The speedy Austrian veteran had fallen out of favor with the New York Islanders, but he’ll get a chance to make a new impression with the Maple Leafs. In return, the Isles get five prospects with varying degrees of upside.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have stockpiled veterans on tryout contracts for the upcoming season, but now you can add another well-known name via trade: Michael Grabner. The New York Islanders unloaded the speedy Austrian on the Leafs in exchange for prospects Matt Finn, Carter Verhaeghe, Chris Gibson, Taylor Beck and Tom Nilsson.
So what’s up with this trade?
From the Maple Leafs’ perspective, Grabner is a fast player with plenty of NHL experience and he can help out on the penalty kill thanks to his wheels. In a more cynical sense, the left winger – who was a healthy scratch for 13 of New York’s final 18 games, including playoffs – is on the final year of a contract that comes with a $3 million cap hit. He’s as low-risk an acquisition as you can get: If Grabner rediscovers the form that made him a 34-goal scorer in his first season with New York, then the Leafs win. If Toronto doesn’t want to re-sign the 27-year-old past this campaign, they can deal him at the deadline for a future asset (I’m going off the assumption that the Leafs will be sellers this spring; we’re all on the same page here, right?).
In the meantime, Toronto shed a net of four contracts in the swap, giving the team greater flexibility heading into training camp, which includes tryout hopefuls such as Brad Boyes, Curtis Glencross and Devin Setoguchi. NHL teams are only allowed 50 contracts at a time and the Leafs were pushing the limit before this deal.
From New York’s perspective, Grabner had tumbled down the depth chart (injuries didn’t help) and the Isles have a lot of young forwards who have earned bigger roles for this season. In return, the Isles can take a look at five prospects of varying promise.
Matt Finn is the biggest name, since the defenseman was a high second-round pick in 2012 and helped the Guelph Storm to a berth in the Memorial Cup final two years ago. But he has yet to establish himself as a two-way defender in the AHL and had just three points in 28 games for the Marlies, while also getting demoted to ECHL Orlando for eight games.
Carter Verhaeghe was the most surprising name to me, since the Niagara IceDogs center is coming off back-to-back 82-point campaigns to close out his OHL career. The kid has great offensive skills and is just beginning his pro career. I’m speculating, but perhaps he was the key to the deal for New York.
The Isles also get a goalie in Gibson (he’ll have an uphill battle against Kevin Poulin and Stephon Williams for an AHL job), stay-at-home D-man Tom Nilsson and big left winger Taylor Beck – who may not warrant the “prospect” tag anymore since he spent all year in Nashville, though with a small impact (so he’s still kind of a tweener). None of the five players cracked Toronto’s top 10 in our Future Watch issue, though Finn was No. 2 the year before. The Leafs have been one of the poorest teams in Future Watch’s overall rankings for several years now.
In essence, the Leafs have more flexibility now, while the Isles ditch a $3 million cap hit and get to peruse some kids in need of a second chance. I won’t say “everybody wins,” but no one loses, that’s for sure.
(Edited to include more detail on Taylor Beck.)