probably gone after Lecavalier a lot harder.

  • Rhino40

    It could be worse, Ian. Much, much worse…
    It could be a mullet.
    ’nuff said!

  • Jonathan Kenny

    GMGM certainly knew Grabo was available but he also had to compete w/ a dozen other teams. Players of Grabo talent don’t usually last this long into free agency before they are signed–similar to Vokoun not being signed when he was considered one of the top (if not the best) goalies available at the time. Lecavalier would have been too expensive; he signed for $6M/year w/ a $4.5M cap hit.
    Grabovski should get 25 goals and, being a center, 40 assists this year. I don’t think that is too much to ask considering Ribs put up 49 points in 48 games w/o a training camp. If Grabo gets 65 combined points this year that would also be a deal for only $3M.