It’s hard not to root for Mikael Granlund. He was in the midst of a successful and productive career in Minnesota, playing for the Wild. He was expecting the birth of his first child and then he got the call that most players dread when the trade deadline rolls around. He had been dealt to the Nashville Predators and needed to uproot his life and move down south.
Now, it’s not unusual for professional athletes to have the utmost confidence in themselves, believing they can be just as successful anywhere. For whatever reason though, Granlund’s career was never the same once he threw on the gold uniform. But that didn’t stop him from trying to redeem himself and proving that he could make it work in the Music City and honestly, you have to respect him for that. Despite registering his worst point total since his NHL debut season, where he suited up for just 27 games, Granlund re-signed with the Predators with a one-year deal that had an average annual value (AAV) of $3.75 million – $2 million less than his previous contract.
Many questioned why the Predators would even want Granlund to come back after showing that at best he wasn’t the right fit. But there was an encouraging sign that may have had a lot to do with general manager David Poile offering him another shot. Head coach John Hynes was the change that Granlund seemingly needed. Through the first 41 games of the 2019-20 season – the portion of the year Peter Laviolette was in charge – Granlund ranked 13th in team scoring, tallying six goals and eight assists.
However, once the change in bench bosses was made, the Finnish forward was almost rejuvenated. In the 28 games the Predators played before the abrupt pause, Granlund played in every game, ranked third in team scoring – second among forwards, behind only Filip Forsberg – and his points per game average shot up to 0.57, after sitting at 0.40 under Laviolette.
An observation that may have been made already is the fact that Granlund’s points production still wasn’t great, especially for a player of his caliber and considering the numbers he routinely recorded in Minnesota. In his last two full seasons playing for the Wild, he was a near point-per-game player, registering 69 points in 81 games in 2016-17 and 67 points in 77 games during 2017-18.
This season, Granlund still isn’t operating at the level he once did. He has 23 points in 45 games. But it may be wasted energy and time trying to hope that the centerman is able to put up the same numbers for the Predators as he did for the Wild.
This sparks a question that needs to be asked when it comes to Granlund, and it may be so obvious that it sounds rhetorical: Do the Predators care more about Granlund’s personal stats and raising them as much as they can, or do they care more about winning, to the point where it doesn’t matter what the individual numbers say, as long as the victories keep flowing? See, pretty obvious.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
The fact is, for as much as Granlund looks better on the ice, and how impressed everyone seems to be with him this season, he does only have 23 points so far. He had 30 in 2019-20 and that was considered a disaster. Now the Predators still have seven games left and Granlund could play in every contest, but he would need to operate at a point-per-game pace just to match that near career-worst total, which would be a tough task.
This all sounds extremely negative and not exactly like a case that supports Granlund rewarding the Predators for bringing him back. Well, there are two counters to that. Firstly, you must look at his production in relationship to his teammates. Last season, his 30 points placed him 12th in team scoring. This year, however, he sits fourth and third among forwards.
Related: Seven Things About Mikael Granlund
As a playmaker, and someone who operates with a pass-first mentality, he is hurt by the team’s lack of offense and ability to finish plays. The Predators have struggled to score all season, illustrated by their goals for per game rank, which sits in the league’s bottom-10. It’s not surprising that his numbers are lower than what he was once accustomed to. In Minnesota, Granlund had twice as many assists as he did goals in every season except one. If the Predators can’t execute the plays he sets up, how much can Granlund really be blamed for that?
Secondly, as mentioned, at this point the individual stats may not matter a whole lot because there is a big mitigating factor: The Predators are winning, they’re making a push for the playoffs and Granlund is a big part of that.
As previously stated, Granlund just looks far better this year, he looks more comfortable, and he probably is. If you’re a fan of basketball, you’re probably familiar with the term “floor general,” which is often thrown around to describe someone who can take charge and move the play. Almost becoming the quarterback of the game, not to conflate too many sports together for the sake of comparison, but Granlund sort of looks like all those things.
Luke Kunin has benefitted numerous times from Granlund dragging defenders out of position then dishing it to him when he’s wide open in the slot, for a one-time snapshot, which the goalie has no chance on. Just ask the Chicago Blackhawks. Granlund’s line terrorized them this season. In eight games against the Hawks, Granlund had three goals and five assists, Kunin had four goals and four assists, and Calle Jarnkrok had two goals and three assists. As a note, Jarnkrok only played in six games against the Hawks this season. Nevertheless, Granlund, Kunin and Jarnkrok were the Predators’ top three players against the long-time divisional rival, helping them end the season series with a 7-0-1 record.
The Power of Chemistry
Now you may be arguing that higher personal stats not being the most important thing in the world is just one person’s opinion. But this brings us back to that obvious question posed earlier, regarding the Predators preferring better individual stats or team stats. Well, they’ve answered that question through their actions.
Look at the line Granlund plays on, most commonly the second line with Kunin and Jarnkrok. But we know that in order for Granlund to register big numbers as a playmaker, he most likely needs to play with better shooters and players who are a little better offensively. In that case, why not bump him up to the top line, where he could center, Eeli Tolvanen and Filip Forsberg – in the future when he returns from injury – or Viktor Arvidsson for now? Then drop Ryan Johansen down, it’s not exactly like he’s performing like a top-line center anyway.
Hynes and company most likely do it because of the chemistry they have right now. It would be really foolish to start tweaking lines for the sake of one player’s numbers, especially when you’re finally finding some success after multiple months of failing miserably, to the extent where people were starting to question job security.
Granlund’s gone from a supporting role in a production of “Poile’s worst moves” – which is obviously led by Kyle Turris – to a player who the GM is eager to keep around beyond this season.
When asked about a contract beyond this year, Poile responded, “He’s been a terrific player for us. If he’s interested, we’re interested.”
“I would have to say that where we stand in terms of our relationship, his performance with our team, our happiness with him, his happiness with us, without exactly asking him, I would say it’s probably at an all-time high,” Poile said. “I would certainly love to engage in a conversation with Mikael and his agent after the year to see if that’s a possibility.”
That doesn’t exactly sound like a GM who’s disappointed with a player’s personal numbers or someone who isn’t redeeming themselves and making the most of a second chance.
So, yes it would be nice if Granlund could flip a switch and suddenly revert back to putting up 60-70 points in a full season, but this time for the Predators. However, there’s been no sign that will ever be the case. What has been demonstrated though, is the fact that Granlund is instrumental to this team now. If he can have positive effects on the game and the Predators are winning, then his personal stats may not matter all that much. The sooner we can accept that, the better off we may be with the initial trade, the decision to bring Granlund back for a second opportunity, and appreciating what he is doing for the team this season.
I graduated from Mount Royal University with a degree in Journalism with the hopes to pursue a career in sports media. I have been following hockey for many years at various different levels. Whether playing, watching or writing about it, hockey has played a massive role in my life. I was the sports editor at The Calgary Journal as well as a sports columnist for The Calgary Reflector. Follow on Twitter: @A_Grant27