When winger Mikael Granlund was traded to the Nashville Predators from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Kevin Fiala at the 2018-19 trade deadline, there was a clear winner in the trade: the Predators. They secured a 27-year-old, top-line winger in Granlund, who still had another season remaining under contract at $5.75 million. In return, they traded away Fiala, a young and promising winger who was selected 11th overall in 2014 by the Predators and was in his last season of his entry-level contract.
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Granlund was coming over from Minnesota where he had just posted 49 points in 63 games and seemed poised to enter his prime with the arrow pointing straight up. While a promising prospect, Fiala was completing the final year in his rookie season deal and had scored 32 points in 64 games by last’s season’s deadline. Additionally, the Predators were among the top teams in the Western Conference in 2018-19 — trading for a proven scorer should have made them the favorites to win the conference.
Fast-forward more than a year and observed reality completely flipped expectations on their head. Granlund has failed to produce for the Predators as a top-line winger while Fiala flourished for the Wild, immediately capitalizing on his pedigree by becoming the team’s leading scorer in the shortened 2019-20 season.
At the time of the trade, Poile stated:
“There’s no question that we have been looking for more secondary scoring in the last little while and wherever our coach puts Granlund, whether that’s breaking up our first line or enhancing our second, I am very confident that we are going to be more of a threat with Granlund in the lineup than we were previously.”
This is what they had expected from Granlund, but that was far from what the team received.
From the start of the 2016-17 season to when he was traded in 2018-19, Granlund tallied 185 points for the Wild — good for second-most on the team during that span, behind only Eric Staal (193). The hopes for Granlund were that he would continue his scoring ways for the Predators.
Unfortunately, he took a major step back and never seemed comfortable in either Predators system in which he played. In the 2019-20 season, he played for two head coaches — Peter Laviolette and John Hynes (Hynes replaced Laviolette in early Jan. 2020). He scored 18 points in 45 games in Laviolette’s structured puck-control system and improved under Hynes in his more open style of play by scoring 12 points in 18 games.
Granlund’s advanced metrics were mediocre and were no different across the Laviolette/Hynes split (small-ish sample size). His Individual Point Percentage (IPP) was 57%, good for 366th in the league this year. His overall scoring chances (iSCF, or “individual scoring chances for”) ranked in the middle of the road, even when there was a high likelihood of scoring (iHDCF, or “individual high danger chances for”).
Even his points-per-60 minutes average (P/60) was over a full point below (1.38) than what he did in Minnesota during his final three seasons (2.59).
Fiala had a solid start to his promising NHL career, becoming a part of the lineup full time at the age of 20. Over his first three NHL seasons, he scored 104 points. He posted solid third-line production for the Predators while occasionally logging ice time in the top six, showing bursts of the talent that made him a first-round draft pick in 2014. The Predators were carefully titrating his playing time while still giving him opportunities to flash his considerable skill. No doubt he was part of a promising future for the team, but he surpassed all expectations by breaking out in a huge this way for the Wild this season, leading the team in scoring with 54 points in 64 games.
At the coronavirus break, Fiala was leading the Wild in total scoring with 54 points (23 goals – 31 assists) in 64 games and T-1st in power-play points (18). His post-All-Star break numbers were some of the best in the NHL — 26 points in just 19 games, including 14 of his 23 goals. As for his advanced metrics, Fiala had an IPP of 83%, which was almost a third higher (31%) than Granlund’s (57%). This meant that Fiala was 31% more likely than Granlund to be part of a goal when he was on the ice. He also had a 2.62 P/60 which was almost double what Granlund provided for his new team.
The icing on the cake is that Fiala is a cost-controlled asset for at least another season, whereas Granlund is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Fiala’s cap hit is $3 million through the 2020-21 season when he becomes a restricted free agent. Clearly, he surpassed everyone’s expectations and has given new Wild general manager Bill Guerin, a core piece with whom to build around.
The Change in Perception
The Granlund-Fiala trade was supposed to provide a major league scorer in return for a promising former first-round pick. Granlund, a first-round pick in 2010, had been one of the best Wild players for the previous three seasons, and was a major addition to a strong Predators team chasing the Cup in 2018-19. Fiala was an up-and-coming young forward for the Predators who was expected to produce like a top-six offensive weapon over the next couple of seasons. Ironically, the headline of the trade still holds true, but the player identities are in reverse.
Going forward, the Predators may have nothing to show for this trade as Granlund is an unrestricted free agent this summer and coming off one of his weakest seasons. Fiala is providing flexibility for the Wild’s front office and most likely top-line scoring for at least another season. This trade should teach other organizations about the risks of trading promising developmental players with several years of cost-controlled contracts for proven scorers who have just over a season remaining until hitting unrestricted free agency.