Why the Leafs should not sign Mikael Granlund

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As Speculatetember begins to wind down and the start of free agency draws closer, yet another forward made his intentions to hit the open market public.

Todd Diamond, Mikhail Granlund’s agent, told Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic that his client is going to be testing free agency on October 9th. He is coming off a poor offensive season which saw him struggle to adjust to the Nashville Predators’ system and only put up a single point in the playoffs.

Granlund has proven in the past to produce 60 points or more while also consistently scoring around 40 points a year during his time with the Minnesota Wild. He has a solid track record of being a reliable scoring centre but has since struggled to find his rhythm down in Tenessee. This might explain why he wasn’t interested in remaining with the Predators and will be looking for greener pastures elsewhere. I would like to think that this past season was a blip on the radar and that Granlund can bounce back on whichever team decides to sign with in the fall.

Is he someone the Leaf should consider going after? The short answer is no. The longer answer is that there is no room to fit Granlund into the Leafs lineup unless he is willing to accept a change in playstyle.

As mentioned earlier, Granlund is fresh off a subpar season from a statistical standpoint as he finished with the fewest points scored in a full campaign. He produced 17 goals, 13 assists, and 30 points in 63 games played. In fact, he’s only scored 35 points for Nashville since being acquired in a trade that sent Kevin Fiala over to Minnesota (who are reaping the rewards of the transaction so far). The lack of offence wasn’t due to a lack of effort since the underlining metrics at 5v5 paint him in a positive light:

This suggests to me that he might have been snakebitten offensively and should be able to return to the level of production he showcased with the Wild. I went over his previous seasons as well and the numbers in the aforementioned categories are around what he put up in 2019-20. By no means is he guaranteed to easily regain his scoring touch, but he would be a prime candidate for the award I just made up called “Bounceback Player of the Year.”

One thing that Granlund isn’t really known for these days is his prowess on the faceoff dots because he has not been utilized in that role for quite a while. The 2015-16 season was the last time he took over 350 draws and his faceoff percentage stood at 48.7%. Granlund has since been utilized more as a winger and from the 2016-17 campaign onward, he as a combined 49.3% success rate on faceoffs. Coincidentally, that aforementioned season was his career-best statistical performance of his career.

 

© Evolving-Hockey 2020

He is coming off a three-year contract that paid him $5.75 million a year and based on his play last season, it’s hard to forecast what exactly his next deal will look like. Evolving-Hockey projects him to make around $6 million per season but that seems unlikely due to factors related to the flat cap and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as his lacklustre stats from an offensive standpoint. I’m sure he will be one of the first players signed once free agency begins, but he will have to accept a slight pay cut due to the three things listed above.

In the same article LeBrun wrote about Granlund’s intentions this fall, here’s what one NHL executive said about the ninth overall pick of the 2010 draft:

“We see him tapping out as a 50-plus point guy. Our guys don’t think he will get back to being a high 60 point guy. More of a playmaker than a shooter. Average skater with high hockey sense. Strictly a winger. On both special teams. Good (complementary) winger.”

It is similar to what his scouting report describes him as, and it’s something the Leafs don’t need at this time. I discussed earlier that he hasn’t been used to take taking faceoffs regularly for five years now, and this shift in playstyle has made him become a winger. Toronto has an abundance of those players on the roster and guys like Nick Robertson and Alexander Barbanov will be battling for roster spots. Unless Granlund starts working on becoming more efficient at faceoffs, where is he going to fit in the Leafs lineup?

That is why the Leafs would be wise to not go after Granlund in free agency. On top of him being a playmaking winger, he will surely command a lot of capital on the open market in spite of his down season offensively. Toronto has too many wingers that play like him and it’s hard to see him fitting in snugly onto the roster. Kye Dubas and company would be wise to spend their money on defensive help instead of getting more offence.

While Granlund is likely to rebound in 2020-21, it won’t be happening with the Leafs so expect to see him take his talents somewhere else in the coming weeks.

All stats unless otherwise noted are from Hockey-Reference.com and Natural Stat Trick.

The charts used are from Evolving-Hockey.

All salary information is from PuckPedia.com.