Predators: If They Have to Choose Mikael Granlund or Craig Smith

DALLAS, TEXAS - MARCH 07: Mikael Granlund #64 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TEXAS - MARCH 07: Mikael Granlund #64 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
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There may be no clear answer on how the current Nashville Predators season will end, but we do know some tough offseason decisions are coming.

This upcoming offseason will be a challenging one for many reasons for the Nashville Predators, and one will be dealing with some of their critical unrestricted free agents coming up.

The two biggest ones by far are Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund. If the Predators are going to avoid falling further back and going into a rebuild, then they have to figure out a way to keep one, if not both of them.

Both players play crucial roles to the team’s depth and offensive capabilities. To be an elite team in the NHL, you have to have at least two very strong top lines. Smith and Granlund are big pieces to keeping that intact for the Predators.

Maybe the Predators and GM David Poile will figure out a way to keep both of them, but I’m thinking that they might have to choose one or the other to make the numbers work.

Starting with Smitty

Let’s start with one of my personal all-time favorite Nashville Predators in Craig Smith. This guy has always been the ultimate competitor and one that embodies a leader. He is all business and brings every ounce of energy he has.

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I’ve never finished watching a Predators loss and wondered if Smith left something in the reserve tanks. He leaves it all out there.

That’s something that scares me if the Predators lose him. Losing that fire and energy that some parts of the team lacked this season that saw them stumble many times.

Smith is a lifelong Nashville Predator, and one that it will be hard to see throw on another uniform.  It’s part of the business, but one I’m not looking forward to seeing if it happens.

If the Predators don’t figure out a way to keep Smith, the market will have a fair amount of interest in him. He could help a lot of struggling teams right now.

Smith’s current contract that’s about to expire was originally for five years with $4.25 million annually. Obviously you can’t pay him that kind of money again, but I do think he’ll want comfort in a long-term deal.

That will be the key to keeping Smith. Will the Predators be willing to re-invest in Smith long-term again. If not, then another team will take the 30-year-old fiery player who still has a lot to give in many ways.

Then you have Granny

Granlund’s initial time with Nashville started off slow and unproductive. He’s a former 69 and 67-point scorer with the Minnesota Wild, but hasn’t come anywhere close to that level of production with the Predators, yet.

The keyword is “yet”. It’s still very conceivable that he can return to that level of production of being a 60-plus point scorer and a vital offensive player for the Predators in their top-six.

Granlund is going to command more money, and make it more complicated in my mind to retain Smith as well. The ceiling is much higher for Granlund being that he is three years younger and the more flashy offensive player.

This decision may have been easier to make before Peter Laviolette was fired when Granlund was struggling to even register a point every couple of games. For whatever reason, things weren’t clicking between Laviolette and Granlund, or at least it appeared that way.

Then John Hynes took over as head coach, and Granlund started making a much bigger impact on the offense. Oddly enough, Granlund scored a goal in the first game under Hynes against Boston.

After that Boston game, Granlund would score ten more goals to bring his season total to 17. Still nowhere near the production you would like to see, but still good for 4th on the team.

Granlund has the higher ceiling, but Smith brings the intangibles to go along with the ability to catch fire and go on hot streaks. It’s a really difficult call to pick one or the other if it comes to that.

If you make me choose….

Poile is likely going to have to choose between one or the other. Maybe he works his magic to give Smith just enough to remain loyal to the Predators, while Granlund gets paid what he’s going to command.

If that happens, then that’ll be a beautiful scenario. But I’m not convinced that’s going to happen. One is going to stay and one is going elsewhere.

With that said, my heart wants the Predators to keep Smith but my head says they need to go with Granlund.

I actually think Smith will be able to get paid much better elsewhere and it’ll come down to how much he wants to remain with the organization that drafted him all the way back in 2009.

I’m hoping they figure out a way to retain both as they’re each vital pieces to the team’s resurgence to getting into a wildcard spot before the pause. However, it just doesn’t seem plausible.

The Predators should keep Granlund if it comes down to one or the other, and I’ll cry myself to sleep for a while missing Smith score those electrifying goals and taking off like a rocket to seize control of momentum.

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And don’t send me highlights of him scoring goals in another team’s uniform because my heart won’t be able to take it.