Michael Grabner

Michael Grabner reflects on his path to the NHL

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There’s a sizable group of players who hope to prove that their breakthrough 2010-11 seasons weren’t flukes, even if many of them already cashed in on their first “hit” seasons. Joel Ward, Teddy Purcell and Sean Bergenheim are just a few of the guys who face the tough task of putting on an encore performance and justifying a significant pay raise, but one of the most interesting cases is that of New York Islanders speedster Michael Grabner.

The Islanders made a significant investment in Grabner, signing him to a five-year, $15 million deal on the heels of a 34-goal season in which he finished as one of the three finalists for the Calder Trophy. Grabner’s 2010-11 season went from rough (being traded by the Vancouver Canucks) to humiliating (being waived by the Florida Panthers and picked up by the Islanders) to a stunning success.

Perhaps it was a mere coincidence, but it almost seemed like Grabner’s runaway victory during the 2011 NHL All-Star Game’s fastest skater competition was a coming out party for the speedy sniper. Grabner’s split stats certainly make a case that something changed once 2011 rolled around. After scoring five goals and 11 points in 32 games from October through December 2010, Grabner scored 26 goals and 41 points in 44 games from January to April 2011. John Blanchette elaborates on Grabner’s hot streak.

The early going was still a struggle – the Islanders lost 14 in a row at one point – but he was invited to the SuperSkills competition at the NHL All-Star game in January and won the fastest skater event. And as his ice time grew, so did his impact. Starting in mid-January, he scored 16 goals in a month – including 10 in a stunning six-game stretch. He finished with a rookie-high 34 goals, which earned him third place in the Calder Trophy voting – and that hefty contract.

It might be easy to summarize Grabner’s journey to the NHL through the dramatic highs and lows of his previous season, but Blanchette points out that Grabner struggled in his first year out of Austria with the Spokane Chiefs, something the winger discussed during the team’s training camp.

Grabner was a Chiefs rookie, their first Austrian import, in 2004 who suffered a broken collarbone in his first Western Hockey League shift. It was the job of Kevin Sawyer – then an assistant but himself a former Chief with NHL experience – to skate him back into shape.

“And Michael seriously thought Kevin was trying to kill him,” recalled Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz with a laugh – perhaps hearing Sawyer’s impression of Grabner’s thickly accented moans in his head. “He couldn’t believe it. He wanted to go home.

“But every player has to go through some kind of adjustment here and that was Michael’s – the competitive adjustment. I think he was the best player in Austria – he could skate away from or catch anybody – but he wasn’t ready to be a competitive player like the Canadians who grow up playing bantam and midget hockey in an intense environment.”

Ultimately, Grabner’s career took off the same way his 2010-11 season erupted: with a goal-scoring spree. It’s difficult to say if he will remain a dangerous scorer through the life of his contract. On the bright side, he’s only 23 years old and his shooting percentage (14.9 pct.) wasn’t outrageously high last season. That number will likely go down to somewhere around 10-12 percent next season, but if he keeps firing shots on net (228 in 76 games in 10-11) he should be able to flirt with the 25+ goal mark when healthy. On the other hand, he still has a way to go before he’s a complete player and one season of strong work makes a five-year contract seem like a scary risk.

Either way, Grabner’s faced some turmoil already in his career, so it’s reasonable think that he can shake off a setback or two during the next five seasons.

McLellan calls out ‘red-rotten’ performances after loss in Philly

Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan stands on the bench behind Connor McDavid, left, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins during the second period of a pre-season NHL hockey game against the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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The Oilers blew a pair of two-goal leads in last night’s 6-5 loss to the Flyers and, not surprisingly, head coach Todd McLellan wasn’t happy with a number of performances.

“If you score five, you should be able to win,” McLellan said on Friday, per the Oilers’ Twitter account. “There were some individuals who were red-rotten.”

It’s not hard to speculate who McLellan was referring to.

Defenseman Oscar Klefbom scored his fourth goal of the year, but was on the ice for five of Philly’s six goals, and finished minus-4. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was minus-3 with three giveaways, and went scoreless.

McLellan was also displeased with his club’s lack of discipline.

“One of the things we didn’t want to do was put them on the power play, and we put them on the power play continually,” he said following the game, per NHL.com. “Whether they score or not — I thought our penalty-killers did a tremendous job, [but the Flyers] gain a lot of momentum and energy and belief off of that.”

Rookie Jesse Puljujarvi took a hooking and holding penalty in a 10-minute span in the first period. The Flyers were unable to capitalize on either power play opportunity, but did seem to generate some energy — as McLellan alluded to — and Puljujarvi was a virtual non-factor for the remainder of the night, finishing with just 7:51 TOI.

The Oilers are back in action tonight in Minnesota, and are still atop the Pacific Division, so there’s hardly a feeling of panic. That said, they have surrendered 10 goals in their last two games.

Related: McDavid accuses ‘classless’ Manning of injuring him on purpose

Darryl Sutter was none too pleased with the Kings last night

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 22:  Darryl Sutter of the Los Angeles Kings reacts as Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks is awarded a penalty shot during the second period of Game Five of the Western Conference First Round in the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on April 22, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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For the third time this season, the Los Angeles Kings got a bunch of days off, then played like “horse(bleep).”

That was the conclusion their coach, Darryl Sutter, reached after last night’s 3-1 loss to Carolina at Staples Center. The Kings hadn’t played since Sunday, and Sutter didn’t think his players used their time off too wisely.

The transcript of Sutter’s post-game press conference, via L.A. Kings Insider:

… it’s disappointing because it’s the third time this year we’ve had three days between games, and that first game after the three days we’ve been, for lack of a better word, [road apples]. Go back to Philly-Minnesota, San Jose the last time they played in here, and this one here. Our top guys were not very efficient out there maximizing what their God gave ‘em. [Reporter: Is that because they’re taking things for granted, you think?] No, I don’t think that’s the right word. I think the word would be ‘using the time properly to prepare to be a great competitor.’

The Kings’ record fell to 13-11-2 with the loss. They’re currently fifth in the Pacific Division, though at least they have games in hand on the leaders from Alberta:

standings

Of course, nobody has to tell Kings fans that the postseason is no guarantee. Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup in 2014, then missed the playoffs in 2015.

This season, if the Oilers are for real and the Flames can maintain their recent momentum, it’s going to be a real dogfight for the top three spots in the division. Even the Canucks, who’ve earned points in nine of their last 14, aren’t out of it yet.

The Kings’ next game is tomorrow at home to Ottawa.

No hearing for Price after punching Palmieri with blocker

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Montreal netminder Carey Price won’t be subjected to supplemental discipline after unloading on Devils forward Kyle Palmieri, an NHL spokesman has confirmed.

The incident in question occurred with 18 seconds left in the first period of Montreal’s 5-2 win on Thursday. Price, visibly upset following Palmieri’s net drive, repeatedly punched the New Jersey forward in the midsection with his blocker.

Price received a pair of roughing minors on the play but, as several people pointed out, he could’ve been slapped with a match penalty, based on rule 51.3:

Match Penalty – If, in the judgment of the Referee, a goalkeeper uses his blocking glove to punch an opponent in the head or face in an attempt to or to deliberately injure an opponent, a match penalty must be assessed.

Price didn’t appear to strike Palmieri in the head or face, and the “deliberately injure” part is pretty subjective. Which is why some thought this could rise to the level of a disciplinary hearing.

The Habs ‘tender said he had no regrets about going after Palmieri.

“I got run on the first goal and I wasn’t going to take another one,” Price said, per the Montreal Gazette. “I got fired up, I guess. I’m going to stick up for myself now.

“It seems to be the nature of the league, to go hard to the net, run the goalie and score the goal. You have to stick up for yourself once in a while.”

For the second time this season, Stars activate Hudler off IR

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 28: Jiri Hudler #24 of the Calgary Flames looks on during an NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 28, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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The Dallas Stars have activated winger Jiri Hudler off injured reserve.

Again.

Hudler has only played four games this season. He was in the lineup for the Stars’ first two games, then missed five with an undisclosed illness. He returned to play twice more, on Oct. 29 and Nov. 1, but has been out ever since due to the same illness.

“I think now it’s just all about conditioning,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said earlier this week, per the Dallas Morning News. “He’s missed a tremendous amount of time, but he’s got a good week ahead of him here. I don’t know where he’ll be by the end of the week, but I think we can get him five real good days and we’ll see by the weekend where he’s at.”

The Stars play in Philadelphia tomorrow afternoon, then travel to Chicago for a game Sunday evening.

Hudler, 32, is with Dallas on a one-year, $2 million contract. He has yet to register his first point with the Stars.

To make room on the roster, Jason Dickinson was returned to the AHL.