Calgary Flames Trade Target: Michael Grabner


The Calgary Flames have been in the rumour mill constantly since their season ended with a second round playoff series loss to the Anaheim Ducks just over a month ago. They have been linked to big name forwards Milan Lucic and David Backes as well as goaltenders on the market such as Cam Talbot and Robin Lehner.

It sounds like the Flames are prepared to make a huge splash this offseason, and likely as soon as next weekend when the NHL Draft takes place in Sunrise, Florida. Though it sounds exciting when you keep hearing the Flames linked to these big names, I think the wisest thing to do is be patient, and acquire less expensive options to help bridge the gap for the young core to take over.

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Lucic, Backes and even Talbot may cost the Flames their first round pick in this year’s draft and that would be a huge mistake. I have hedged back and forth on whether Talbot would be worth it, but he is a free agent in one, like the pair of forwards, and it is just far too risky to move a first round pick for a pending UFA.

The Flames best forwards are currently still in their entry level deals, as Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau proved they are the present and the future of this franchise with breakout seasons. Monahan scored 31 goals and 62 points and Gaudreau is up for rookie of the year after scoring 24 goals and 64 points.

With Monahan just 19 years old and Gaudreau set to turn 22 this summer and last year’s fourth overall pick Sam Bennett still a teenager as well, the team has to build slowly around this group. Trading away your first round pick for a 31 year old Backes just doesn’t fit that philosophy. This team needs to be patient, and bring in players who don’t cost a big part of the team’s future to acquire.

Feb 27, 2015; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders right wing Michael Grabner (40) controls the puck against Calgary Flames defenseman Raphael Diaz (33) during the second period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

One such player, who wouldn’t cost a lot, but could provide a big reward is New York Islanders right winger Michael Grabner. If you look at the Flames lineup, the biggest need right now is a second line right winger and Grabner would come on the cheap and also fill that role.

Arthur Staple, who covers the Islanders, wrote that Grabner, as well as Kyle Okposo are on the trade block. Though Okposo is a much bigger name, again, he would cost too much of the future to acquire. Grabner on the other hand wouldn’t cost a lot and would be a perfect fit on a patient Flames organization.

Grabner’s biggest asset is definitely his blazing speed. He is quite possibly the fastest player in the NHL and uses it well to create scoring chances. He is also a good penalty killer for the Islanders, and a team can never have too many players who make the opposition uncomfortable when they have a man advantage.

There isn’t an official stat for it, but if the league kept track of a number of breakaways a player has, Grabner would certainly be among the league leaders every season. He uses his tremendous speed to cause turnovers at his defensive blue line and one he gets half a step on a defenseman, there is no one in the league that can catch him.

Feb 27, 2015; Uniondale, NY, USA; Calgary Flames goalie Karri Ramo (31) makes a save on a shot by New York Islanders right wing Michael Grabner (40) in front of Calgary Flames defenseman Raphael Diaz (33) during the second period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Islanders have done a terrific job developing young prospects over the past few years and are looking to make a roster spot or two for Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome to be regulars on the top three lines. Due to this, the Islanders are willing to deal Grabner before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Based on the little it would cost to acquire him, and my best guess is the most the Islanders will get for Grabner is a third round pick, him being a UFA in one year is actually a positive for the team acquiring him. While you would hate to lose a player after one year that you gave up a first round pick to get, not being locked into a long contract on a player you are rolling the dice on is a good thing.

Grabner has just one year left on his contract at three million dollars, meaning his contract is not going to affect the Flames ability to stay under the cap in the future. While trading for Lucic who is making six million next season and needs a new contract next summer could make it difficult to keep him and the young core, if Grabner performs well, he will still easily fit in under the cap.

Grabner is a former first round pick, taken 14th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2006 NHL Draft. The Canucks traded him to the Florida Panthers who ended up losing him on waivers to the Islanders in 2010. Grabner made the Panthers look ridiculous when he scored 34 goals in his first season on Long Island, but he hasn’t matched that offensive output since.

Mar 7, 2014; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; New York Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo (21) celebrates his goal with New York Islanders right wing Michael Grabner (40) in front of Calgary Flames center Joe Colborne (8) during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Grabner scored 20 in 2011-12, and then had an impressive 16 goals in just 45 games in the lockout shortened 2013 campaign. As the Islanders got deeper with talent, Grabner took on a more defensive role and his offence sagged in the past two seasons. The wing scored 12 goals and 26 points in 64 games two years ago and followed that up with an injury plagued year in which he scored eight goals and 13 points in 34 games.

Though he won’t lead the Flames in scoring next season, at the age of 27 and put in a more offensive role again, Grabner could easily bounce back and score 20-25 goals next season on the Flames second line with Mikael Backlund and Sam Bennett. Even though he was hurt most of last year, his eight goals in 34 games is a 19 goal pace over a full season.

A lot of Grabner’s value comes in things he does other than scoring goals. He would be a huge help to the Flames shorthanded unit next season, and would make Calgary tougher to play against, not because of his physicality but because he is just so fast that it keeps the other team off balance when he is on the ice.

I’m not saying Grabner is as good as Backes or Lucic, but I am saying his age, contract and the cost to acquire him make Grabner a much better fit for the Flames next season. His name isn’t as big and intriguing as others that have been tossed around this summer, but he would make the most sense for the Calgary Flames right now.

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