I like Michael Grabner. I liked him when he burst onto the Islanders in 2010, scoring electrifying goals in a Calder Trophy-nominated season. I like him now as a unique, speedy, defensive weapon that few teams are lucky enough too have.
But after an injury-wracked season, diminished stats and with an uncertain spot in the line-up, the possibility exists that Grabner could be dealt, maybe as soon as this week at the NHL draft. A recent report from Newsday's Arthur Staple has the Islanders "actively shopping" the winger.
Even after five years, Grabner is a hard player to pin down. For some, he's among the Islanders best penalty killers, which can be viewed as some pretty faint praise. For others, he's that guy who gets a lot of exciting breakaways but doesn't score enough. You can love that blinding speed or lament his inevitable injuries that come with it.
So let's examine several relevant numbers related to The Gremlin.
(Note: information comes from War-On-Ice.com, Behindthenet.ca, puckalytics.com and the Islanders media guide. For these purposes, I removed Grabner's few games with the Canucks in 2009-10. Also, this is new territory for me, so please be kind and constructive at all the places I screwed up. I tried my best. Thanks to garik and Willhoft for the advice.)
|6'-0"/186 lbs||LW||Left||10/5/1987 (26 yo)||$5 million||$3 million||UFA - 2016|
The key columns here are the last three. Grabner's cap hit is only $3 million, a reasonable amount for all but the tightest teams. The actual payout is $5 million, which is less important than his cap hit, but could scare off some teams. He'll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season and could be an intriguing, reasonable rental.
Back-of-the-hockey card stuff, where it's been diminishing returns since Grabner's breakout rookie season. That's not to say he's been bad, just not nearly as productive on the score sheet as was when he started out. He's still hovering around a respectable two points per 60 minutes.
Part of the problem in assessing Grabner is that his raw scoring totals aren't eye-popping. That seems like reductionist thinking, but when it comes to putting the puck in the net, Grabner just doesn't do it as often as we (or the Islanders) would like him to. Especially for a guy who, speaking conservatively, seems to average at least one clear breakaway per game.
It's worth nothing here that he has never been regularly used on the power play in his career.
|Season||SH GF||SH SF||SH SA||S+/-||TOI|
Grabner has a reputation as being a good penalty killer and compared to two of the league's best, his numbers are very good. For example, Patrice Bergeron was on ice for 23 SH Shots For and 119 SH Shots against in 150.97 SH minutes last season. Jonathan Toews saw 23 SH shots for and 93 shorthanded shots against in 107.47 minutes shorthanded this season.
"Advanced" Stats (all 5v5, score adjusted)
These aren't very "advanced" at all, but they're sorta the numbers behind the numbers. Grabner's Corsi has been more or less even for his career, except in his sophomore season.
Shooting percentage is where things get weird. It would be easy to say he shot the lights out in 2010-11, but he has twice shot 12% and in the shortened lockout season, he shot a ridiculous 15%. In 2013-14, his luck apparently flew out the window.
Grabner has generally been used in the defensive zone for his career, with this past year representing the most time he's spent in his own end.
At 5-on-5 (again, adjusting for score), Grabner's ice time has been reduced by almost a minute since 2010. There's a good argument to be made that 11 or 12 minutes is already too low for him. I've never bought the convenient idea that "Cappy hates him!" but let's use that as a springboard to look at who he's been lined up with.
|with Frans Nielsen||1690:59||2.48||48.8||43.7||99.5|
|with Kyle Okposo||1038:43||2.48||51.2||43.9||96.9|
|with Cal Clutterbuck||349:32||1.54||52.8||42.7||95.5|
|with Brock Nelson||305:12||2.56||52.9||37.3||96.4|
|with Nikolay Kulemin||115:40||3.11||53||36.7||104.3|
Using Behindthenet.com, I looked at who Grabner's most common forward linemates were since 2010. In a couple of seasons, Grabner's second or third most common "linemates" were defensemen Mark Streit, Thomas Hickey and Nick Leddy. I then used puckalytics SuperWOWY tool to see how Grabner fared with his most frequent linemates.
It's not surprising that Grabner has spent the most time with Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, who formed the productive FNGO line for a few seasons. Since 2013, that line hasn't really been together and Grabner has bounced around a few places, landing most often with Cal Clutterbuck and Brock Nelson. This season, Grabner was mostly with Nelson, spending 53% of his time with him.
No matter who he's with, the line has a positive Corsi in the face of overwhelming defensive zone starts.
|Season||Injuries (games lost)||Total|
|2014-15||Lower Body (25 gms)||Lower Body (9 gms)||Upper Body (5 gms)||39 games|
|2013-14||Illness (1gm)||Concussion (9 gms)||Upper Body (5 gms)||15 games|
|2013||Shoulder (3 gms)||3 games|
|2011-2012||Groin (1 gm)||Illness (2 gms)||3 games|
|2010-2011||Groin (3 gms)||3 games|
Last season was a nightmare of IR assignments and missed games totally almost half the season. Grabner missed the first quarter of the season after sports hernia surgery, came back, scored a couple of goals, then went right back on IR. When he came back, he never quite got back on track. He is rumored to have had surgery again for the same sports hernia this summer.
Last season, a concussion kept him out of nine games. But the groin and hernia injuries are what sapped his speed and make you wonder about his longterm outlook.
* * *
Michael Grabner has one of the most tantalizing tool sets in the NHL. Watching him makes you think he's capable of so much that others aren't. Much of what he does well doesn't translate directly to goals, but he's been given defensive assignments forever and a constantly rotating set of linemates for the last few seasons. Any season ruined by injuries never helps anybody.
These numbers might not clear anything up, but there's a lot for the Islanders to consider before they make the call to trade him or keep him. Maybe just having that much to consider means he's better off as someone else's problem.
We may have already seen the best of Grabner, but somehow I doubt it. It'll be hard to see him go thinking we saw just a small glimpse of what could have been.