If you’re a Vancouver hockey fan who keeps up with the stories of the team online, you might have heard that New York Islander Michael Grabner is tied for the league lead in rookie scoring with 24 goals and has scored nine times in his last five games.
This is notable, of course, because the Canucks traded Grabner along with a first round draft pick for Keith Ballard this summer. Grabner’s success has drawn the ire of Vancouver Sun columnist Brad Ziemer who claims that Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis “gave up on Michael Grabner.”
The online article has been modified so Ziemer can condescendingly add that Grabner, of course, did score a hat-trick against Buffalo in a 7-6 win Sunday night.
Pass It To Bulis has already covered this in a bit of depth, but statistically, we can tell that Mike Gillis knew exactly he was giving up this summer. Grabner was, of course, a former 14th overall pick and a former 30-goal scorer in junior with the Spokane Chiefs. He also potted 30 with the Manitoba Moose in 2009, his last full year in the minors before coming up to the big leagues. In the NHL with the Canucks last season, he scored five goals in 20 games.
Five goals in 20 games is quite a good pace, particularly when the players’ shooting percentage is at 7.9%, which hovers around a sustainable percentage of 8-8.5%. At his pace of just over 3 shots a game, that would land Grabner around 21 goals, which is very good for a rookie.
(EDIT: Forwards tend to have a higher shooting percentage than defenseman, which I neglected upon writing this post.)
Of course Mike Gillis knew this, but the Canucks didn’t need more scoring. They were 2nd in goals scored last year, but 13th in goals against. The Canucks needed defense, and they needed strong defensemen to knock rebounds away from Roberto Luongo after making the first save. Keith Ballard was a youngish defenseman on a good contract who was available and Gillis pulled the trigger.
Some things to note about Michael Grabner this season; he is actually averaging fewer shots per game in more minutes than last year, almost a full half shot, so his goal scoring increase has more to do with luck than better performance. His shooting percentage has ballooned from 7.9% to 17.9%, a completely unsustainable level of play. In his last five games, his on-ice shooting percentage at 5-on-5 is 21%. No player can expect to keep a pace like that throughout their entire career, and it’s only a matter of time before Grabner’s lack of shots catch up with him.
None of this means that Grabner isn’t a good story. It’s nice to see a former Canucks light it up in the other conference. But where will Brad Ziemer be once Keith Ballard returns from injury and Michael Grabner is in the midst of an inevitable double-digit scoring slump?
The Canucks gave up Grabner for Ballard and signed Dan Hamhuis to shore up their defense. While both are injured now, they have both still played very well and have helped the Canucks improve from 13th to 1st in the league in goals against average, and they certainly didn’t give up any scoring, having gone from 2nd to 1st in goals for average.