One of the primary needs for the Calgary Flames this offseason has been to upgrade their forward depth. Following their acquisition of Elias Lindholm from the Carolina Hurricanes – an upgrade on Micheal Ferland – the Flames are likely still looking around for some options, particularly on the wings.
Unrestricted free agent Micheal Grabner is a versatile veteran, but is he the right fit for the Flames’ needs?
A product of Austria, the 30-year-old Grabner was introduced to North American hockey during his tenure with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs – he played for now-Flames head coach Bill Peters there. He scored over 30 goals twice during three seasons in the Dub and was a first round selection of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2006 NHL Draft; the Flames took Leland Irving that year.
Grabner has played 553 NHL games split between the Canucks, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and New York Islanders – he’s actually been on four teams over the past four seasons. He’s scored more than 20 goals in four different seasons and has scored 27 goals in each of the past two seasons. He seems a pretty decent bet to generate 30 or 35 points in a secondary role, but could push the 40-point mark under the right circumstances.
That said, he’s a bit less impressive once you dive into his numbers. He has shown the ability throughout his career to play fairly well despite being given more defensive than offensive zone starts, but for the majority of his career he hasn’t been a tremendously effective possession player. He hasn’t broken the 50% Corsi For level since 2014-15 with the Islanders, and he’s been a negative Corsi Rel player in all but two of his full NHL seasons (including his last four), meaning he’s not usually one of the players driving possession for his teams. He also doesn’t score a ton at even strength, meaning that to get the most out of him he’ll need to be given some combination of good linemates, offensive zone starts, and special teams time.
Grabner’s a flawed player, but he’s still got some good attributes. He’s a strong penalty killer. He’s whip-fast and can generate momentum for his team with his speed. As previously mentioned, he’s capable of scoring 20-plus goals and has done so recently. He’s a left shot that can play either wing, and he’s got some familiarity with both Peters and new associate coach Geoff Ward, who had him briefly in New Jersey this past season. He’d be a better fit if he were a right shot, but his knowledge of the coaching staff would likely ease his transition into the team and its systems.
The challenge would be landing Grabner at a palatable cap number. He’s coming off a deal that paid him $1.65 million per season, and Matt Cane’s projection has him coming in at around $3.8 million. For a player that doesn’t drive possession or score a ton at even strength – and is functionally a special teams specialist – that’s a bit of a hard pill to swallow with all the other big ticket deals the Flames are likely to sign in the near future.
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