Brian MacLellan has said the Caps intend to upgrade their third line this offseason. This is part of our series looking at free agents who the Caps could potentially target.
What if I told you there was a 28-year-old, former 34-goal scorer available this offseason for third line money or even less? You’d probably snap my hand off at the chance to get him on the Caps roster for next season. That is until you realize that, that marquee season happened six seasons ago and said player hasn’t come close to replicating that kind of success since. This is the curious case of former Maple Leaf, Islander and Canuck, Michael Grabner.
Courtesy of Own the Puck
The major concerns with Michael Grabner jump out at you. Since that fantastic 2010-2011 rookie season in which he scored 34 goals and racked up 52 points, earning a Calder Memorial Trophy nomination, and an average 2011-2012 where he scored 20 goals and put up 32 points, Grabner has yet to top 30 points for four consecutive seasons. He also has yet to play a full 82-game NHL regular season. There are many factors at play here including injuries, the lockout shortened season, playing on horrendous teams, and a general drop-off in play. It’s up to the Capitals to decide how much weight they put into each of those variables for Grabner’s “decline” and if they want to take a shot at him for this new and improved third line.
When you look purely at Grabner’s play-style, his main and obvious strength is his skating ability. He is easily one of the fastest skaters in the entire league, if not the fastest, and would replace Jason Chimera when it comes to the speed component on our roster. With Brian MacLellan wanting to form a very up-tempo, fast paced third line, there is no other free agent available this summer that defines those two characteristics better than Grabner. The guy is an absolute speed demon. Another positive to his game is that although he is a left shot, he is able to play both wings and has been an elite penalty killer as recently as 2013-14. Grabner has shown in the past that he has the hands, the shot, and the offensive ability to put up points in the NHL, but has always struggled with inconsistency and injuries.
I think the biggest question about Grabner is how much exactly has his production and general play been hurt by the quality of teams he has been on the past few years. He played on the tank-fest Toronto Maple Leafs last season, missed the majority of the season with injury on the decent 2014-15 Islanders and before that was on the terrible Islanders teams that the league beat up on every year. His possession numbers have hovered just below or just above 50 percent at 5v5 pretty much every year of his career and that’s pretty reflective on the quality of teams he played on. I don’t think that they were holding back another 30-goal season, but is it unreasonable to think that Grabner could return to being at least a 30-35 point player on a team like the Capitals?
Michael Grabner is obviously not the sexiest of signings the Capitals could make this offseason, but the more I look at the market and with what the GM has said he is envisioning for the third line, I could get on board with bringing the guy in based on his versatility and speed alone. He got his big pay day immediately after his great rookie year, off which he is just now coming, so he’s not going to be looking for a ton of cash and will probably play for cheap for 1-2 years to earn another lengthier contract. I’m not going to be sitting outside Kettler protesting for a Michael Grabner signing, but if the more expensive, well-known options start falling off the table or if the Caps start getting tight on funds after other signings, bringing in Grabner would be a nice consolation.
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