Target of Opportunity: Chris Gratton

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.

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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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