Editor’s Note: This is going to be a running series taking a look at the players the Rangers might lose to expansion and the issues that surround each potential player lost. We’ll try to take a look at things from a Las Vegas standpoint to see who they might want to pick.
The Player: Michael Grabner
The Contract: One year remaining at $1.65-million
The Season: 27-13-40 in 76 games
Remember this time Grabner answered my question about Viennese amusement parks?
It's supposed to be scary..like ghosts and stuff for the kids. https://t.co/Hf073OYKdT— Michael Grabner (@grabs40) May 21, 2017
The Summary: Grabner had something of a resurgence this year, with a 27-goal campaign that was right behind Chris Kreider and his 28 goals for the team lead. Grabner became something of a jack of all trades for the Rangers; taking on a vital penalty killing role, scoring most of his goals at even strength, and acting as a speed option for the forwards when their offense was drying up.
Alain Vigneault was more than happy to play a speedy transition game this year, and Grabner fit perfectly into that scheme. Most of his offense wasn’t just put up five-on-five, but he created a lot of his own offense without any help. There is an argument to be made here that it was Grabner who helped Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller burst out this year and not the other way around.
There are some “warning signs” when it comes to Grabner. Yes, he did have 27 goals in 76 games for the Rangers this year, but the past three seasons before this one he had 29 in 178. That discounts there have been times in his career where he has been a lethal scorer. He had 34 goals in 2010-2011, 20 the year after that, and 16 in 45 games during the lockout-shortened season.
Grabner’s value, however, doesn’t have to be that of the 25-goal scorer. Which we’re going to get into below.
Why he’d be attractive for Las Vegas to select: Even if, say, Grabner reverts back to the 10-15-25 player he was in Toronto or at the tail end of his time on the Island, there’s value in the other things Grabner brings to the table. He is one of the better penalty killers in the league, and his even strength speed game is something to be proud of.
On that type of a contract, the goals are gravy. You can pay a player far more to be as effective defensively and on the penalty kill (plenty of teams do). To have a guy who is adding 20ish goals at that contract? It’s a steal unlike any other.
Building a team with a solid foundation should be the biggest part of this expansion blueprint for the Golden Knights. You’d think Las Vegas would want to pick a team that’s going to grow into themselves in a year or two rather than trying to rush something right away. They’re not going to be contenders next year, but with smart picks they could be a playoff team in a year or two. A guy like Grabner would go a long way to solidifying that foundation they need to build upon.
Why Las Vegas might stay away: So that amazing contract I just talked about? Yeah, it’s only one year.
Las Vegas needs to be very careful about the players they are selecting with longer term hopes. Sure, Grabner could be coaxed into sticking around for a few more years but that’s an added complication they probably don’t want to worry about. And if he does leave next summer? Then they wasted their pick from the Rangers for a year’s worth of service during a season when the playoffs are an ambitious goal.
I do think Grabner has value if he’s one of the few short-term defensive fixes (because, honestly, there’s few with his abilities/contract who will be available) but my guess would be Las Vegas is more looking towards players who can help long term. For everything Grabner does, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast do as well (if not the raw goals, but even that’s a risk) — and they’d be RFAs when selected, so assuredly under Golden Knights’ control.
Grabner has a ton of value to any team, but he has far more value to a team that’s either contending or on the brink of contention. For all the value he does have, he poses just as much risk for doing it for another team a year after his selection.
Joe’s Guess: I don’t see Grabner being selected. Of the four players I think will be the most attractive (Fast, Lindberg, Anti Raanta, and Grabner) I think Grabner is at the bottom of the list due to his lack of being a long-term option. I just don’t see him as a fit for Las Vegas right now.