Target of Opportunity: Chris Gratton

Jonathan Willis
December 08 2008 01:31PM

Chris Gratton has played 18 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season. In those 18 games, he’s managed two assists, and put up a -3 rating. On the surface, it makes total sense that today he finds himself placed on waivers, along with fellow teammate Radim Vrbata.

Unlike Vrbata, Chris Gratton is in the final year of his contract –- a contract that pays him $1.25 million this season. Also unlike Vrbata, the Oilers should claim Gratton off of waivers.

This no doubt seems a little bit nonsensical, but I’ll explain. Looking at Gratton, the first number that jumps out is size; 6’4” and 225 lbs of it. He isn’t afraid to use it either. Even though Gratton has only played 8:07 per night at even-strength (13th among Lightning forwards), he’s thrown 33 hits; the second-highest rate on the team.

The next number that comes to mind is face-offs. Gratton has won 112 of the 180 face-offs he’s taken –- 62.2 per cent. With face-offs being a bit of an issue for this team (particularly on the penalty kill), Gratton could add some ability to the line-up. He’s also a key part of Tampa Bay’s penalty kill, averaging 2:37 a night short-handed. With the Oilers PK mired in 29th place in the league, some new personnel could certainly help matters out.

As for his rather ugly Corsi number (outshot 100-83 on average), there’s a simple explanation for that. Gratton has started in his own end 79 times, as opposed to 32 times in the offensive zone. Whenever there was a critical defensive zone draw to be won, Gratton was Barry Melrose’s first choice –- and despite his success on draws, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it’s difficult to generate offense when being placed in that situation. This year, Gratton is scoring at a 0.82 PTS/60 pace. Last year, it was nearly double that –- 1.54 PTS/60 -– a very respectable number given how Gratton was being used.

I’m not saying that Gratton is a player who’s going to come in and save the team -– far from it. What Gratton can do is come in and solidify a fourth line that all too often has looked lacklustre. He can add some size and physical presence to a line-up that all too often looks to need it. He can win face-offs, and help out on the penalty-kill; two areas the Oilers have struggled in.

The point is that Gratton fits a team need. He’s in the last year of his contract, and is a low-risk pickup, and has a good chance at improving this hockey team. It won’t be a huge deal if the Oilers don’t pick him up, but I personally believe that a manager should never pass up an opportunity to address team weaknesses when it isn’t going to cost him anything. He’d certainly be a better fit on the fourth line than Jesse Boulerice or Tim Sestito, or even current roster players like Stortini and Reddox.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 The Towel Boy
December 08 2008, 01:39PM
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He can't be any worse than Boulerice.

I like the f/o stat and the PK usefulness.

Let's DOOOOO THIS!!!!

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#2 baggedmilk
December 08 2008, 01:49PM
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The Towel Boy wrote:

Let’s DOOOOO THIS!!!!

What TB said

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#3 Hockeysmack
December 08 2008, 01:53PM
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I agree with Towel Boy, although not as enthusiastically. Actually having someone that can win a faceoff is huge; factor in his size and experience, and I think this is a no-brainer. The club needs a little help, and this is a relatively cheap way to do it.

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#4 Jonathan Willis
December 08 2008, 02:00PM
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Hockeysmack wrote:

The club needs a little help, and this is a relatively cheap way to do it.

That's just it - this isn't going to move mountains, but it's a very cheap solution to an ongoing problem.

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#5 Antony Ta
December 08 2008, 02:03PM
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A stopgap solution for the no-Reasoner problem? If he's as good as you say he is on faceoffs, we have nothing to lose.

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#6 Hoodlum
December 08 2008, 02:06PM
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He also brings an aggressive edge, not that Stortini doesn't, but I don't think Stortini gets respect in the league for being a scrapper and with Macintyre out, I think Gratton is a more physical presence than Stortini, and teams might think twice about taking liberties against the Oilers. Or maybe he's a better hugger than Stortini. LET THE HUG OFF FOR THE 4TH LINE COMMENCE

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#7 oilerdago
December 08 2008, 02:14PM
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Antony hits a good point point a stop gap for Reasoner. It's not just the ability to win a face off it's also that ability to help on the PK (get the stick in a lane, block shots and win face offs). A physical presence is a nice plus as well so we don't need Stortini and Macintyre taking up space.

We all know that the transition from a muck and grind group to a more skilled team has left the PK soft, but let's not continue to rush out and solve one problem (while opening a whole raft of others).

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#8 Cam
December 08 2008, 02:18PM
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baggedmilk wrote:

The Towel Boy wrote: Let’s DOOOOO THIS!!!! What TB said

I agree completely

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#9 The Towel Boy
December 08 2008, 02:22PM
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Even if his utility was solely used in those critical faceoff situations he'd be worth it. Especially with this new power play faceoff rule this year.

MacT used to use Marty Sakic or Stoll for face offs and they'd come right off to the bench once posession was gained. That's slick.

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#10 Hoodlum
December 08 2008, 02:27PM
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@ oilerdago: I think we're eliminating several problems by signing him. Stortini or Macintyre wouldn't carry a basket full of pucks on any other team. We enjoy them because they are aggresive, but if 1 player can come in, win face offs, kill penalties and add a physical element, then the 4th line could really do without Stortini's 4 or 5 minutes a game. And your right, we're not trying to re-invent the wheel here, but on that 4th line the worth of the lesser players should be put into question when you add a guy like Gratton who also has the potential to put up decent numbers as well.

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#11 Jonathan Willis
December 08 2008, 02:41PM
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Gratton was 54.5% on the dot last year as well, so it isn't like his faceoff prowess came out of nowhere. It would be better for the team if he was a RH shot, as there are more LH than RH faceoff options on the team.

Still, it is an area of need, and unlike other faceoff aces (Yanic Perreault, for example), Gratton has a wide enough range of skills to not hurt his team.

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#12 Jonathan Willis
December 08 2008, 02:45PM
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The biggest negative here is Gratton's injury trouble - he's missed some time with an ankle injury, but if I understand the CBA correctly, that had to be cleared up before he could be waived.

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#13 Jonathan Willis
December 08 2008, 03:00PM
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Here's the relevant CBA quote, from pg. 69, article 13.6:

A Player who is otherwise required to clear Regular Waivers and who is injured while on an NHL club roster can be placed on Regular Waivers and Loaned to a minor league club prior to appropriate medical clearance being granted only if the Player was on NHL Recall at the time of injury and has not played ten (10) NHL Games (cumulative) or remained on the NHL roster for thirty (30 days (cumulative) since his Recall. Player shall recieve his Paragraph 1 NHL Salary and benefits until appropriate medical clearance is granted. All other Players may not be Loaned until appropriate medical clearance is granted. (bolding mine)

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#14 Sean
December 08 2008, 03:08PM
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Haha, I was just writing a post about this. Gratton above all is playing for a contract for next season and should be motivated to perform. And he adds the size element the Oilers still lack in.

His GFON/60 1.24 is about half his GAON/60 2.47 which is concerning even put in context.

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#15 Jonathan Willis
December 08 2008, 03:18PM
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Sean wrote:

His GFON/60 1.24 is about half his GAON/60 2.47 which is concerning even put in context.

I'm not too worried about it. The lack of offense is the issue, because 2.47 GAON/60 really isn't a bad number, especially given where and when Gratton's used. On the Oilers, that number would be ahead of regular forwards Moreau, Reddox, Gagner, Pisani and Stortini. That's half the team.

What is concerning is the lack of offense - 1.24 is a miserable number, but given Gratton's track record, I'm inclined to think of it as an aberration. Guy isn't an offensive dynamo, but he isn't close to being this bad.

The deciding factor is that even with his offense in the toilet, he's probably a better option than the majority of the guys that have rotated thru the Oilers' 4th line. Stortini, for example, has seen similar use (i.e. put in a place where careers go to die) but he hasn't even been on the ice for a goal for yet. Gratton's best comp on the team right now is probably as a meaner version of Brodziak - and the team can use that right now.

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#16 hockeysmack
December 08 2008, 03:31PM
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Personally I'm not too worried about the lack of offense; how much O are we getting from the 4th line anyways? Given the large number of small and/or soft forwards on the club, and that for a puck possession club, the Oil's inability to win a faceoff is a little problematic, I would say this helps out in those areas of need. While I liked what I saw from Brule, his size is a problem; another small player is not a good thing on this squad.

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#17 Jonathan Willis
December 08 2008, 04:06PM
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hockeysmack wrote:

While I liked what I saw from Brule, his size is a problem; another small player is not a good thing on this squad.

The other thing is that it's probably better for Brule's development to spend time on the 1st line in the AHL than the 4th line in the NHL right now.

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#18 greg
December 08 2008, 04:08PM
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looking for some clarity. i assume there is a selection order for teams when a player becomes available on waivers. Where does edmonton pick and does this order remain the same for the year?

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#19 nary a kurri
December 08 2008, 04:20PM
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Jonathan: can you report anything about Gratton's skating abilities these days? It's been a while since I've seen him play, and from what I recall he wasn't that quick even in his younger years. Might this be a significant concern in a faster conference, on a team that's trying to build with speed?

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#20 Fiveandagame
December 08 2008, 04:29PM
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Ya know....this aint all that bad of a deal...

I do however think that picking him up while not costing us anything does force us into a trade. In my estimation most likely for draft picks.

The question is who can we send down? and who can we get something for? WHO is on the block.

While the jury is still out on Schremp despite his fantastic play, he needs a solid 10 games. Brule as well. Nilsson is signed for another two years so he likely is staying put as is Cogliano and the future face of the franchise Gagner,

We are deep in defence and could be in a position to move one, but WHO?

Grebeshkov may have some interest around the league due to his quick development and he is on a one year deal. Smid, is young and hungry but it would be a shame to deal him for picks after the time put into his development.

Strudwick could be moved but he's arguably played better than his partner Steve Staios and with the veteran poise he shows, he's tough to move when this team hopes to be in the post season.

Pouliot? Cole?

Or hey we just send Reddox down....wait...thats what will happen...never mind I am an idiot...

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#21 stef
December 08 2008, 04:31PM
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Nooooo! I didn't look at the numbers before thinking that and even after I still stand by it. Gratton's been pretty useless for years.

So, he can win some faceoffs. Whoop-ti-do! (Yes, I understand that is a problem for our half of our centres.) But if that's all he's bringing to the table, then we don't need him. Let's see how the team does once now that the home games are coming in droves.

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#22 Jonathan Willis
December 08 2008, 04:42PM
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nary a kurri wrote:

Jonathan: can you report anything about Gratton’s skating abilities these days? It’s been a while since I’ve seen him play, and from what I recall he wasn’t that quick even in his younger years. Might this be a significant concern in a faster conference, on a team that’s trying to build with speed?

I haven't seen much, but from what I have I don't think Gratton's skating is a strength. Still, this team has a few below-average skaters (Stortini comes to mind), so I think he could replace one while upgrading in other areas.

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#23 Chris
December 08 2008, 04:57PM
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I'm willing to wager Lowbellini will pass on this oppertunity. Why would you want size and experience in your lineup? We need to keep the roster spots open in case more small, skilled, fast skating rookie forwards become available. Let's set a league record for lack of hits this season!

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#24 Jonathan Willis
December 08 2008, 05:15PM
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Chris wrote:

I’m willing to wager Lowbellini will pass on this oppertunity. Why would you want size and experience in your lineup?

I'm willing to bet they pass to, since I'd like to see them pick him up ;)

That said, Gratton's a bottom-six forward, so while I think the team is better wtih him than without him, it probably isn't a huge deal.

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#25 Chris
December 08 2008, 05:19PM
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Hi Willis. Some guy on Oilfans said that Philly picked Gratton up.

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#26 Dennis
December 08 2008, 05:24PM
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JW: good work, young fella. You laid it all out there and the only way Gratton would be more of a fit is if he was a RH draw man and could essentially replace Stoll.

If Lowebellini's willing to work the waiver for SMac and Boulerice than how can he let a cheap and effective faceoff and PKer like Gratton go by the wayside?

I'm not saying it's a fireable offense but if the Oilers don't pick up Gratton considering they're current needs then someone's not doing their job.

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#27 Jonathan Willis
December 08 2008, 05:37PM
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Chris wrote:

Hi Willis. Some guy on Oilfans said that Philly picked Gratton up.

Fun bit of irony - Eklund is saying that Gratton "has not and positively will not be claimed by the Flyers." Since when does he debunk trade rumours?

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#28 Antony Ta
December 08 2008, 05:39PM
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Dennis wrote:

JW: good work, young fella. You laid it all out there and the only way Gratton would be more of a fit is if he was a RH draw man and could essentially replace Stoll. If Lowebellini’s willing to work the waiver for SMac and Boulerice than how can he let a cheap and effective faceoff and PKer like Gratton go by the wayside? I’m not saying it’s a fireable offense but if the Oilers don’t pick up Gratton considering they’re current needs then someone’s not doing their job.

Well you could've said the same thing about not resigning Reasoner, going after Smolinski, or acquiring guys in the doghouse such as Steve Begin or free agents like Mark Smith. Perhaps the reason they haven't picked up any of these guys is because the club didn't recognize (or still don't think) there's a hole where the 3rd line center position used to be filled by Jarret Stoll and Marty Reasoner. Most fans beg to differ. However, they could just be grooming Kyle Brodziak for the job. I think however, that gaining experience at any position on any team is never a bad thing. And if he's injured so often he can't be a job threat to Kyle Brodziak anyway...

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#29 Jason Gregor
December 08 2008, 07:46PM
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The Leafs claimed him, so you will never know if the Oilers even had interest because the Leafs have fewer points, thus their claim goes first.

The Oilers have too many forwards as is, Brule is here on an emergency basis call up only, and once Nilsson is off the IR, Brule has to go down. Unless they put Gagner on the IR, and then recall him again.

Is Gratton any better than Brodziak is the question you need to ask yourself, and would you want him taking Brodziak's minutes. Because if Schremp plays well, when Gagner and Nilsson return you have to find room for all three of them.

And right now that wouldn't even include MacIntyre or Stortini. I don't see room for Gratton on this team, if you want Brodziak to keep developing.

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#30 Dennis
December 08 2008, 08:09PM
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Gregor: Well, you could just get rid of Stortini all together and, voila, there's another roster spot:)

And I'm still not sold that 51 should be getting the time over 78 but if we brought Gratton in I wouldn't necessarily give him top nine EV TOI anyway.

Most likely I"d use him on the 4th line and he'd be here to take draws and kill penalties.

I know the Oilers have all kinds of talented young forwards but it appears that very few of them can kill penalties and the Oilers right now are building a Hockey's Future lineup instead of a lineup that can win.

Of course maybe they get on a big run now with all the home games against soft opp but even those victories will be a lot closer than they should be if they can't kill penalties.

Of course perhaps this is another developmental year and maybe we make the playoffs again in 2011.

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#31 hockeysmack
December 08 2008, 08:19PM
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When do you we take a break at developing guys and start making a play at contention? Jesus, I couldn't care less if someone better and/or older than Brodziak took away his minutes. It probably wouldn't have been Gratton, who would've gotten 4th line minutes if he had actually joined the club, but whoever. It's Kyle Freaking Brodziak, not Jonathan Toews for crying out loud. If he loses minutes and the club wins, so be it.

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#32 Jonathan Willis
December 08 2008, 09:40PM
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@ Jason Gregor:

Essentially, I would have liked to see Gratton on the 4th line for as long as the lineup was unhealthy. The nice thing about a vet with 1000 NHL games is that once everybody is healthy, he could get stashed in the PB without any real harm.

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#33 Chris
December 09 2008, 11:52AM
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Dennis wrote:

Of course perhaps this is another developmental year and maybe we make the playoffs again in 2011

Thanks Dennis! With the quality ice time being thrown at Gagner in spite of production it is clear that this year is more about development than chasing home ice in the playoffs. Why when we are a cap team do we have to skate so many AHL players? Give two or three guys under 24 roster spots and go forth and contend. We pay more to sit in a game than the fan's in Detroit!

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#34 Jonathan Willis
December 09 2008, 01:24PM
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Apparently Gratton has been assigned to Norfolk.

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