The biggest question heading into the NHL trading deadline on February 26 is if Michael Grabner’s time with the New York Rangers has come to an end. It’s not as clearcut decision as some in the media would have you believe.
The Rangers have an attractive trade asset who can upgrade any team’s offensive with his ability to consistently put the puck in the net. But, Grabner has become one of the leading voices inside the Rangers’ locker room, and hasn’t expressed any desire to be moved at this time.
Grabner is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at season’s end as he’s playing out the final year of a two-year/$3.3 million deal with the Blueshirts. It’s highly unlikely the Rangers will have enough salary cap space to re-sign him, especially with the expected big money payday coming his way this summer. Neither side has publicly initiated contract talks to keep Grabner in New York beyond the conclusion of the 2017-18 season.
His time with the Rangers has been a bit of a renaissance for Grabner’s career with him scoring 27 goals last season. This year, he has 26 points (21 goals and 5 assists) in 49 games. More importantly, Grabner has become a vital piece of the Rangers penalty-killing unit and a speedy scoring option on breakaways toward the net after a turnover in the neutral zone.
It would be wise for the Rangers to move players with expiring contracts at the trade deadline and acquire some necessary pieces to improve their own position in the standings. An ideal scenario would have Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton enticing two organizations into a friendly bidding war for Grabner’s service rather than letting him walk at season’s end with nothing in return. The asking price should be a combination of draft picks and prospects in return for a proven goal scorer who could become the final piece of the puzzle for a team’s unexpected playoff run to a Stanley Cup title.
So, who are the potential suitors for Michael Grabner?
Blue Jackets Need a Spark Offensively
The Columbus Blue Jackets have been a major disappointment in the 2017-18 season as the forward unit has grossly under-achieved. With a very limited offensive attack, the Blue Jackets are languishing in fifth place in the Eastern Conference playoff standings at the All-Star break.
The way the roster is currently constructed, the Blue Jackets will have to rely heavily on their superb goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, and solid defensive play to have any shot of advancing past the first round of the playoffs. Adding a prolific goal scorer like Grabner to the lineup could allow them to move up the playoff standings and secure home ice-advantage. Both goals are very obtainable, but the latter could transform the Blue Jackets into a legit Stanley Cup contender this spring.
Kings Looking to Make a Move at the Trade Deadline
The Los Angeles Kings are currently an uninvited guest to the Stanley Cup playoff party as they sit ninth in the Western Conference overall standings. In the past, the Kings have shown to be inclined to part with high draft picks for the right player who can generate the kind of energy needed to get them back to the playoffs. The Kings acquired Marian Gaborik from the Blue Jackets at the 2014 trade deadline as he provided timely goal scoring that help capture the franchise’s second Stanley Cup championship.
Right now, they have no shot of improving their playoff situation without acquiring a bonafide goal scorer because the Kings have struggled to score goals all season. Acquiring Grabner would boost the Kings lackluster offense and get them back in the chase for a division crown.
Most acquisitions at the trade deadline tend to be role players that will strengthen a position or speciality unit, but sometimes, an organization will make a bold move that becomes the talk of the league. If the Rangers are going to move Grabner before or at the trade deadline, then he’s likely going to a contender as a rental. It’s Gorton’s job to gauge the market to see which team is willing to mortgage their future for a chance at immortality.
Thomas Conroy covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Hockey Writers Network He has been writing about sports since 2007, first as a contributor for Bleacher Report and Football Nation. Recently, Conroy was a co-editor for the Bolts Beat website on Fansided. To read more his work, please him on Twitter @tsconroy