Player: Mikael Granlund
Born: Feb. 26, 1992 (31 years old)
Weight: 185 pounds
Hometown: Oulu, Finland
Draft: First round, 9th overall 2010 - Minnesota Wild
2022-23 Statistics: 79 games played, 10 goals, 31 assists, 41 points, 20 PIM
Contract Status: Signed for two more years at a salary cap hit of $5 million per season. He will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2024-25 season.
Fun fact: Mikael Granlund scored a lacross-style goal at the 2011 World Championships that inspired a hit song in Finland that reached No. 2 on the Finnish singles chart.
Hidden Stat: Despite his struggles, Granlund had the highest expected goals share on the Penguins following his acquisition (more on that below).
Granlund had a small hot streak in February with three goals and eight total points in 10 games right before he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It was not a sign of things to come for him or the team.
Story of the Season
After a 64-point performance a year ago, boosted almost entirely by assists, Granlund was unable to duplicate that success in 2022-23 for either Nashville or Pittsburgh. He was still on a decent 50-point pace with the Predators, but his arrival in Pittsburgh was a disaster right from the very beginning.
The Penguins traded a second-round pick for Granlund and all of his remaining contract, a move that was immediately loathed in Pittsburgh and criticized across the league. Not only did the Penguins burn all of the salary cap space they worked so hard to create in the days leading up to the trade deadline, they did so without addressing a single one of their needs while also crushing their salary cap flexibility in future seasons.
Granlund was somehow worse than expected after all of that.
He scored just one goal in 21 games while recording only five assists. That one goal, by the way, came in the closing seconds of a 5-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was, objectively speaking one of the most meaningless and empty garbage time goals of the season.
Between the two teams he ended the season with 10 goals and 41 total points in 79 games.
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
Data via Natural Stat Trick. The ranking is out of 15 forwards on the team who qualified by playing a minimum of 150 minutes.
Corsi For%: 51.06. (11th)
Goals For%: 52.9 (6th)
xGF%: 57.5 (1st)
Scoring Chance %: 60.1 (1st)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 57.2 (3rd)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 6.8 (10th)
On-ice save%: 92.7 (3rd)
Goals/60: 0.25 (14th)
Assist/60: 0.74 (11th)
Points/60: 0.99 (15th)
If you want to be somewhat optimistic about Granlund you could probably hang your hat on the fact his on-ice underlying numbers with the Penguins were very strong, and bordering on excellent. The problem, of course, is that is only a 20-game sampling and that his underlying numbers with Nashville before that were absolutely horrific, and they were not exactly great in recent seasons over the full course of an 82-game schedule. It is not something I expect to continue over a full season, nor do I expect it to turn into more offense for him individually. In short, it is probably safe to assume those numbers are small sample size noise. He is what he is at this point.
Granlund will face all of the criticism for as long as he is in Pittsburgh, but it is a situation completely out of his control. The blame always belonged with Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor for making this their big trade deadline acquisition.
The Penguins needed a third-line center.
Or somebody that could score goals.
Or somebody that could skate or bring size to the lineup.
Or somebody that could defend.
Or a goaltending depth.
Granlund literally solved zero of those issues, and he is going to cost the Penguins $5 million per year over the next two full seasons unless they buy him out or find a way to trade him, which will almost certainly result in salary retained or giving up a valuable asset to entice a team to take him off of their hands.
If you are a Pirates fan, you might remember at the very end of the Dave Littlefield era when he made a completely nonsensical trade for Matt Morris at the trade deadline, bringing in a veteran with a huge contract that had no earthly reason for being on the team. It was a staggering move of stupidity. It was at that point that you knew he was going to get fired after the season.
The Mikael Granlund trade was Ron Hextall’s Matt Morris moment. A trade so stupid and pointless that you knew he was never going to get another season to run the team. The only thing is, the Granlund trade is worse because Morris was at least a free agent after that season.
Whoever becomes the next Penguins general manager needs to just take the hit and buy out the remainder of this contract.
It would actually give the Penguins some very real salary cap savings over the next two years when they will still need it most.
According to CapFriendly, it would only result in an $833,333 salary cap hit this season with over $4 million in cap savings, and a $1.83 million cap hit next season with over $3 million in savings.
It would also carry the same $1.83 million hit over the two seasons following that. But in the short-term, that extra $3-4 million in cap savings over the next two years would be potentially significant.
Whether they go that route, or try to find a trade partner, Granlund’s ideal 2023-24 season would involve him playing for a different team. Even then the best outcome for him would be to play next to a strong-finisher that can turn some of his playmaking skills into goals and boost his assist numbers back up. For all of his flaws now, he was an excellent player for a long time in the NHL and does still see the ice very well and can still make a good pass. On a far cheaper contract in a smaller role there still might be some value there for somebody.
How Would You Grade Mikael Granlund’s 2023-24 Season?