OTF Roundtable: Mikael Granlund Returns to Nashville
The Finnish forward is back in the fold, and our OTF staff debates how much impact he’ll have with the Preds in 2021
If you missed the news yesterday, Mikael Granlund is coming back to Smashville. The 28-year-old Finn has signed a one-year deal with the Nashville Predators worth $3.75 million. Granlund, who arrived in Nashville via a trade with the Minnesota Wild in 2019, has tallied 18 goals and 35 points in 79 games with the Preds.
Is this an early Christmas gift from Santa Poile, or another “meh” deal? That’s the topic of our latest On The Forecheck roundtable. Here’s what our staff had to say about Granlund’s return to the Predators.
I’ve always been a Granlund fan. It’s pretty evident he was not comfortable under Peter Laviolette, but he was having a sort of...renaissance...(?) under John Hynes. You can’t forget about that last-second goal in the late stages of the season before things shut down due to the coronavirus. Granlund needs a full season under Hynes and this deal is an absolute bargain. He might be able to strike up some chemistry with Eeli Tolvanen, Luke Kunin, or even Philip Tomasino. Granlund is young, has the chance to find himself again, and this value is solid.
This is a deal I’ve secretly been hoping for. I was surprised Granlund wasn’t picked up by another team. I didn’t think there was any way he would return to the Preds—if I were Granlund, I’m not sure I would want to give the Nashville system another try. I do believe we started to get glimpses of Granlund’s talent under HC John Hynes, and I am excited to see what else Hynes can draw out of him.
In the right system and with the right linemates, the Preds may see Granlund have his best year on the ice. Looking at the terms of the contract, I immediately flashed back to Pretty Woman when Vivian says, “I would’ve stayed for $2,000” and Edward replies, “I would’ve paid $4,000. See you tonight.” We’ll see you soon at Bridgestone, Granny, and I for one can’t wait.
I have to say this deal certainly wasn’t on my radar. From everything we’ve seen this offseason, it looked liked Granlund and Poile were each content going their separate ways.
But hey, I certainly don’t oppose giving this pairing another good ol’ college try. Granlund was easily the one Preds forward who improved the most when John Hynes took over (awful postseason aside). If he still doesn’t gel, it’s a one-year deal, so no harm no foul. I think in terms of “fit” with that second line, there were maybe better options on the market. But again, this isn’t a deal that’s going to set the Preds back three seasons if it doesn’t work out, which is key.
It’ll be intriguing to see how the top two lines shake down with Granlund back in the fold. He seemed to have the best chemistry with Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg, but all indications are Hynes wants to keep JoFA intact, so we’ll likely see Eeli Tolvanen or Luke Kunin on Granlund’s opposite wing. Whatever the combination is, consistency is key. The constant shuffling kept Granlund (and others) from building any semblance of chemistry. Hynes has to avoid that to give Granlund any chance of a rebound.
I’m really excited about this deal for a few reasons, but I feel like the main one is that Mikael Granlund was the key to making Duchene and Forsberg click last year. I didn’t want to bring Granny back on an expensive extension, but thanks to the magic of a flat NHL salary cap it was both a feasible and smart move to return him to the fold.
His ability as a distributor is second-best on this team heading into the upcoming season (behind only Johansen), and he especially thrives in a functional power play system that employs him as the man on the wall, a trait that I’m sure John Hynes has noticed. Lastly, I feel like even if he isn’t being deployed in conjunction with Forsberg and Duchene, he can still be a very useful player and act as a mentor to fellow Finn and winger Eeli Tolvanen, especially when it comes to the 200-foot aspect of the NHL game. It’s a low-risk, high-reward deal and I love the idea behind it. Pretty nice move by David Poile if you ask me.
With all of the uncertainly at the end of the season and the continued uncertainty surrounding the beginning of the upcoming season, I certainly understand why any GM would be unwilling to hand out extensions. I think David Poile wound up making a smart choice in doing this (even by losing Craig Smith) because it kept his options open and didn’t get the team into a long-term contract with someone who hadn’t been a consistent producer.
That being said, I’m glad Granlund is back. I think he was starting to perform better under John Hynes and really had his mojo workin’ when everything got shut down. I’m happy with the price tag and I’m happy with the term. I think this is a great scenario that puts a player who was coming around at the end of the season back in gold for a year. If he plays lights out, it helps the Predators and it helps Mikael Granlund get a bigger contract after this season. It also keeps him from having to be protected in the expansion draft.
His less-than-last-second goal that’s been mentioned before was actually the first game I’d been to in a long time last season as a fan in the stands instead of in the media booth. It was the loudest I’d been able to cheer in a long time (you know, media neutrality and all that) at Bridgestone and it was definitely kind of excitement that only a Boomin’ Granny can bring to a hockey game.
Compared to some of the players the Preds have been linked to this offseason, Granlund seems to be competent, affordable, and not someone whose name vividly conjures up a locker room disaster that made the news. As other potential good adds flew off the table and Poile was still talking about looking to sign one more forward, I started to get nervous—learning that that forward was going to be Granlund was a really pleasant surprise.
Like a lot of other people have already said, he was showing a lot better in Hynes’s system than Laviolette’s. The fact that he agreed to come back to Nashville might even be a reason to hope that the Predators are really committing to getting rid of all the leftover traces of Laviolette’s system, and that’s definitely a reason for optimism.
That said, with this morning’s news of the Erik Haula signing, I’m concerned about what the Preds’ long-term plan is. Adding one unrestricted free agent to shore up the top nine is one thing, but going out and collecting a bunch of middle-six talents after talking about a youth movement is another. Bobby gets into this a little more below, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Since I seem to always have the unpopular take, it’s no surprise that I disagree with my co-writers here, as I don’t understand this reunion. Look, there’s no denying that Mikael Granlund can be an effective player, but there’s enough evidence at this point in time that he just won’t be that player in Nashville.
First, from Nashville’s point of view, why bring Granlund back? Keeping him doesn’t suddenly catapult the Predators into contender status in their new division. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars are head and shoulders better than the Predators, while the Columbus Blue Jackets—with a full slate of health and a shiny new Max Domi—also look significantly better than Nashville.
Sure, the Carolina Hurricanes still have atrocious goaltending and the Florida Panthers look like they’ll challenge for the last playoff spot and fall short again, but what’s the real objective for the Predators this season? To sneak in as a 7th or 8th seed with a glaring lack of goalscoring talent? It’s apparent that goalscoring and mental toughness are the Predators’ weaknesses, so adding a pass-first playmaker in Granlund accomplishes nothing. This is a flawed team, and getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs by Tampa Bay won’t help them win a Stanley Cup.
Second, reacquiring Granlund also takes away a roster spot from the young talent that the Predators desperately need to make NHL-ready. This team needs a goalscorer with a little tenacity, and Granlund is not that player. Johansen, Forsberg, Arvidsson, Duchene, Sissons, Järnkrok, Richardson, Grimaldi, Cousins, Kunin, and now Granlund are all locks for this roster. That leaves one forward spot for a combination of Yakov Trenin, Eeli Tolvanen, Philip Tomasino, and Rem Pitlick. [Ed.: This was before the Haula signing.]
A shortened NHL season with lower expectations is the perfect opportunity to develop these young players, and reacquiring Granlund removes an opportunity that they desperately need. At the end of the day, all four of those younger players that have a long-term future here have a better shot of being part of a Stanley Cup-winning Predators team than Mikael Granlund. If winning a Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal of this organization, this move does not bring the Predators closer to their goal.
Third, this deal does not help Mikael Granlund in the long term. It should be clear by now that Granlund is not effective with the players around him in Nashville. It’s no knock on him; sometimes player just don’t have chemistry with each other. It doesn’t mean that Granlund is a bad hockey player, or that his linemates are responsible for his failures. Like a summer love, sometimes both parties are better off going their separate ways. Granlund’s taking a huge loss in salary with this deal, and it’s hard to imagine he performs better this season. If he wanted a better contract after this coming season, maybe he would have been better off signing elsewhere.
For the record, I would love to be wrong and see Mikael Granlund light up scoresheets this year, and he did look significantly better under Head Coach John Hynes than he did under Peter Laviolette. However, I need to see more than a small sample size to be a believer. The Predators needed to find a goalscorer, not another pass-first player. Retaining Granlund keeps the inadequate status quo, takes away a roster spot from young talent, and fails to move the Predators any closer to a Stanley Cup.
If we were about to enter a normal season, I’d find this a little more questionable of a move. However, with the possibility of roster turnover with COVID protocols, as well as being able to rotate players in and out with a roster that’s either veterans or prospects (outside the core), this is a smart move by the organization. The deal comes well under the projected contract he was thought to be worth, and last season’s fourth-leading goal scorer (17) is a welcome addition back into the lineup after losing Craig Smith and Nick Bonino.
Granlund thrived on a line with Forsberg and Duchene, and as much as I like the JOFA line, I’d very much like to see this combination again this season—they started the season as one of the best in the entire league. The roster is filled with a lot of one- and two-year contracts, which leaves Nashville with a lot of options and still plenty of cap space heading into the next offseason (or the deadline).
This was a smart move, and one that is better than signing Mike Hoffman—Granlund has chemistry with the team, and Hynes’s strategy should be better suited for Granlund’s style of play. The top-six forward group has a lot less question marks now, and seeing a player like Tolvanen or Tomasino in that group instead of someone like Calle Järnkrok will only make it better.
What are your thoughts on the deal, Smashville?