Back in July the New York Rangers signed free agent forward Michael Grabner to a two year contract worth $3.3 million. He was initially seen as a fourth line player who would be a forgettable part of the new roster. Michael Grabner was coming off a five year contract with the New York Islanders, where he was underwhelming to say the least. He scored only nine goals in his previous season and only eight the season before. Michael Grabner was a cheap option, but had potential upside as he scored 34 goals during the 2010-2011 season and 20 during the 2011-2012 season. Despite this, no one expected him to score 28 goals through 47 games this season for the New York Rangers. In fact, if you look at advance statistics Michael Grabner is scoring on a crazy high percentage of his shots. 21.2% to be exact, well above his career average of 12.7% and his career high of 14.9% in his 34 goal season. To put that in perspective, Sidney Crosby who is leading the league in goals with 28 through 41 games, is scoring on 20.4% of his shots – his career high. So it is safe to say that Michael Grabner up to this point is having a career year.
Why would this be an issue? In any other year it wouldn’t, however, there is an expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights. The approval of a new NHL team means an expansion draft. This is where Michael Grabner’s success hurts the New York Rangers. The rules of the expansion draft are simple: a team can either protect seven forwards, 3 defensemen, and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. First-year pros cannot be selected and players with no trade clauses must be protected unless they waive them. Most likely the New York Rangers will choose the seven-three-one format.
Now let’s take a look at the New York Rangers forwards, Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich cannot be taken since they are first-year players. So that leaves the rest of the forwards. Rick Nash must be protected as he has a no trade clause, you have to assume the New York Rangers will protect their young assets such as Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller. You also must assume that they will protect their veterans under contract such as Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, and Mika Zibanejad. That’s all seven of your forwards right there, leaving four forwards available to be chosen, Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Pirri, and of course Michael Grabner. Michael Grabner is clearly the most attractive option out of those players. He is having a career year, he is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL, and most importantly he’s inexpensive. Having signed a two year contract worth only $3.3 million, if he is picked up by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft it would only cost them a cap hit of $1.65 million.
In my opinion that’s a no brainer. They would be getting a 30 year old player coming off his best season, for cheap, with a tremendous amount of upside. So what are the New York Rangers to do? Unless they want to give up a young or veteran piece that is under contract they are going to have to leave Michael Grabner vulnerable. It isn’t easy to find a cheap player with as much of an upside in the NHL. They can hope that the Vegas Golden Knights will be more attracted to backup goalie Antti Raanta or a defensemen such as Kevin Klein, who will most likely also be available. Either way the New York Rangers have a problem. Some consider it a good one, as a piece that wasn’t supposed to produce has produced. However, I see it as an issue. Michael Grabner has been a big part of the New York Rangers’ success this year and it is looking more and more like they are going to lose him to the expansion draft and I believe it’s going to hurt the New York Rangers more than people think it will.
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