Keeping Michael Grabner is now a priority

Grabner scores (Brad Penner/USAT)

Michael Grabner scored his 26th goal last night in a Garden win over Nashville. He is on pace to shatter his career high of 34 and is flirting with his first ever 40 goal season. More importantly, the chemistry he has developed with center, Kevin Hayes and winger, J.T. Miller make it paramount that the Rangers keep the 29 year old speedster.

Keeping Grabner

On July 1st, the Rangers struck gold when they signed Grabner for 2 years at 1.6M per. They did it primarily to add speed to their bottom 6 and replace a little of what they lost in Carl Hagelin. What they’ve gotten is so much more.

For the record, Hagelin did indeed have a magical run with Pittsburgh last season but only has 6 goals this year. Hagelin also never scored more than 17 goals in his career and he’s 28 years old…meaning what you see is what you get.

Grabner scored 34 goals in 2011 (his first full NHL season), 20 in 2012, and 16 in the lockout shortened season of 2013. That year he was flirting with the 40 goal mark also before tailing off the next two seasons. That led to an exile to Toronto which was void of talent and clueless from the top down.

All the while, Grabner never lost his speed or his ability to create chances using it. The biggest difference now is he’s playing on a skilled team with a coach that plays to his strengths. It has been without a doubt, one of the Rangers most successful free agent signings since Dan Girardi in 2006.

Grabner USATSI

Cause for Concern?

There is one number that sets off alarm bells…

21.3%

That is Michael Grabner’s shooting percentage and is not sustainable longterm. His career average is closer to 12%, but the good news is this; at that rate Grabner would still be 3rd on the team in goals with 15.

Still, it is what he’s doing on the ice that doesn’t always show up on the scoresheet that makes that number a non factor in my decision to keep him. Don’t take my word for it, listen to his linemate J.T. Miller. When discussing his assist on Grabner’s goal versus the Ducks he said:

“It happens a lot, really, through the game, when we have possession of the puck and he’s already going. That’s what makes him so good. He makes everyone around him look really good, but he’s the one making the play and he’s always moving his feet.” – via NYPOST

Moving his feet, getting in front, and being a physical force on the ice are all assets the Rangers need. Plus on a line with Hayes (24 y/o) and Miller (23 y/o) he’s the veteran presence at 29.

Protect Grabner At All Costs

You hear a lot of arguments for trading Grabner. The three top reasons to trade him at the deadline are as follows:

  • His value will never be higher
  • He’s not going to score at this rate again
  • He’s 29 years old
  • Rangers wil lose him to the expansion draft

In fairness, these are all valid arguments but I believe that they are wrong.

While it is true his value will never be higher, you still won’t get what he’s worth to the Rangers. The Rangers are playoff bound and Grabner has proven to be their best scoring threat. So why are you throwing away this season, especially if you advocate that Henrik Lundqvist‘s window to win is closing.

As I mentioned before, he won’t continue to score at this pace but he can still score on this team. He’s in phenomenal shape so age is no issue. The evidence is mounting up to keep him.

Finally, the Rangers WILL lose Grabner to expansion for the SAME REASONS they should keep him. Las Vegas will take Grabner because he’s affordable at 1.6M and can score. In a cap league that is the same reason why the Rangers should be keeping him, especially with the Mika Zibanejad becoming an RFA.

It won’t be easy

Listen, the Rangers are going to lose somebody of value to expansion so it’s unavoidable. The Rangers will likely protect 8 skaters and one goaltender but can only lose one player. That means if they expose Raanta it could all end there.

The Rangers would have to ask Girardi and Nash to expose themselves in order to protect other players but let’s not count on that. Add Marc Staal and Derek Stepan due to no move clauses and the Rangers can only protect 4 other players with 3 or more years experience. Kreider, McDonagh and Miller are a given which means that the Rangers will be forced to decide between Grabner, Zibanejad, or Zuccarello.

If the Rangers have any hope of keeping Grabner they will have to try and convince at least Girardi to expose himself to the draft. At his salary it is highly unlikely they would take him. Even then, the Rangers would be forced to expose Zuccarello who would be a sure goner.

As you can see the Rangers are in a serious pickle. A situation that we may only gain clarity on after the deadline.

 

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore