Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Mikael Granlund is all-but-certainly on his way out in free agency, but what will he be bringing to his new team?
At the trade deadline in 2019, the Nashville Predators sent young winger Kevin Fiala, whose performance was painfully inconsistent, to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for a known quantity in fellow winger Mikael Granlund. At the time of the trade, the consensus was that Granlund was, probably, already the player we only hoped Fiala would become. It was reasonable to assume that Granlund’s disappointing end to the 2019 season was about adjusting to new teammates and new systems.
Unfortunately, the new season did not bring improvements. Granlund, formerly a reliable 60-point player for Minnesota, put together a 30-point season for Nashville in 63 games played (a 35-point pace over a full season, although he missed six games in the fall). He got a little bit unlucky with on-ice save percentage, and although he was better than the team’s average in terms of on-ice shot share at 5v5 he and his lines rarely managed to make much of that. In sum, he was forgettable—a far cry from a player who had been a positive contributor at both ends of the ice for the Wild.
Granlund spoke to a reporter from the Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat this month about his frustrations—which were, broadly, the same as Preds fans’ frustrations—and his expiring contract. We don’t have anyone on staff who is fluent in Finnish, but the gist of his remarks (with some help from Google Translate) seems to be as follows:
- Things never quite went right for him in Nashville.
- His role with the Predators was different from his role with the Wild, and he considers this a possible factor.
- He also acknowledges that the teams themselves were different, not just his own role.
- Whatever the reasons, he feels he could have played better than he did.
Even at home and without a language barrier to worry about, Granlund was circumspect about his struggles. However, it is easy to read between the lines to conclude that he felt that his usage and possibly the Preds’ system were to blame for the down year he had going into unrestricted free agency.
Multiple sources have confirmed via his agent that Granlund intends to test free agency and will not re-sign with the Predators—if at all—until he’s heard offers from other teams. In conjunction with the Preds’ salary cap situation this offseason, the flat cap for upcoming seasons, and Granlund’s remarks to Ilta-Sanomat, it’s fair to assume that he won’t be back at all, and this is merely a tactful way of saying so.
The Report Card
I usually like to start off with the positives on a player report card, but with Granlund—especially as he heads into unrestricted free agency—I’m going to start here.
Over the first 41 games of the season (his first 35, counting time missed to injury), Granlund had 14 points—six goals, four primary assists, and four secondary assists—including a stretch of a full month when he didn’t register even a single point. This is not what you hope for from a winger making close to six million dollars a year to play in your top-six. Only one of those points, an assist, came on a power-play goal, despite his being one of the team’s regulars there—again, not what someone with his contract and his background should be expected to do.
I don’t like to say a player vanished, as a rule, but Granlund was not doing much to make himself visible. He also set a career high in penalty minutes this season with 28, which is the wrong kind of visibility, and toward the end of the season despite his improved production he went badly underwater in 5v5 shot share.
Also, he is bad defensively at 4v5—despite, for the most part, being solid or good defensively at even strength—and should not play on the penalty kill. This has been true dating back to his time in Minnesota, when the Wild’s sharp PK system was some help but was still better without him. Calle Järnkrok is another player with similar career-long 4v5 issues despite good 5v5 play; it’s not unique to Granlund. It’s still worth noting as an issue, especially as Granlund tests the market.
Against the Arizona Coyotes
His performance in the playoffs was enough of a problem that it stood out in my post-game writeups, but I don’t like grading a player on a single four-game stretch however high the stakes are, especially under such weird circumstances. Yes, obviously some teams jumped into the qualifying round firing on all cylinders, but that’s always going to depend on the team, the coaching, and the players themselves. Some people take time to find their footing again, others were recharged by the break; for players leaving behind family—Granlund has a child who was a little over a year old at the time of the return-to-play—there may have been additional challenges.
Suffice it to say, Darcy Kuemper was phenomenal that series, and Granlund’s entire line—himself, Matt Duchene, and Kyle Turris—was struggling. Turris’s defensive weakness and Duchene’s sheer boneheaded decision-making and bad luck were a lot to ask anyone to overcome, let alone a player just starting to find his footing again. Granlund’s sole point in that four-game series was a secondary assist on Filip Forsberg’s Game 4 goal to force overtime.
It wasn’t great, and it’s unfortunate that it’s going to be the end of his career as a Nashville Predators, but I don’t think that series should stand as a summary of Granlund’s time in gold.
Here’s the thing: 41 games into the season, David Poile fired Peter Laviolette, after an embarrassing loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Over the remaining 28 games, Granlund went on a goal-scoring tear in spite of his teammates’ inability to convert his passes—which he was still making, about at average rates.
He added eleven goals to his season total to finish fourth on the team with 17, as well as another five assists (two primary). The biggest difference? Five of those eleven goals were on the power play.
A sixth was shorthanded—because, starting in January under John Hynes, Granlund was also put onto the penalty kill. He wasn’t great there, as I said, but he’d spent time on the penalty kill in Minnesota, and it’s something that gets discussed as a measure of a coach’s confidence in a player’s defensive abilities. I think it’s reasonable, especially in the context of Granlund’s remarks about his role being different in Nashville, to consider whether Laviolette’s expectations of him were incompatible with how he saw himself.
It would be understandable for a player who’d been part of a great shutdown line with Mikko Koivu, and who’d gotten some Selke votes himself before the trade, to feel frustrated or even uncertain when his new coach changed his responsibilities, and perhaps to feel more confident when his new new coach had a different opinion. If so, that’s unfortunate, since Granlund is not really a net positive for a NHL penalty kill.
It’s also possible that it’s simply Hynes’s new systems that accounted for the change in Granlund’s play, which would be a better sign for his new team. Either way, he took off once Coach Hynes had settled in, managing at least a point pretty much every other game starting at the end of January.
Odds are good he won’t be back in Nashville, but if he were I’d say not to worry about his production next year. I think he’ll rebound from what we saw this November.
Buzzer-beater against the Calgary Flames followed by the overtime winner? Yessir. That’s sports movie stuff, even if it did happen in what was ultimately a meaningless game. At the time, the NHL season was still on and the Predators were frantically clawing for playoff position, teetering on the brink every night. It was a big two points.
Final Grade: C–
If Granlund had kept up his pace from the start of the season we’d be looking at a D of some kind at best. But the team as a whole struggled under Laviolette—although it was poor goaltending that finally prompted the coaching change—and Granlund seemed to have turned things around as the season was brought to an abrupt halt. If the remaining 13 games of the season had occurred as scheduled, and if Granlund had kept up his production and improved his possession play again, my grade would have been higher.
What do you think?
Statistics and analysis from evolving-hockey.com (Patreon), hockeyviz.com (Patreon), and Corey Sznajder (Patreon) have been used in compiling this player grade. The viz at the top is provided by @HockeyStatsCZ.