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A Deeper Look at the Grabner Signing

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Michael Grabner is a lot more than just a guy who rarely scores on shorthanded breakaways.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When most Rangers fans think of Michael Grabner they think of his 34 goal 2010-11 season with the Islanders. He scored 6 shorthanded goals and 26 even strength goals with a 14.9 shooting percentage as a sophomore in the league. Those were nutty numbers.

Since that offensive explosion Grabner's shooting percentage has been all over the place. Predicting Grabner's production is tricky because of the time he missed in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Unfortunately, staying healthy has not been one of Grabner's strong suits.

In his last season with the Islanders he missed 25 games with a sports hernia surgery at the start of the 2014-15 season. After that rough start Grabner had two more injuries and was often a healthy scratch for the Islanders down the stretch.

Grabner was traded by the Isles to Toronto in September 2015 for five players (unloading contracts and prospects). The Leafs were hoping Grabner could bring speed and offensive depth at wing to their terrible hockey team. He was also (wisely) brought in to kill penalties.

Grabner is one of the league's best penalty killing forwards. Here is a chart from Blueshirt Banter's own HockeyStatMiner from this spring. It shows the best penalty killing forwards that were expected to be available in the 2016 NHL offseason.

Shorthanded Forwards

Last season with the Maple Leafs Grabner saw an average of 14:28 TOI/G. Grabner played an average of 3:06 of shorthanded minutes per game for the Leafs. Only 11 players in the league averaged more shorthanded ice time per game than the speedy Austrian.

Most of Grabner's shifts with the Leafs started in the defensive and neutral zones. A total of 49.4% of his shifts started in his own zone and 30.5% started in the neutral zone. At even strength 37.8% of his shifts started in the defensive zone and 25.3% started in the offensive zone.

Yeah, Grabner played tough minutes in Toronto.

When Grabner was on the ice at even strength his most frequent linemate was center Nazem Kadri. For the entire season his most frequent linemates at evens were Kadri and Leo Komarov. Towards the end of the season it was Kadri and winger Milan Michalek.

Here is a breakdown of Grabner's lines while with the Leafs (even strength numbers) according to Corsica:

  • Komarov-Kadri-Grabner: 237.69 TOI. CF%: 53.66. DZS%: 37.86
  • Michalek-Kadri-Grabner: 61.05 TOI. CF%: 40.74. DZS%: 28.12
  • Spaling-Winnik-Grabner: 52.05 TOI. CF%: 49.00. DZS%: 36.54

Grabner's WOWY in Toronto

Grabner WOWY

Kadri and Komarov

Kadri Komarov

Grabner and Michalek

Grabner and Michalek

Grabner played more with Kadri and Komarov than any other two players in Toronto. If you had to be on a line in Toronto last season, being with those two forwards was pretty good. Grabner was the "weak link" on that line in terms of production and possession, but keep in mind how that line was used. With just a 25.57 OZS% it was hardly a "sheltered line". That could help to explain some of Grabner's numbers from last season.

Compared to the rest of his career last season was relatively anomalous for Grabner in the analytics department. Just take a look at his numbers from the previous two seasons (his last two with the Islanders) compared to his only season in Toronto. They tell an interesting story.

Grabner 2014 (NYI, 64 GP) vs Grabner 2015 (NYI, 34 GP)

Grabner 2014 and 2015

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Grabner scored 9 goals and picked up 9 assists (5 primary) in 80 games with the Leafs last season. His cap hit was $3 million, but his NHL salary was $5 million. It was not a surprise when Lou Lamoriello let Grabner hit free agency. That was a lot of money for a shot-suppressing penalty killer with lightning fast speed.

A 22 game scoring drought was how Grabner started the 2015-16 season. He was pointless in 18 straight games which encompassed ALL of November. Five of Grabner's 9 goals came in December. He followed that December with a 27 game pointless streak (included ALL of February) that was broken on March 7th with an assist against Buffalo. His goalless streak would last another two games after that. It came to a merciful end when he scored with his rear end on a breakaway against the Red Wings.

It was an absolutely bizarre season for Grabner.

Grabner was able to stay healthy for the Leafs (something that Rangers fans should be happy about), but wasn't the potential 20 goal scoring winger that they were hoping he could be. Of course, one look at his deployment and ice time makes it abundantly clear that he was not put in a position to score many goals.

On July 1st Grabner signed a two-year, $3.3 million deal with the New York Rangers. He has an AAV and a cap hit of $1.65 million.

So, what are the Rangers getting in Grabner?

Pros: An exceptionally fast depth forward that excels at killing penalties. Can be exposed for the expansion draft.

Cons: Injury history. Consistency issues. Looks better with a goatee than without.

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Grabner will likely be directly compared to Stalberg throughout the 2016-17 season. Rangers fans would do well to remember how both players are utilized by their new teams and that Grabner was 28 when he signed with the Rangers. Stalberg was 30 when he signed with Carolina.

Consistency issues are hardly uncommon for depth forwards. If Grabner can stay healthy he can address a lot of the Rangers' needs in the bottom six. A great penalty killer with a manageable cap hit that has some offensive, albeit mysterious in nature, potential. Grabner is looking to get his career back on track much like Stalberg was a year ago. Hopefully, like Stalberg, he will be able to do just that.