This is part of a free agency article highlighting all available free agents before the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. This section highlights Michael Grabner. If you’re interested in reading the entire article, click here.
Age: 33, 34 on October 5th
Weight: 187 lbs
2019-20 stats: 8/3/11 in 46 games with the Arizona Coyotes (NHL)
For a type of player to be synonymous with your name in hockey, you need to be a very special player. The problem is that you’re either special in a good way or special in a bad way.
Luckily for Michael Grabner, he’s special in a mostly good way.
After just a glimpse at Michael Grabner on the ice, you know exactly what I’m talking about. He’s fast. Like, really fast. His speed makes him a weapon on the ice, but it helps him specifically in two situations.
On the penalty kill, and when facing an empty net.
This goal from just a couple of years ago is just one of dozens of shorthanded goals that Grabner has scored in his career.
As for empty nets, here’s a big stat. Since becoming a full-time NHLer in 2010-11 with the New York Islanders, Michael Grabner has the 7th most empty-net goals in the entire NHL, with 20. He is behind stars and former stars in Alex Ovechkin, Brad Marchand, Blake Wheeler, Eric Staal, Patrick Kane, and Patrice Bergeron. That’s the company he’s in. He’s done this in 123 games less than anyone higher than him.
Even if you narrow it down to just the last couple of seasons (in which he’s missed a lot of hockey), he still ranks top-15 in the entire league.
Another crazy stat: Since he became a full-time NHLer in 2010-11, Michael Grabner has had 22 short-handed goals. That is second in the entire league during that time frame. He has played over a hundred fewer games than anyone else in the top-5.
Michael Grabner is pretty much a legendary specialist player.
At this point in his career, that’s what he is. A specialist.
A couple of seasons ago, Grabner could be considered a very solid 5v5 threat. He scored 34 goals for 52 points in his rookie season with the New York Islanders. Even as recently as 2017-18, Grabner held a 34-goal pace as a member of the New York Rangers. With his blazing speed, he was an absolute pain to defend or to get defended by, and he still is now. However, there lies the second part of what makes Grabner a special player.
The man cannot finish. He’s poked fun at it, everyone’s noticed it, he just cannot finish the plays he makes. Sure, Grabner has finished a lot of plays, and it shows on the scoresheet. However, when you watch him play, he just isn’t able to capitalize on as many attempts as you want him to. Instead, strength in numbers helps him. After all, if you get 100 breakaways, one is bound to go in… right?
As a result, while Grabner is a serviceable player at 5v5, teams would prefer to acquire him for his abilities on the PK and against the empty net.
There are very few players in the league that can do what Grabner does, and as a result, he’s the best free agent here, in my opinion.
Contending teams would love to add him on their second penalty-kill unit and they’d love to have him make a rush for the empty net during close games.
There’s one big problem, though. Grabner isn’t on the market because no one wants him.
When Michael Grabner was bought out of the final year of his contract by the Arizona Coyotes, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman was quick to point out that Grabner preferred to wait until details were more clear about the NHL season before he made a decision on where to sign.
Of course, that was around four months ago. What’s the verdict?
I asked Grabner’s agent, Jerome Buckley, about Grabner’s status, and I found out this. Grabner is still staying in shape to play hockey, but he’s still weighing his options. He hasn’t made a decision yet between retiring or returning to the NHL.
This was echoed by Grabner in an interview with an Austrian news outlet. He cited tight COVID restrictions as his biggest reason for not returning to the NHL but noted that he hasn’t retired yet.
I’m assuming that Grabner and his family still live in Arizona, so that could be the most desirable destination for him… except that, because the Arizona Coyotes bought him out and still carry his cap, they can’t sign him.
One team that I think could make a push for Grabner would be the Ottawa Senators. Head coach DJ Smith loved having Grabner in Toronto and was noted as one of the guys who wanted to re-sign Grabner badly. But would a 33-year-old Michael Grabner move all the way to Ottawa just to play for a rebuilding team?
One thing that really stands out to me is that Michael Grabner has not won a Stanley Cup in his 11-year NHL career. The furthest he got was in 2017 when his New York Rangers went to six games with the Ottawa Senators before being eliminated in the second round.
Could Grabner look for a contract with a contender? I think that there will be contending teams that check in, but it’s hard to pinpoint a specific team that could sign him. After all, the ball is in his park.
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