Michael Grabner Was Supposed to Regress – What Happened

It’s something many of us know-it-all number crunchers said: Michael Grabner simply wouldn’t be able to score this year the way he did last year. It tied into laments about the state of the forward corps, the fact that the Rangers didn’t offload him to a real contender (or some wannabe) at the deadline for a million first round picks, and came with an air of certainty often attributed to smugness by those less inclined to numbers. Well, it’s safe to say us spreadsheet samurai were wrong, and Michael Grabner is at least so far putting on a repeat performance. So what’s going on there?

First of all let me just say this – I’m happy to be wrong, and I’d imagine I speak for pretty much all of us in that regard. Nonetheless, it is something of a curiosity, because last year he finished the season with an individual shooting percentage (at even strength too, so no shorthanded or empty net situations inflating the numbers here) of 16.28%. To put it a little bit more intuitively, he was getting a goal more than every ten shots, which, even by Alain Vigneault standards, is high.

In terms of actual goals and assists, he had 21 of the former and 8 of the latter for a total 29 points and, astoundingly, only two of those points was a secondary assists. Normalized for ice time, his primary points per 60 minutes (although I suppose you could just do points per 60 anyways, because of how many of those were primary points) was a rock solid 1.8 – basically if you left him on ice all game he’d put up at least one and closer to two points. That’s uh, pretty good.

This year he’s been a scoring machine as well, and that’d not even getting into his prolific empty net scoring, one of the quirkiest fun facts in the modern NHL (just for comparison’s sake, the only Ranger with more empty netters over the course of his career is Mark Messier, with 11 to Grabner’s 10). He’s got 7 goals and 2 assists, and again, an incredibly high ratio of primary points to overall points – just one of those points is a secondary assist (and remember, this is all 5v5). He’s scoring at a rate of 1.52 primary points per 60 minutes, so even if he’s “regressing” as all of us nerdniks claimed he’s not regressing by much.

It’s also worth noting his shooting percentage – his individual shooting percentage is 15.91 percent – so it’s not really his scoring that’s keeping his numbers down. More likely, it’s his time on ice per game, which last year was 11.85 minutes at even strength per game and this year is 11.24. It’s not really a huge difference, but then again neither is the difference between 1.8 primary points per 60 and 1.52 primary points per 60, nor is the difference between a 16.28 shooting percentage and a 15.91 shooting percentage; basically if he were playing just a little bit more per game and getting a little bit luckier in that time he’d be putting up last year’s numbers.

As far as his underlying numbers go, they’re actually a little bit better this year. Last year he had a 44.84 CF% and a -4.21 relative CF%, where as this year his two most basic measures of how well things are going on ice are 46.25 and -1.85. Going a little bit deeper his xGF% last year was 46.83 and -3.39 relative, while this year it’s 48.21 and a marginally positive 0.23. This isn’t too much of a shock – he typically generates high quality chances, not volume.

For those a little less inclined to the numbers, who need a more concrete look at things, here’s Grabner’s goals from last year via hockeyviz.com (which you should all be patrons of so you can access these cool graphs and stuff showing every player’s goals and shots from like the past ten years – it’s only 5 dollars!).

And here’s this years so far.

It’s interesting actually – it appears he’s scoring less of those in-close, rush-based goals and actually shooting more from the outside. Imagine if he gets back on those odd-man rushes? Things could go from great to … great? I’m not sure how he could be more productive but if he were then look out. Even if the Rangers don’t make the playoffs this year, or, decide that they’re a little more “rebuild” and a little less “on the fly”, then they could take home a haul now that they’ve established he’s no fluke.

In the end these are happy problems to have – Michael Grabner was supposed to be a one-hit wonder, but actually has turned out to be the real deal (or at the very least a repeat performer). What’s going on there is hard to pin down exactly, but it speaks to the common understanding that Alain Vigneault’s teams typically score a lot of goals, and along with that have high shooting percentages. One thing is clear – he hasn’t regressed.