Islanders Forward Michael Grabner’s world class speed and opportunism have made him a valuable player in the NHL, but in the 2014-15 season, injuries and a suddenly loaded Islanders forward group pushed the 27-year-old Austrian down the depth chart, and sometimes even into the press box. Though there’s little doubt that Grabner, who had never missed more than 18 games in an NHL season before this year, can bounce back and be a contributer, he does not appear to have much value to the Islanders at this point —as evidenced by the fact that he averaged under 13 minutes of All-Situation ice time per-game (1)— and there has been a lot of conjecture that he may have played final game for New York. Any team with a thin forward group or a “Need for Speed” will likely be very intrigued by the idea of trading for Grabner, and I’m here to tell you that such a team has no reason not to make the move.
First, we have to determine specifically what Grabner brings to the table, and how good he is at it. Many would declare scoring his purpose and see his P/60, which has not broken 2.0 since his rookie season (1), as signaling failure in that area, but the statistics show that Grabner was actually used by the Islanders in a primarily defensive capacity, rather than an offensive one. With the team, he did not average a minute or more of Power Play TOI/gm in any season (and saw that average drop every year), was used consistently on the PK, and only had a positive 5v5 ZSO%Rel in one season, even being saddled with a tragic -17.6 this past year — the lowest percentage for any Islander to appear in more than 2 games in 2014-15 (1). As a matter of fact, not only is Grabner used in a largely defensive role, he’s pretty good at it. At 5v5, his team relative metrics for 2014-15 were, while kind of low (ranging from -1.5 to 0.7), pretty good considering his Zone Starts, and those numbers for the 2013-14 season were all positive despite a 5v5 ZSO%Rel of -6.7. Grabner’s effect on the PK is harder to figure, as his PK SCA/60, CA/60, and FA/60 were than the team as a whole all of his 5 season with the Islanders (often dramatically so), while his HSCF/60 is a different story, fluctuating from just under the rest of the team to greatly over (1); based on what I’ve seen out of Grabner –that is, an aware, opportunistic Penalty Killer who alters the thought process of opposing players with his combination smarts and speed, which allows him to not only cause turnovers but capitalize on them– I’d be more inclined to say that he has a positive effect on his team’s shorthanded unit. Of course, Grabner’s speed also makes him a unique offensive threat, allowing him to post reasonable 5v5 P/60 numbers that are usually between 1.6 and 1.9, and even become, along the lines of what I said about his Shorthanded play, the league’s most offensively dangerous Penalty Killer, tallying the most Individual High-Danger Scoring Chances in the NHL over his tenure in Long Island, despite playing in 74 fewer games than the 2nd place finisher (1). It should also be noted that during Grabner’s 2010-11 campaign —the only one in which he averaged over 0.7 minutes of PP TOI/gm, played with top linemates, or received a positive 5v5 ZSO%Rel— was his most productive as an NHLer by a margin of 20 points, which gives further support to the idea that at least some of Grabner’s unremarkable production can be attributed to his usage.
Just as intriguing to a prospective trade partner is that, given what forwards like Tomas Fleischmann and Jiri Tlusty went for at this season’s trade deadline and the Islanders’ lack of draft picks (they don’t have any in the 1st or 2nd round this year), it may not take more than a 3rd-rounder and maybe another mid-round pick to pry Grabner away from New York.
All in all, Michael Grabner is a solid middle-six forward who can play in almost any role, and whose quickness makes him a truly unique threat in all situations. Grabner’s contract has one year left at a cap hit of $3 Million, and I highly recommend that any team with a forward need and the cap room go after him.
All statistics are from waronice.com
(HSCF%Rel of -0.89, SCF%Rel of -1.5, CF%Rel of -1.3, & FF%Rel 0.7)
Simple Fenwick HARO of 11.4
Simple Fenwick HARD of 2.8
Simple Fenwick HART of 7.1