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Michael Grabner: Trade him or Keep him?

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Time to look at that other winger who used to be with the Islanders. Is he a keeper, or can he bring something good on the trade market?

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Grabner

The second best player ever from Austria, Grabner is a speedy right wing who turned 28 this past October.


Grabner moved as a teenager to America to play in the WHL and was drafted 14th overall by the Vancouver Canucks. It seems in hindsight, that the Canucks were swayed by his scoring streak at the end of his junior season prior to the draft and took him much higher than anyone expected him to go. This isn't the last time foresight ranked him higher than hindsight.

He played another year in junior where he put up points in streaks interspersed with injuries and moved on to the Canucks AHL team the next year where he scored reasonably well and missed very few games. His second AHL year was even better and included some key goals in the playoffs.

He failed to make the Canucks out of camp in 2009, but after a scoring streak in the opening games of the AHL season, they called him up. One injury later, and he missed some weeks of play before going back to the AHL. He finally stuck with the Canucks in the spring and had limited scoring success for the season and into the playoffs.

He was traded by the Canucks to the Panthers in a draft day swap in the summer of 2010.

He failed to make the Panthers lineup out of camp, but was not waiver exempt, so when they tried to stash him on their AHL team, he was snatched by the New York Islanders.

He played one slot lower on the depth chart from P.-A. Parenteau and had a very good first year in the NHL. The Islanders signed him to a five-year deal, but he never lived up to who they thought he was. Years of diminishing icetime, injuries and lowering points totals followed.

In September of last year the Leafs acquired him in a trade for five AHL prospects. He's in the last year of that Islander deal, and his AAV this year is $3million with an actual cash payout of $5million.

What's he done as a Leaf?

Not a hell of a lot is the short answer. He has 6 goals and one primary assist and currently plays on the top line with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov. Now, to be fair, the first big chunk of his season was spent on various incarnations of the fourth line with Byron Froese or the checking line with Nick Spaling. Neither of those lines offer up a lot of scoring opportunities.

He is, to my eye-test, a very good positional player, and has got most of his points on the top line where I see him frequently being the guy who's bailing out someone else's defensive mistake in his own end. He is on the ball all the time out there, and plays hard.

He is team average in shots against, and below average in shots for—I think we can assume the checking line minutes are influencing that number. And he's famous for his fruitless breakaways that raise your hopes up high while he's roaring up the ice, but never seem to provide any satisfaction.

Keep him?

He is good at keeping shots low, and he's another guy like Parenteau who can play up and down the lineup and gets better with better linemates. He's younger than most guys coming up as UFAs, and he could be a perfectly fine third line winger who fills in in emergencies higher up.

Move him out?

He is who he is, and it's not who the Islanders thought he was. He has streaks of scoring success, but the rest of the time he's not a negative, but he's not adding anything either. He's not blossomed much under Babcock.

Should he stay or should he go?

The greatest favour anyone could do this guy is to make a clear-eyed assessment of his value and pay him in line with what he produces. Not $3million. I think that's going to happen in the free agent market this summer, but in the meantime, if someone wants him as a rental he should be moved out.

Fans will add up the imaginary potential future value of those five guys he was traded for and cry foul, but the truth is, only one of those five guys has a hope of making it out of the AHL, and this is what amassing picks and prospects is all about—dividing the wheat from the chaff. By the time you've decided someone is chaff, their value to you is nil. No matter how hard you imagined otherwise before that.

So, can the Leafs get a pick that's worth Christopher Gibson, possible future goalie?

Grabner's a top line winger, even if that's only out of necessity; he's pulling his weight, and labels matter. The market will determine his value, and the cap space and cash budget of teams, but guys you can legitimately slot into a scoring line are not going to be plentiful.

Last year Antoine Vermette went for a first round pick and defensive prospect, and while he had more points than Grabner has, he never lived up to the hype as a potential top line player once he was in Chicago. What matters is perception not reality with deadline trades, and the best way to create the perception that Grabner is worth a top pick is for him to play well in the next few weeks.

The alternative to trading him now is to sign him to that clear-eyed, reasonable salary and try it next year. So trade him now when his cap hit is high or gamble on next year?