Isles winger Michael Grabner is slated to be a healthy scratch for tonight’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, in what may be seen as a loss of confidence in him from the coaching staff.
Grabner has been characterized by a maddening combination of skill and inconsistency throughout his five-year career, the last four of which have been with the Islanders. Claimed off waivers in 2010 Grabner came into New York with a bang, scoring 34 goals and 52 points. The next season he dropped to 20 and 32, then 16 and five over 45 games in last year’s shortened season. This year he got off to a hot start, scoring a pair of goals on opening night and totalling eight points in his first seven games. He then served a two-game suspension for a hit on Carolina’s Nathan Gerbe, and hasn’t recorded a single point in the twelve games since his return.
A former 14th overall draft selection by Vancouver in 2006, Grabner is unquestionably a highly skilled player. He has a good first step, blazing speed and an incredibly soft touch around the net. Unfortunately for the Isles, he rarely brings all of that together at the same time. All things considered it could be said that he has been given plenty of leeway upon his return; few top six forwards would be afforded such a lengthy scoring slump without some sort of repercussions.
Grabner has spent much of the past few seasons bouncing up and down the roster, in an attempt to find chemistry with a regular line. His speed is reminiscent of former Islander Randy Wood, who was known for having a fifth gear but lacking the scoring touch to go with it. Grabner has no such restriction in terms of his shot, but hasn’t yet found linemates with which he can work consistently and successfully.
Grabner missed just fifteen games over his first four seasons on Long Island, but as inconsistent as he sometimes is his production has never dipped to this level before.
As for what the benching could mean for Grabner’s future with the Isles, that is a matter of pure, baseless conjecture. It’s far too soon to speculate any further on what may very well be a non-issue – a simple wakeup call for a struggling player looking to re-establish himself among the Isles top six. And one game hardly signals the end of a player’s tenure with his team, especially one which has at times been nearly as inconsistent as Grabner himself.
With that said, the team, outside the core, has little that would procure much of value in a trade. Grabner could be the exception to that rule with his high-end skills package. At 26 he should be just entering his prime years. At various times this writer has suggested it might be in everyone’s best interests to move him to another team, perhaps in the more free-flowing Western Conference, where his speed and skill might have a chance to shine more brightly than in the closer-checking East. Depending on the situation it might be an opportunity to bring a second pairing two-way defender to New York.