It is almost impressive how Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall has been on the losing end of almost every roster transaction he has made over the past two years.
Like he is some sort of bizarro world hockey version King Midas where, instead of having everything he touches turn to gold, it all just turns into a steaming pile of garbage that has been rotting under a hot sun for six weeks.
Maybe I am overstating it. I am probably overstating it. But the guy’s tenure in Pittsburgh has been so bad that I am out of energy trying to look at it rationally. Like, you almost have to be trying to be this bad at building a hockey team.
If you missed Tuesday’s game in Detroit, the Penguins invented a new way to lose to a team that is far outside of the playoff race and missed another opportunity to build themselves a significant cushion in that playoff race. While everybody else is helping the Penguins by falling all over themselves and losing games, the Penguins are helping everybody else by also stepping on a rake and losing in increasingly painful ways. Tuesday’s game may not have been on quite the same level as the Montreal loss, or the San Jose loss, or the first Detroit game where they blew a 4-0 lead on the “wow that is the worst loss of the season,” scale, but it was definitely somewhere on the scale.
All of the old hits were there. Shockingly and embarrassing slow start to the game against a team that is not only bad, but has been completely tanking it down the stretch. TERRIBLE goaltending. Bad penalty kill. Missed chances. Significantly outchancing a team on the statsheet and still finding a way lose the game.
But we have been over all of that endlessly.
So let’s turn our attention to the latest and newest problem.
Now, again, this is a situation where I am not here to blame the player specifically. I have nothing against Granlund.
He has had an outstanding career and been very, very productive in Minnesota and at times in Nashville.
But he is not the player that produced those results anymore. He just isn’t. It happens. He might actually still be a very good fit and very useful player on a team that has a need for his skillset, which is a playmaking, pass-first winger. For all of his flaws, he is a gifted passer. He does see the ice well. On the right team with the right players around him, there is still something there.
That team is not this version of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He is, as we already discussed at the time of his acquisition, the absolute wrong fit for what this Penguins team needed at the trade deadline, and still needs now after the trade deadline.
He is not a goal scorer. He is not a shooter. He is not particularly big. He is not particularly fast. He is not goaltending depth. He is not a center.
He just did not fit what they needed. Especially not as a 31-year-old player with a contract that still has $5 million per year against the cap remaining for two more full seasons.
Everybody knew this. It was one of the few times that people of all hockey backgrounds, whether it be analytics people, eye test people, just watch the game people, or “I actually played the game” people all agreed and came together and said, “you know what? This seems like a bad trade.”
For the most part, Granlund has been mostly forgettable, but not necessarily a liability.
He has not made a ton of glaring mistakes, and he has not really done anything to screw things up. He also has not really done anything to move the needle in a positive direction. He is just .... there.
He has three points in his first 14 games with the team, and two of those (including his only goal) came in one game against the Philadelphia Flyers. That goal, by the way, came in the final minute of the 5-1 win. It did not matter in the context of the game.
He has also had four games where he has failed to register a shot on goal and two other games where he has just one shot on goal.
But because he has not been as much of a problem as the goaltending, or some of the other depth players, he has kind of slid under the radar. But Tuesday’s game in Detroit was something different, because Granlund had three noticeably damaging plays in the offensive zone that just crushed potential scoring opportunities and highlighted why he is the wrong fit for the way this team plays.
In the first period, with the game still scoreless, he was part of a 3-on-1 rush that saw him get fed a perfect pass from Evgeni Malkin with a chance to get a great shot on goal and maybe create a scoring chance. Instead, he just flat out lost the puck and looked to actually pass it on goal instead of shooting it. A few minutes later the Red Wings began their three-goal first period outburst to set the tone for the game. It was a frustrating play, but the most understandable of the three because he had backside pressure that was disrupting him. It happens. But it was what followed that made it stand out even more.
In the second period, with the game now tied thanks to a mid-period Penguins rally, he was sprung loose on a partial breakaway where he had a CLEAR look at the net for a scoring chance. Instead of getting a shot off, he tried a drop pass back into traffic that ended the scoring threat. It was a dumb decision and a dumb play.
In the third period, with the game again tied, this time at 4-4, and with the Penguins on the power play with a chance to take the lead, this happened.
You are Mikael Granlund. Do you:— Jim (@SportsingJim) March 29, 2023
4) Definitely not shoot into the open net pic.twitter.com/6j7Udt1SWc
I remember watching this play happen in real time and quickly thinking to myself, “man, that looked like a good opportunity to get a shot on goal.”
It was not until I saw the freeze frame that I realized just how open he was.
I hate criticizing players this harshly because obviously I’m just some idiot with a laptop and a Twitter account, and that guy is in the NHL. We are not the same.
But again, this is not about Granlund. It is not about Jeff Carter. It is not about Brian Dumoulin. It is not even about the goalies on the roster.
This is about a general manager that is in over his head and has no idea what he is doing, failed to realize his team’s needs, and then even worse, failed to address them.
This is about a general manager and a front office that seemingly has no plan, no vision, and no idea how to build a competitive NHL team, especially around three future Hall of Famers.
This latest trade was just the latest example of it all.