Recently unemployed winger Michael Grabner will experience the worst free-agent market in NHL history on Friday, days after the blazingly fast winger became a buyout casualty of the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday. Grabner cleared waivers Sunday and will be free for any team, including the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Just two seasons ago, the winger signed a three-year, $10.05 million deal with Arizona. However, that organization is behind on arena payments and desperately seeking offense.
Grabner, 32, played in only 87 games over the past two seasons and scored only 27 points combined. This season, Grabner played in 46 games with only 11 points (8g, 3a).
“This was simply a hockey decision. Michael is an incredible person and a beloved teammate,” new GM Bill Armstrong said. “He is the consummate professional, and we appreciate everything he’s done for the Coyotes organization.”
Grabner will join the crowded and growing list of available players who can find a new home beginning Friday. He has long been the object of desire for Penguins fans. Grabner isn’t just fast. He’s faster than the fast players.
An NHL scout spoke with the National Hockey Now family and cautioned against Grabner.
“He can still skate. He does have enough left in the tank,” the scout said. “…He’s a specialty player, a fourth-line guy who can kill penalties. But he’s soft and doesn’t battle and doesn’t have finish,” the scout said. “He’s a Band-Aid player. He has one or two years left.”
Blunt and real.
Grabner is far removed from his 52-point rookie season with the New York Islanders in 2011-12, and his 40-point season with the New York Rangers in 2016-17.
Since the Rangers traded Grabner to New Jersey at the trade deadline in 2018, his offense has been desert dry. He scored just five points in 21 games with New Jersey and followed that with two seasons of offensive ineffectiveness in Arizona.
Grabner for the Penguins?
But should the Penguins show up at his door with candy and flowers when free agency begins on Friday?
The Penguins have a need for penalty killing, depth at forward, and could use a player with big-game experience. Grabner was part of the Rangers core, which was a beast of the East before the Penguins knocked them off in 2016.
Grabner checks a lot of boxes for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but money is a premium. The Penguins are likely to say goodbye to Dominik Simon because they don’t have the funds.
After the Penguins trade of Patric Hornqvist, the Penguins’ bottom-six forwards are already sans offense. Yet another soft stick wouldn’t improve the Penguins in the ways they truly need.
But Grabner would be an upgrade over Colton Sceviour, Anthony Angello, or Sam Lafferty.
After GM Jim Rutherford signed goalie Tristan Jarry to a three-year, $10.5 million deal, the Penguins have about $2.6 million left to sign RFA forwards Lafferty and Angello. That expected cost will total about $1.8 million, and the Penguins will be done.
Could the Penguins improve by signing Grabner? Absolutely, but the price is unlikely to fit their budget. Grabner would be a significant upgrade over Angello, who could then find himself in WBS.
Grabner’s speed could take defensemen wide and create space in the middle of the ice. In theory, the Penguins could easily bury Angello with the WBS Penguins and have about $1 million to spend elsewhere.
But, Grabner will sign for more than $1 million. He is better than Lafferty and Angello, but the numbers and situation don’t work for the Penguins or Grabner, at least as the team is constituted on Sunday night.
As defensive forward Zach Aston-Reese recovers from surgery, Grabner would be a welcome addition. If the Pittsburgh Penguins happen to find a few million dollars and are indeed allowed to spend that money, Grabner would be an ideal fit. However, for now, it’s a no.