Michael Grabner – What's the Cost of a Unicorn?

Kristaps Porzingis, the 7’ 3” Latvian who has quickly ascended into the face of the New York Knicks isn’t the city’s only Unicorn. He’s not even the only one who calls Madison Square Garden home. In the truest sense of the Unicorn moniker, Grabner’s production against his contract and expectations makes him truly unique in the league. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, for general manager Jeff Gorton, that’s going to make evaluating the 30-year-old’s next contract awfully difficult.

Grabner, who Pat Leonard said came off the “discount rack” when the Rangers signed him to a two-year, $3.3 million deal, has delivered far beyond his value. He initially wrote, “Grabner essentially is the Rangers’ latest attempt at replacing the speed and penalty killing of Carl Hagelin.” In some sense, that’s been proven true. But, though unforeseen, Grabner’s 27-goal regular season last year made him more of an impact player than Hagelin ever was and, as he’s blossomed into a key penalty-killer and elite depth scorer, there really are no comparables for either party to leverage.

Last season, Grabner’s scoring overshadowed the fact that he was, in fact, brought in to fill the Hagelin role and kill penalties – a role he filled well. Though the unit last year finished at a disappointing 79.8%19th in the league—Grabner lead all Rangers forwards in shorthanded TOI (128:24) and SH TOI/GP (1:41). He also generated 19 shots, to lead the team.

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This year, after early struggles, New York’s penalty kill has been quite good. Over the last 12 games, the Rangers have killed 44 of 52 opportunities (84.6%) punctuated by the artful kill of the 5-minute major to Brendan Smith against Ottawa. Grabner, amongst forwards, trails only Kevin Hayes in SH TOI/GP at just over 2:00 per game. And while he doesn’t have a short-handed goal, he’s again showcased how dangerous his speed makes him, leading the team’s forwards in SH shots, with seven. The Rangers penalty killing unit, as a whole, currently ranks 15th (80.5%).

Penalty killers, even the best of them, can be justified with a contract similar to the one Grabner currently has. Paul Byron, who sees almost the same SH TOI/GP as Grabner, makes slightly less but was signed without the same scoring upside. Even though he scored 22 goals last season, Byron’s contract is a good example of what a fleet-footed penalty killer can get as a free agent.

Grabner, however, is more than just a penalty killer in his current form. In fact, since the start of last season, Grabner’s scoring ranks among the elite. In the almost unfathomable context of bottom-six time on ice, he ranks sixth in goals per 60 minutes (1.57). Even more startlingly, he does it without any powerplay time. His 36 goals ranks just outside the top 30 (tied with Jamie Benn), but he’s fifth in even-strength goals with 36. That’s more than Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, the Patty’s Kane and Laine, and many of the forwards who come to mind before Grabner when we think of elite NHL scorers.

Of the top-75 players with the most goals since the start of last year, Grabner is the only player with none on the powerplay. Byron, who has 27 total goals, is the only other player in the top-100. Additionally, Grabner, who doesn’t see any ice on the power play and averages just 14:05 per night, is the only player with more than 25 goals in that time who averages less than 15:00 per night.

This is unicorn-level production. A top-five scorer who plays bottom-six minutes without a comparable in the league. Boy does that make guessing at his next contract a lot of fun!

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Without getting into too much minutiae of comparing Grabner to contemporaries (because, again, he doesn’t have any), let’s just say that he’s somewhere between Vladamir Tarasenko and Daniel Winnik. He’s not quite the player he was two seasons ago in Toronto or in 2011 when he signed a five-year, $15 million deal with the Islanders. On top of that, the fact that he’s the perfect fit for the Rangers system could drive his cost up as easily as it could drive it down, considering that Alain Vigneault’s system is the ideal place for Grabner, making him a bit of a niche player.

All told, we can be certain that Grabner’s camp is going to leverage the scoring while Gorton’s will leverage the penalty killing. Maybe something along the lines of three years at $3 million per year could be a fair compromise. Whether or not the two parties can bridge the gap and fit under the salary cap is difficult to say, but taking the over would be smart money. Consequently, we shouldn’t be shocked if Grabner ends up a deadline-day cap casualty for a playoff bubble Rangers squad.

 

 

Discussion
  1. BTW - we score quite a bit compared to the rest of the league in spite of what our game ‘looks’ like at times with all of the passing and missed opportunities. But we also give up too many.




    Quote Originally Posted by ThirtyONE
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    The more stagnant this team remains, the more and more they should be thinking of TRADING Grabner, not resigning him. He's on the wrong side of 30 and while he's been a good Ranger, he's way more valuable now than he'll ever be.



    This is really looking like a career year for him and yes, this is most likely his high point in value. Unfortunately 31, I think the Rangers are gonna take a shot at it no matter what....as long as Hank is here and Dolan owns the team, they'll never say that phrase: "Seller at the deadline"
    The more stagnant this team remains, the more and more they should be thinking of TRADING Grabner, not resigning him. He's on the wrong side of 30 and while he's been a good Ranger, he's way more valuable now than he'll ever be.





    Quote Originally Posted by Ozzy
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    Mikey, I'm actually a pretty decent advocate of Nash. I just think that there's no way a guy like him can really flourish under a coaching system like the Rangers employ. Nash is a big, physical forward that is a "strong-to-the-net" player. This is a tic-tac-toe- team.

    The team is too fancy, and he's a smash mouth kinda guy.



    Which no coach will ever try to change in a player, and one that everyone wants. A team's system doesn't have the change the player all the time. You let the talent be the talent. AV isn't telling Nash not to do the things that make him Rick Nash. If anything, we've seen him in front of the net more as a Ranger than you did in Colombus. The game doesn't change much. Whoever makes more correct plays usually wins a hockey game. Systems are implemented by the coach according to what his personnel is. When the game opens up, they need to create it themselves. There's so many systems a team can play in one game. There's a time and a place for each one. I'm not implying this to you, but not too many people know or understand exactly what systems are.
    Mikey, I'm actually a pretty decent advocate of Nash. I just think that there's no way a guy like him can really flourish under a coaching system like the Rangers employ. Nash is a big, physical forward that is a "strong-to-the-net" player. This is a tic-tac-toe- team.

    The team is too fancy, and he's a smash mouth kinda guy.





    Quote Originally Posted by Ozzy
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    Seems it all comes down to the same factor; We really haven't had a marquee or elite skater (non-goalie) to play along with Hank. Nash, as much as I think he's still the most intelligent, and better players on the team never panned out to be that 40 or 50 goal scorer we all hoped he would be.

    You know what though Sod, I don't really blame the players. Yeah, they're at fault for a lot of the short comings that we've experienced along the way, but this coach hasn't a damn clue what it takes to win a cup. He's the player's buddy. A nice guy and all that. He's very personable and very good with the media as well.

    He should be offered a front office job as I would hate to see anyone fired outright and be cast out like a piece of crap. BUT, the bottom line is he is in over his head as I see it. He gets out coached, and I just don't "feel" any discipline in this team at all. They seemingly make the same mistakes repeatedly.

    Think about it: When was the last good 1st period we had?
    How many shitty starts have we gotten off to in the last month??? How is that not addressed??? Better yet, How is that NOT FIXED??

    Hey man, Happy Holidays too !!! =)



    Nash scored 40 goals 3 times in his career, and once was as a Ranger. He never potted 50. Not sure why anyone expected him to do that after 10 years in the league. I think he's lived up to his contract and possibly could have done more if it weren't for injuries beyond his control. Not really fair to judge a guy when he's been injured for long stretches.
    Seems it all comes down to the same factor; We really haven't had a marquee or elite skater (non-goalie) to play along with Hank. Nash, as much as I think he's still the most intelligent, and better players on the team never panned out to be that 40 or 50 goal scorer we all hoped he would be.

    You know what though Sod, I don't really blame the players. Yeah, they're at fault for a lot of the short comings that we've experienced along the way, but this coach hasn't a damn clue what it takes to win a cup. He's the player's buddy. A nice guy and all that. He's very personable and very good with the media as well.

    He should be offered a front office job as I would hate to see anyone fired outright and be cast out like a piece of crap. BUT, the bottom line is he is in over his head as I see it. He gets out coached, and I just don't "feel" any discipline in this team at all. They seemingly make the same mistakes repeatedly.

    Think about it: When was the last good 1st period we had?
    How many shitty starts have we gotten off to in the last month??? How is that not addressed??? Better yet, How is that NOT FIXED??

    Hey man, Happy Holidays too !!! =)





    Quote Originally Posted by Ozzy
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    I believe that our team focus of having a goalie carry this club on his shoulders has been played out long enough, and he can no longer do it alone.



    2005-2011: Hank plus bottom trolling team equals lower seed playoff team

    2011-2015: Hank plus decent team equals contender.

    When you look at all of the stats, take away #30 and they have never had a team in the top half dozen.
    Maybe the term "tough" comes off too "70's/80's Enforcer-like". What I mean is gritty and having a more "keep your-head-up" type of attitude from the opposition. I'm not a fan of Zucc being the only scrappy player on this team. Not only that, but Pittsburgh, Chicago, and a few other contenders have that "elite" player on their team....ours is in net and not looking like he's in his prime any longer.

    I believe that our team focus of having a goalie carry this club on his shoulders has been played out long enough, and he can no longer do it alone. It really hasn't panned out the way management had envisioned it, but the irony of it all is when you couple Hank with a talented bunch of players that play a tough, solid 60 minute game, you get Team Sweeden;

    ...and we all know what happened there! =)





    Quote Originally Posted by Ozzy
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    They do have a lot of talent, Future I agree. It's just that I hope that this team takes notice that it's just not built for a long playoff run. They're too soft and I don't think they'll hold up for more than maybe one seven game series. I hope I'm wrong, but even if I am, I think we'll be out-coached by any of the leading contenders.

    But you're right, we'll have to see what this thing looks like in a few months.



    I think coaching is a fair concern - and actually think that leads into some of the perceived softness on the team.

    But having said that, I don't think being soft, whatever that really means, precludes your from a playoff run. Neither Pitt nor Chicago are particularly tough. Neither is Ottawa, for that matter. Its the compete level, or lack thereof, and focus that hurt the Rangers, not being soft.
    This team is outplayed way more than they are outcoached.
    The majority of the time, as we've seen the last few games, the team is prepared, and have a game plan that works... they just dont play. Its what happened in the Ottawa series last year.

    We have the talent, guys are just inconsistent.
    So, if we have this team near the trade deadline, and we are in spot to get a playoff spot... theyll be pulling the trigger on a scorer to get them over the hump. If the forwards play consistent hockey, put up good numbers and they score close to expected potential, only then would you see them grabbing a bottom 6 banger.
    This team wears out defenders with speed and skating, not physical play. When these guys focus on physical play, (see Zucarello in the playoffs last season), they abandon what they are good at, dont score, and lose close games by a goal or 2.
    Its a double edged sword.
    They do have a lot of talent, Future I agree. It's just that I hope that this team takes notice that it's just not built for a long playoff run. They're too soft and I don't think they'll hold up for more than maybe one seven game series. I hope I'm wrong, but even if I am, I think we'll be out-coached by any of the leading contenders.

    But you're right, we'll have to see what this thing looks like in a few months.





    Quote Originally Posted by Ozzy
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    I know what you guys are saying and believe me, I hope he is a good player for a long time. It's just that my belief is that this is the exact type of guy we should trade in order to build from. I agree, he's been nothing short of great, and Future is most likely right, as the Rangers are always buyers at the deadline and always seem to give it a half-assed shot at it no matter what...mostly because Hank is still back there I think.

    That's the way it's going to be, I know that. This thing isn't going to change until 2 things happen:

    Hank either gets dealt or retires, and they get rid of that lump of fail behind the bench.



    Well this team will be sellers if they're clearly not a contender at the deadline, regardless of Hank's status. That could mean they're in 10th or dead last, but we'll know by then.

    I just think there's too much talent and too many games that they'll win against good teams to make me think that's realistic, barring more significant injuries.
    I know what you guys are saying and believe me, I hope he is a good player for a long time. It's just that my belief is that this is the exact type of guy we should trade in order to build from. I agree, he's been nothing short of great, and Future is most likely right, as the Rangers are always buyers at the deadline and always seem to give it a half-assed shot at it no matter what...mostly because Hank is still back there I think.

    That's the way it's going to be, I know that. This thing isn't going to change until 2 things happen:

    Hank either gets dealt or retires, and they get rid of that lump of fail behind the bench.
    Yes, he would be viewed as a classic finishing piece for a contender and would bring in quite a loot at the deadline, but I'd hate to trade him. He will resign because he's not dumb, and having found himself in some places where he wasn't a good fit in the past, he's not going to walk from a good situation. You can't understate what he does for this team. His presence on the ice is totally disruptive to the opposition. Just watch: they are always deviating from what they want to do because of him. His wheels should be good for some years. They should not trade him unless they are 28th in the league and in a total rebuild mold.





    Quote Originally Posted by Long live the King
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    All depends on how the next two months go...I wouldn't be opposed to having a "Hey, we're looking at trading you at the deadline to add extra draft picks for the future, but we're also really interested in bringing you back through free agency" conversation with either of them.



    For sure. I think both would be open to returning as well.





    Quote Originally Posted by Future
    View Post

    If Grabner stays hot, he, like Rick Nash, would bring a big haul at the deadline. But while you don't build around him, necessarily, he's a guy that can be a real good fit for the next few years. It seems like his play has gotten better as he's turned 30, so I don't think we should expect a massive drop off any time soon. If he doesn't ask too much, you certainly try to bring him back.

    But the reality is that this team is as much of a contender as pretty much anybody in the east, even though this board hates that idea. Every team is flawed and the Rangers have been one of the best teams in the league since the end of October. They're far more likely, at this point, to be buyers than sellers at the deadline.



    All depends on how the next two months go...I wouldn't be opposed to having a "Hey, we're looking at trading you at the deadline to add extra draft picks for the future, but we're also really interested in bringing you back through free agency" conversation with either of them.
    If Grabner stays hot, he, like Rick Nash, would bring a big haul at the deadline. But while you don't build around him, necessarily, he's a guy that can be a real good fit for the next few years. It seems like his play has gotten better as he's turned 30, so I don't think we should expect a massive drop off any time soon. If he doesn't ask too much, you certainly try to bring him back.

    But the reality is that this team is as much of a contender as pretty much anybody in the east, even though this board hates that idea. Every team is flawed and the Rangers have been one of the best teams in the league since the end of October. They're far more likely, at this point, to be buyers than sellers at the deadline.

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