There are just two free agents left unsigned among the top ten of PHR’s Top 50 UFA’s. One of them, Mike Hoffman, has been a fixture on the rumor mill since the market opened, with as much discussion and speculation as anyone. The other is Mikael Granlund and things have been stunningly quiet surrounding the two-time 60+ point player.
Granlund, 28, is relatively young for a traditional UFA and has over 500 NHL games to his credit, recording over 100 career goals and over 350 career points. He is a proven asset on the power play and penalty kill, an efficient shooter, a strong possession player, and can play major minutes. Granlund may not be a household name, but he has been everything one would expect from a first-round draft pick. So why the apparent lack of interest?
It seems potential NHL suitors may be focused more on Granlund’s recent play rather than looking at the big picture. The versatile forward was traded by the Minnesota Wild to the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline in 2019. Since that time, his scoring rate dropped from .69 to .44 points per game. That is quite the decline and not what any impending free agent wants to see, but should it really be the death knell for Granlund’s prospects on the open market? In less than a season and a half in Nashville, Granlund played for two different head coaches with the Predators. He did not fit the system of former bench boss Peter Laviolette, who held the job through the end of 2018-19 and into early January of this past season. During that time, Granlund’s usage was severely limited compared to his time in Minnesota, both in overall ice time and special teams role. During that time his scoring suffered and he simply did not look like the same player. Once John Hynes took over, Granlund’s play recovered in a big way. He saw an uptick in ice time, began shooting more often and scoring more as a result, and finally won back a consistent power play role. Granlund even tied a career best in possession with a 52.4 Corsi For %.
Granlund’s play in the latter half of this past season more closely resembles his time with the Wild. A reliable top-six forward, Granlund was a pivotal player for Minnesota for over five years after taking on a full-time role at just 21. He topped 20 goals twice and 50 points three times, never finishing with less than 39 points. He also proved himself to be a durable player, missing only nine total games over his final four seasons with the team while skating over 18 minutes per game each year. He also adapted to a move from center to wing without missing a beat and still proved to be a capable pivot when needed.
In the right system, Granlund can still be the player he was in Minnesota and showed flashes of down the stretch this past year, rather than the one who struggled after moving to Nashville. That is why the lack of interest – at least based on close to nothing coming out the rumor mill – remains such a mystery.
Unfortunately for Granlund, one of the teams that could most use a player of his ability and has the cap space to sign him is none other than the Nashville Predators. Although Granlund did perform better once Hynes took over, it seems unlikely that he would be open to a return after his experience with the club was sour overall.
The Boston Bruins are also known to be looking for a forward. Granlund would have the opportunity to play with former Minnesota teammate Charlie Coyle and former Nashville teammate Craig Smith on a line that could have instant chemistry. However, the Bruins are lacking in cap space with Jake DeBrusk also in need of a new deal, so one of those two players would need to take a significant discount.
Perhaps the best fit is with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus moved out considerable salary in hopes of landing at least one big time free agent forward, but so far have merely swapped Josh Anderson for Max Domi and signed aging Mikko Koivu, another former Granlund teammate. The team needs to make another splash and inject some more skill into their forward corps and Granlund makes a lot of sense.
By all accounts, the Predators, Bruins, and Blue Jackets are the finalists to sign the aforementioned Hoffman, who PHR has ranked ahead of Granlund among available UFA’s. At least one of these teams seems likely to turn to Granlund when they miss out on Hoffman, which may explain the lack of noise surrounding Granlund while the Hoffman sweepstakes continues.
If it is not one of these three, a rebuilding club like the Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings or New Jersey Devils makes sense on a one-year “show me” deal. Don’t rule out a return to Minnesota, where Granlund found immense success, but only if the Wild can open up some space.
PHR initially projected Granlund to land a four-year $20MM deal in free agency and even that $5MM AAV seemed low for a player nearly guaranteed to put up 50+ points for many years still to come. However, the flat cap has had an even bigger impact than anyone imagined on free agent deals and the odds of Granlund getting that term and value seems slim. This rings especially true after Tyler Toffoli and Evgenii Dadonov, both ranked ahead of Granlund, signed such measly deals recently. Based on those two contracts, Granlund is likely looking at an AAV closer to $4MM on a short-term deal.
While Granlund’s slip in production in 2019-20 landed him behind Dadonov and Toffoli in our rankings, he has a more proven history of NHL success than either one and would stand a better chance of making the most of a one-year deal and cashing in as a free agent again next summer. Especially given the forthcoming Expansions Draft next summer, a one-year deal has added value for interested teams. Whether he ultimately signs with a playoff hopeful or a rebuild, a one-year, $4MM contract sounds about right for Granlund at this point – and stands to be an incredible bargain for whoever signs it.