Why the Rangers should trade their top goal scorer Michael Grabner

2:02 | NHL
Avalanche, Blues could be busy before NHL trade deadline
Saturday February 25th, 2017

Michael Grabner wasn’t necessarily guaranteed a spot on the New York Rangers opening night roster. He had to compete with a multitude of veteran players and youngsters for a spot in a new-look lineup that was supposed to be able to match up with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

With less than a week until the NHL trading deadline, Grabner leads the team—that he wasn’t even promised a spot on—in goals. It feels weird to say it, but now is the time the Rangers, comfortably a playoff team, should trade the Austrian speedster.

Grabner’s goal scoring has been a tremendous positive for the team. Without any power play time, he’s going to comfortably cross the 30-goal threshold.

His line, with J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes, has garnered praise from head coach Alain Vigneault.

“I think Kevin and J.T. can make plays with the puck, and there’s no doubt that (Grabner) with his speed enables them to get a little bit more open space,” Vigneault said earlier this month. “They’re playing extremely well right now, not just offensively, but they’re playing hard at both ends. That’s what we need from our team and that line.”

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But when measuring the value of an asset to the team going forward, you have to consider he’s shooting nearly 20 percent. Even when he broke the 30-goal mark six seasons ago, Grabner’s shooting percentage was 14.9 percent. He’s a career 12.7 percent shooter in 456 games.

He’s ninth on the team in average distance of shots for, per Corsica.Hockey, so it’s not like he’s far and away getting much better chances that everyone else on the team.

The scoring is obviously going to dry up, which means the Rangers have likely gotten the best games out of Grabner they are going to get. He could very easily hit a lengthy goal scoring drought and still finish with a shooting percentage above career average.

Last year, he scored only nine goals, playing 80 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs. His shooting percentage was a tick below eight percent.

“It’s just the way it goes,” Grabner told the New York Times earlier in the season. “It’s tough to score goals in the NHL, and I just take it as it comes. I’ve been on the other end the last couple of years, where I’d get chances and nothing would go in.”

Grabner’s on-ice impact hasn’t exactly been three-zone stellar this year either. His -4.1 percent Corsi relative to his teammates is the lowest it’s ever been in his career. He’s good for those high-percentage breakout plays, which have lead to a lot of scoring, but if the scoring dries up—which again, it very likely will—you’re left with a player that spends a lot of time hemmed in his own zone and doesn’t effectively cycle for multiple chances.

His presence will not be a deciding factor on whether not the Rangers can make it past the Penguins or Capitals.

The Rangers should sell high on Grabner to get back assets that could address other areas of need, even if that second acquisition isn’t until the offseason (think, Jacob Trouba). There’s also a strong case to be made for acquiring Kevin Shattenkirk this trade deadline. Upgrading the defense will have a much bigger impact on the team that losing Grabner would.

Lee Stempniak is a good place to start for any potential trade. At the deadline last year, the Devils leading scorer fetched a second and fourth round pick. Grabner has a bit more value and the Rangers have a bit more leverage. Grabner is signed another year and has 10 more goals than Stempniak did.

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It’s hard to see a team desperate for scoring not parting with a first round pick, knowing it’ll probably be a later one.

The other elephant in the room goes by the name of the Vegas Golden Knights. Grabner, makes perfect sense as an expansion draft pick this offseason. He’s a veteran player, and offense will likely be a premium for the 31st NHL team.

The Rangers would likely not protect Grabner in the expansion draft, unless they move a player like Rick Nash before the June 21st draft. Trades prior to the NHL entry draft are usually rare but trades can take place whenever with only playoff eligibility at stake. It hard to get a beat on what this offseason will be like.

So Grabner, is essentially like an unrestricted free agent. Unless the Golden Knights are looking to add more younger players and chose a player like Jesper Fast or Oscar Lindberg, there’s a good chance he goes. The Rangers could possibly work out a handshake deal – ie: don’t take Grabner and take a younger player then we’ll trade you another player later for unequal value.

There’s one final argument to be made against trading Grabner however, and it’s the very presence of the expansion draft. Say the New York Rangers really want to make sure Antti Raanta or Nick Holden aren’t taken in the expansion draft. Do they hold onto Grabner, knowing they will likely lose him and have a higher chance of holding onto one of those other guys?

If they move Grabner, it certainly increases the likelihood of a player that fits more into next year’s plans is taken.

Still, when the dust clears, the smartest thing for the Rangers to do is trade Grabner, turn those assets into an immediate upgrade on defense for this season. You’re not selling out on a cup run, you’re increasing your chances with smart asset management. 

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