Nashville Predators: Setting Mikael Granlund’s Benchmark Moving Forward

Nashville Predators center Mikael Granlund (64) skates with the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators center Mikael Granlund (64) skates with the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

For two consecutive offseasons, Mikael Granlund has tested the market, but then ended up back with the Nashville Predators. Each time it was probably a good thing for both parties involved.

Granlund was not expected to re-sign on the day free agency opened up on July 28, with it being said that “talks had led nowhere” between both sides, as Adam Vingan of The Athletic reported, from Granlund’s agent:

This really did feel like déjà vu from last offseason, but bringing back Granlund kind of feels like a necessity for the young and inexperienced group of Predators forwards. Not to mention Granlund has performed very well in Head Coach John Hynes’ system, which can be mundane at times from an offensive standpoint.

It’s fair to be a little critical of the terms that Granlund is getting. Paying $5M per year, you can argue, is steep for a player that’s performing at around a half point per game pace with the Predators, but is fully expected and needed to be a top-six forward.

Granlund has some fairly decent analytics, as JFresh Hockey illustrates in his breakdown:

Those are metrics from JFresh that might stick out on a team like the Predators, but not on other teams that are stacked with offensive playmakers.

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So now the real question is what should we expect from Granlund going into what many are tagging as a rebuilding season for the Predators.

Obviously he’s going to be looked toward for veteran leadership and offensive production, and I have to say that this very fair contract for him means I expect to see more from him.

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Granlund hit the cusp of being a 70-point scorer with the Minnesota Wild, which prompted that midseason trade in 2019 that sent Kevin Fiala up north. At the time I was pretty intrigued about getting a offensively skilled player like Granlund, but I’ve come away somewhat underwhelmed in his time here.

To say underwhelmed doesn’t mean I think he’s been completely horrendous, just rather disappointed. Kind of like when I got in trouble in high school for dumb stuff, and mom would say “I’m not mad, just really disappointed.”

When it comes to this upcoming season, I need to see Granlund take charge more. Make players around him better, contribute on the power play more ( only six power play goals in 130 career games for Nashville) and obviously up his point efficiency.

However, he has been one of the better, if not the best, forward for Nashville since Hynes took over. Take that with a grain of salt, but that’s why General Manager David Poile is bringing him back yet again.

For $5M per year for four years, that’s a fair ask from me. I can surmise that Poile expects an uptick in point efficiency as well, or at least I hope he does if he made this deal.

What’s odd about this whole situation is that Granlund clearly has tested the free agency waters for two-straight offseasons, so it doesn’t feel like a happy marriage. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it’s just a weird situation that he keeps ending up staying here and no one else seems that interested.

Regardless of Granlund testing the market again, Poile made it clear it was a priority to bring him back to the Predators, per Vingan’s tweet:

Granlund’s line for 2021-22

We know Granlund is a top-six player for this particular Predators team that’s limited at forward, but does he fit onto the top line or the second line? That’s something that will have to be sorted out through training camp.

Judging by this current time in August, I’m putting Granlund on the second line with Ryan Johansen at center and Luke Kunin at the other wing. I’ll feel fairly confident in that second line on opening night with two veterans, and an up-and-comer in Kunin.

That means my top line would be Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene at center, and Eeli Tolvanen. That’s taking a risk that Tolvanen can keep improving, and also that Duchene increases his point production just like I’m hoping to see from Granlund.

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Either way you slice it, the Predators are extremely limited at forward going into 2021-22. Maybe that changes with another move from Poile, but as of now, Granlund is a centerpiece of this group. The team is counting on him to get back closer to his Minnesota days where he piled up the assists and possession metrics.

My benchmark for Granlund to live up to this deal he just got is to surpass the 50-point mark, assuming he doesn’t miss a lengthy amount of time to injury. He’s never had a full, normal season with Nashville. He was traded here in 2018-19 midseason, and 2019-20 was shortened by the pandemic, but he was at 30 points in 63 games.

Granlund should have a lot of the spotlight on him as a veteran leader for this young team. Time will tell pretty quickly if Poile made the right choice to bring him back for this somewhat lucrative deal that runs to 2025-26.