When the 2019-20 NHL season ended, Mikael Granlund and the Nashville Predators looked to be moving in irreconcilably different directions. Granlund expressed his frustration with his own performance, and more obliquely with former Head Coach Peter Laviolette’s systems, to a Finnish newspaper.
However, this offseason has been a strange one. With the flat cap, the uncertain economic situation, and changes to the NHL play structure, the free agency market has sputtered and stagnated. Months into the offseason, Granlund—still under 30 years old, and a cerebral and talented player—had yet to find a new team.
Meanwhile, the Predators were still looking for another forward to sign in free agency, especially after losing Craig Smith to the Boston Bruins. Rumors linked them to Anthony Duclair (who signed with the Florida Panthers earlier this week), to Andreas Athanasiou, to Mike Hoffman, and about every other free agent forward on the market. Duclair hinted that the Preds and the Panthers had been the last two teams in contention, and that he’d preferred the Panthers for reasons other than salary—a potential blow to the ego of a team that just last offseason had landed a coveted UFA center in Matt Duchene, but understandable given the struggles that the Predators’ new forwards have had offensively.
We don’t yet know the circumstances of Granlund’s return to the Nashville Predators, but Elliotte Friedman reports that he has signed a one-year deal with a salary “around” $3.75M, two million dollars less than his previous AAV, and Adam Vingan confirms the salary.
One year, $3.75 million cap hit. https://t.co/BS2zIIfp7o— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) December 22, 2020
It’s worth noting that, although he struggled under Laviolette’s coaching, Granlund was one of the players who had the biggest improvement playing for new head coach John Hynes. While the roster construction is basically the same, and David Poile’s guidance is still shaping the team, it’s possible that Granlund is willing to take a chance on Hynes.
As to whether the Predators are right to take another chance on Granlund—the value is great, they certainly have the cap space regardless, and Eamon has some additional analysis on why this signing could be a good gamble for the Preds.
Granlund will likely slide in on Nashville’s top forward line alongside Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg to bolster the team’s recently depleted forward depth, rejoining a pair of players that he showed flashes of chemistry with in his time in Nashville.
Granlund’s struggles in his time as a Predator have been well documented; from both an on-ice production and underlying numbers standpoint, the former Minnesota Wild stud saw his impact fall off of a cliff (just 35 points in 79 games for Nashville). Still, there’s plenty of reason for optimism heading into the rapidly approaching season, especially when you look at Granlund’s production under new head coach John Hynes.
After Hynes arrived in Nashville, Granlund seemed to get a bit more comfortable and started finishing on chances more often; these were the results with a half-baked system instated with a roster that Hynes was just starting to understand and tinker with. Now that he’s had a full offseason of watching film and developing a new scheme to maximize the talent that the current Nashville roster has at its disposal, I feel confident that Granlund will have an easier time making the most of the ample opportunities he’ll likely be given in the top six.
Granlund may not ever replicate his 60 point, 20+ goal form from Minnesota in a Nashville uniform, but at the bare minimum he’s a good defensive presence along the wing and at a reduced price tag with minimal term he’s an excellent fit as a reclamation project for a rebuilding Predators team. With the likely introduction of youngsters like Philip Tomasino and Eeli Tolvanen to the lineup, adding another experienced winger with plus skill and a responsible approach to the game certainly doesn’t hurt.
From a numbers standpoint, Granlund is an interesting case. His underlying impacts in Nashville were solid, but he was never really used as a primary puck carrier or shot creator, as you can see below. Hopefully within a more free-form Hynes offense featuring a focus on distributing from the wall and moving the puck across the crease we’ll see an uptick in results, but again it’s difficult to project all of the new things we’ll see from behind the Nashville bench and how it’ll impact Granlund in the short and long term.
One of the better parts of Granlund’s game that I hope to see more of from the team as a whole is his tenacity on the forecheck. While reviewing games this summer, I frequently noticed Granlund crashing the boards and winning battles, all of which opened up scoring chances and odd-man situations for Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg (especially in the early months of the season). Granlund’s speed and ability to read the play will be invaluable on a Nashville team that all too often has looked lackluster in that department; this is especially key with the departure of another solid forechecking presence in Craig Smith.
Overall, Granlund is a good value signing and was clearly the best UFA left on the market. Getting him at such a reasonable cost is a boon to this team’s potential in a tough realigned Central division, and if you’re a Nashville fan who wants to see a return to winning this is a solid acquisition to take a step in that direction. I’m very happy to have our overtime hero back in the Music City.
Oh, and the icing on the cake? Nashville beat out the Blues (per Andy Strickland, a St. Louis rinkside reporter for Fox Sports Midwest). Happy Tuesday folks; go watch some of the USA vs Finland preliminary game and enjoy.