Leafs acquire Michael Grabner for five players

The Toronto Maple Leafs just got a little bit faster today, acquiring Michael Grabner from the New York Islanders for Taylor Beck, Carter Verhaeghe, Matt Finn, Christopher Gibson, and Tom Nilsson.

Going Out

The package being sent out seems straight out of an EA Sports game; a full dump of contracts to get as far away from the 50-man limit as possible. None of the above players were likely to make the Leafs this year, with Beck being the closest yet still a long shot, but all of them counted towards signed contracts.

The biggest name of the bunch was Matt Finn, who we had as our twentieth-ranked prospect in our rankings this year, after previously finishing second in 2014. To quickly summarize, Finn had a season that involved multiple injuries and significant struggle to keep up with the professional game. He shouldn’t be entirely written off at this point, as a healthy year could push him back in the right direction, but he’s become a longer term project in an organization that is filled with them.

Christopher Gibson is an interesting person to be in this package. If you go back three months, Leafs Assistant GM Kyle Dubas was declaring the starting job for the Toronto Marlies one that Gibson had to lose, and it’s not hard to see why. After a shaky start, the 22-year-old native of Karkkila, Finland put up a 0.921 save percentage through 45 games, becoming the team’s top goaltender come playoff time. With that said, both Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau have been breathing down his neck, and might possibly be better goaltenders, which ultimately made Gibson a bit expendable.

Tom Nilsson is a defensive defenceman who the Leafs had some hopes for, but was far back in the depth chart. In 44 games with the Marlies last year, he put up six points and played on the penalty kill. His most frequent linemates were fellow countrymen Viktor Loov and Petter Granberg.

Carter Verhaeghe was probably the furthest away of the bunch, having finished his final year in the OHL this year, scoring 82 points in 68 games with the Niagara IceDogs. This put him in 13th place in league points, 24th on a per-game basis. Prospect Cohort Success (PCS) numbers projected him at having 15.91% chance of playing 200 career NHL games based on his performance last year.

Lastly, you have Taylor Beck. The Leafs acquired him in June for Jamie Devane, and traded him before he could play his first game. You have to feel a little bad for the St. Catherines native, who was very excited to wear the blue and white and won’t get the opportunity, but this is how the business works.

Coming In

The Leafs pick up Michael Grabner, who might just be the fastest hockey player on the planet. Nobody is quite sure how the 6’0, 185 lb gentleman from Villach, Austria does it, but his acceleration and top speed is some of the best that the league has seen. Sadly, his elite speed doesn’t come with elite talent to match, but he’s still a quality hockey player.

Grabner’s career started with the Vancouver Canucks, who drafted him 14th overall in 2006. He put up solid offensive numbers with the Manitoba Moose in his first few years of professional hockey, and once he made the jump to the NHL, picked up five goals and six assists in his first 20 games. The Canucks didn’t feel they required the scoring depth, however, and traded him to the Florida Panthers in a large deal to acquire Keith Ballard (whooops).

Despite the move, Grabner never ended up playing with the Panthers, who placed him on waivers for the New York Islanders to claim. Florida’s loss ended up being New York’s Gain, as the 23-year-old scored 34 goals in his first full season to earn himself a 5-year, $15 million contract. Now 27, Grabner hasn’t been able to repeat the magic since, having scored no more than 32 points in any of his remaining, often injury shortened seasons. Grabner started last year out with sports hernia surgery, and finished it with a groin injury, limiting him to 34 regular season games and 13 points.

Grabner’s rate numbers are better than his row ones, though. Last year, he finished 6th among Islanders forwards with 350+ minutes played at even strength, averaging 1.95 points per sixty minutes – higher than any member of the Leafs. At 1.72 points/sixty over the last four seasons, Grabner has been a consistent contributor to his team, putting up offensive numbers similar to Mikhail Grabovski.

As far as driving play, Grabner was a bit below the possession curve of his teammates last year, but typically comes out pretty even to the grain. These numbers are impressive given the circumstances; the Islanders use him more than others in the defensive zone, thanks to his ability to rush the puck out. This should lead to more opportunities against him and fewer chances to score, but he does a good job cancelling out the adversity.


Michael Grabner isn’t going to be a superstar for the Leafs by any means, but he becomes yet another option for the team up front. He’s capable of playing in defensive situations, can contribute to the penalty kill, and when he’s on his game, is one of the most entertaining players in hockey. With one year left on his contract, the Leafs could easily move him at the deadline, or perhaps retain him at a probable paycut. It also pushes the Leafs closer and closer to the Salary Cap; a good thing, as it gives them actual benefit to placing Nathan Horton on Long Term Injured Reserve.

It does sting, to an extent, to lose so many prospects, but the team has done an incredible job at loading up the cupboards over the past few months. Shipping out this many bodies gives them a lot more flexibility when it comes to signing players to NHL deals over the next few weeks (for example, any of the PTOs), and in the long term, probably maximizes both the amount of assets and the quality of assets that the Leafs will pick up in the long term.

Overall, its a shrewd move by the staff that likely makes the team better both now and eventually.

  • FlareKnight

    It’s another losing trade, but at least this time we didn’t gift the other side a draft pick on top of it all.

    You add a guy who isn’t likely to be here past this season so isn’t much of a concern and free up some contracts. A shame that they threw away that many prospects and couldn’t get anything for the future, but oh well.

    At least it wasn’t anyone all that important.

      • Jeremy Ian

        Grabner is not going to garner a 1st rounder and even if it were a second rounder to lose Finn, Gibson and Verhaeghe? You have to be kidding me.

        What kind of trade is this…. These were decent prospects.

  • FlareKnight

    Love this signing and direction the team is moving in! Next up of under-achieving leaf players to move out; Tyler Bozak. (If they can get a 2nd or a 3rd they fleeced the other team)

    • FlareKnight

      If the Leafs couldn’t get a second the entire offseason….they aren’t getting one now after moving Kessel. Be lucky if they can move Bozak at all without giving a gift the other way to make the other team bite.

  • silentbob

    If they needed the breathing space in regards the contracts, I can see the reason for this, but did they?

    Not happy to see Finn or Gibson go for a guy who is most likely trade bait.

  • silentbob

    I’m not quite sure how I feel about this move but at first sight its more negative feelings than positive. So many pieces moved out, and young ones at that, for a replacement level player who is oft-injuried the past few years.

    Seems like a less expensive Lupul.

    • Jeremy Ian

      Not sure any of those prospects were ever really going to make the team, so why not try re-stocking? A less expensive Lupul — just to stick with your comp — is a more tradable Lupul. Isn’t that the point?

      • Kanuunankuula

        You cannot trade an asset that doesn’t play because he is injured, regardless of his cap hit. And if he is oft-injuried that’s no longer an asset.

        I certainly hope he does have a successful season and can be moved for youth or picks.

  • silentbob

    Best case scenario he hits 20-25 goals and we ship him out for assets.

    I don’t love this move, it’s pretty risky but he does have the potential to notch 20 goals and grab us a 1st round pick (likely from Nashville…just because) by the deadline.

  • silentbob

    I’m digging this asset management. Remember everyone over values their own prospects. I’m sure the due diligence was done and they thought these guys were simply worth flipping for Grabner there’s a lot of very long shots in that group. Grabber in the right situation could fetch a 2nd maybe more at deadline.
    It also allows for these PTO’s to be signed who could also fetch more valuable assets at the deadline.
    Realistically none of the guys traded would fetch more than a 3rd on there own. So they effectively have more value in the organisation as a whole.

    Now watch me be completely wrong.

    • magesticRAGE

      Lol, I don’t think you’ll be wrong. Beck was the only one I could see sticking in the NHL with any type of consistency. Grabner will bring back a good return, and this coming draft looks to be good.

      This totally has Hunter/Lamo DNA all over it.

  • Gary Empey

    Not sure why anyone would think this is a bad trade.

    Most commonly known trade theory states the team that gets the best player wins.

    Add in the fact that Grabner is a legit NHL’er, the guys that were trade are not.

  • Gary Empey

    I like Grabner’s speed and the fact he can play the PK.

    Out of Taylor Beck, Carter Verhaeghe, Matt Finn, Christopher Gibson, and Tom Nilsson, Gibson is the most difficult one to predict the future.

    With our prospect pool so strong and many more on the way this trade makes good sense for both the Leafs and for the young players involved.

  • Kanuunankuula

    I’m not Dangle, but trading a finnish goalie, hasn’t worked out for us in the past. Goalies are voodoo, I think Gibson is the one that’s gonna bite us in the ass.

    • Gary Empey

      What you says is very true. The problem the Leafs had with Gibson is where to play him. It really would have been unfair to send him back to the ECHL. Also it looks like the Leafs may want to send Lucas Peressini there,

  • SEER

    Quite the whack of players going back.. Hope he proves to stay healthy and continue here with a solid performance… Thought that they would have asked for a pick or two for 2016, though..?

    Taylor Beck… Thought he had some promise for us..
    Kinda surprised that they flipped him so quick..

    Carter Verhaeghe .. The one I will miss the most.. I thought he had a lot of promise, but I also have to admit that in the 2014 & 2015 Rookie Tournies, that he seemed a little timid at times.. and failed to bring it..

    Matt Finn.. Really wanted him to step up this season, but after a dismal Rookie Tournie.. and not really developing very fast, it wasn’t a surprise..

    Christopher Gibson… I like him, but I really don’t see a lot of future ceiling with him, either.. I think that Bibeau will be a much better NHL goalie.. Sparks I hope too, but he still has to prove himself in the AHL.. and keep his nose clean..

    Tom Nilsson…. I saw a lot of promise with this guy, too, as a solid defensive d-man.., but as with Verhaghe & Beck, you have to give something to get something.. The others don’t concern me that much..


    –> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRWcsfw0ZOM

    • magesticRAGE

      I hear you, but if all the PTO’s stick, they may each be worth a 2nd or 3rd each, which is worth more than giving up prospects that may clog up the rebuild. I believe only Finn was drafted in the 2nd round.

      Heck, if Grabner is loved enough, Leaf’s may pull another Winnik move, and bring him back.

      • SEER

        I doubt that all will stick… Maybe two out of three..? Yes… I agree… More picks coming at deadline day…Where a player is drafted means a lot less to me, than most others…, because isn’t always indicative of how they will develop.. (just look at Bigg’s for an example… and Doug Gilmour, who was passed over in his first draft.. and then drafted in the 7th round (#134) in his second draft…).

        I think a play for Moulson might come at some point… and then the two of them could talk to Johnny T. about coming back to the promised land.. : )

  • Leafydudetwitter

    Don’t think of this trade in simply what went out and came back. Think of another 4 pto signings or other pro contracts. So… Grabner, plus 4 additional contracts (that cost only money) at the “pro” level, for 5 middling prospects. I do that all day.

  • SEER

    Once upon a time the Vancouver Canuckleheads drafted a young speedster from Austria named Michael Grabner. A former G.M., some bum of the month club named Dave Nonis drafted him. While this young speedster from day one seemed to be in the Canucklehead dog house. Before a game one evening he fell over a soccer ball he was kicking around in the concourse out side the dressing room and he broke his ankle.

    Well the Canucks dealt him to Florida for a bum defenceman in return.

    The Panthers decided that they would simply put him on waivers, now G.M.’s throughout the league knew he was available for a bag of pucks. BUT NOOOOO NOT NONIS, NOSIREE THIS MORON OF A G.M. didn’t trade him for a stick boy and let the Islanders get him on waivers. NOW WE GIVE UP FIVE PROSPECTS and the mindless posters in here simply want to deal off this talented player. Yeah yeah, yeah he has had a bit of Lupleitis.

    But the fact that leaf management gave up 5 prospects when a couple of years ago a bag of jock straps wouuld have gotten him shows how hopeless leaf management truly has been. In fact that’s exactly it, a bunch of has been management people have run this organization into the ground. We shall see if the New Guiness World record of executives prove to be any better.