Among the Flyers’ top free agent needs is penalty kill help, speed, and adding scoring to the bottom six. And luckily for Ron Hextall, there’s one free agent on the market this year that can provide all three: Michael Grabner.
Not only is Grabner one of the NHL’s fastest skaters, but he’s also scored 27 goals in each of the last two seasons while being an ace penalty killer, something the Flyers could dearly use to aid their 29th-ranked penalty kill from a year ago. The 30-year-old (31 on October 5th) had three short-handed goals and four short handed assists in the last two seasons; by comparison, the Flyers as a team had just three short handed goals last season, tied for second worst in the league.
Grabner would easily slot into the Flyers’ third or fourth line, depending on what other moves Ron Hextall makes, and definitely one of the top penalty kill unto given their struggles the last few years.
He’ll be due for a raise on the $1.65 million cap hit he carried over the last two years, but likely won’t break the bank all that much given he’s not a top-line winger and, outside of goal scoring and penalty killing, doesn’t bring much else to the table. He’s hasn’t been a strong possession player over the last few years with sub 45% Corsi For metrics, but it didn’t much matter as he was +5 goals at 5-on-5 last year and +12 the year before. With the Flyers’ 5-on-5 play much-improved over the last season, adding another solid even strength skater like Grabner would add some needed balance to the bottom six.
Still not convinced Grabner isn’t a great fit for the Flyers? Here’s three reasons why he’d be a perfect fit in free agency.
1. Penalty killing
As we’ve covered here at BSH over the past year, the Flyers’ penalty kill under Ian Laperierre has been awful for the last few seasons. In fact, besides his first season at the helm of the penalty kill it’s never been better than 20th in the league since.
While the Flyers’ penalty killing woes could (likely) be traced back to the man running it, adding a top-tier penalty killer like Grabner could help steer things in the right direction on the ice. At the very least, he’d be better than what the Flyers have offered in the past few years and can pot a shorthanded goal here and there, something that we haven’t seen much of lately.
The Flyers’ penalty kill absolutely kept them from being better than they could have been a year ago, and adding a player like Grabner would only help in their biggest problem area at the moment.
If you watched the Flyers for even a couple periods this past season you would know that they weren’t exactly the fastest team in the league. Sure there is some serious speed, with Jake Voracek, Travis Konecny, Claude Giroux, Scott Laughton, and Nolan Patrick (after December, that is), but other than that there were some serious plodders like Michael Raffl, the injured Wayne Simmonds, Jori Lehtera, and Valtteri Filppula.
Addition by subtraction will likely help a lot here this summer if Filppula signs elsewhere and Laughton is promoted, but adding Grabner’s speed to the bottom six to help balance out guys like Raffl and Lehtera could go a long way to help them not get crushed at 5-on-5. His speed on the forecheck could also help create and start offense, much like we saw from the Golden Knights during their run to the Stanley Cup final.
3. Depth scoring
Depth has been a key word for Ron Hextall since the season ended, and while the general manager and fans alike want to add depth to the bottom six, it still has to be quality depth. And by quality I mean production, like not what the Flyers’ bottom six brought to the table last season.
The revolving door of Raffl, Jordan Weal, Dale Weise, Jori Lehtera, and Matt Read didn’t give the Flyers enough production to supplement the all-world production they got from the likes of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Jake Voracek up top. Adding Grabner to the mix should help fill in the scoring gaps and make the Flyers a more dangerous team when the big guns aren’t out on the ice.
Grabner feels like a perfect fit for the Flyers in free agency this year. He would address several needs that the Flyers have and likely won’t be priced out of Hextall’s market given that he’d like to stay away from long-term, big money contracts.
Nobody knows exactly how things will fall come tomorrow, but adding Michael Grabner would be a nice win for the Flyers on the open market.