There’s a wide range of opinions on what the Pittsburgh Penguins should do with Mikael Granlund before next season.
Many believe they should buy out the final two seasons of his contract.
Some think he should be drawn-and-quartered in Market Square.
Still others feel he should be bought out … and then drawn-and-quartered in Market Square.
And, of course, there are quite a few folks who contend that none of the above is nearly severe enough.
One option that almost no one outside of the organization (or perhaps even inside of it, for all we know) seems inclined to consider is giving Granlund an opportunity to prove that he even remotely resembles the player former GM Ron Hextall thought he was acquiring from Nashville for a second-round draft choice as the NHL trade deadline approached.
What role Granlund’s work during the stretch drive played in Fenway Sports Group’s decision to fire Hextall the day after the season ended is hard to say, but he certainly didn’t do anything to enhance Hextall’s job security.
There is no defense or justification for all that Granlund, whose contract carries a $5 million salary-cap hit, didn’t contribute in his 21 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He was expected to be an effective two-way, middle-six forward, a guy who could kill penalties and fill a spot on the No. 2 power play.
He turned out to be the best No. 64 in franchise history, but just barely. And he has that distinction only because he’s the lone Penguins player ever to wear that number, which should have been permanently taken out of circulation immediately after the regular season ended.
Granlund’s performance during the stretch drive gave underachievement a bad name. He was invisible most of the time, and when he got noticed, it generally was because an opponent was scoring or Granlund was failing to capitalize on a quality chance.
He scored on one of 38 shots — that’s a conversion rate of 2.6 percent that would be humbling for even the most offensively impaired defenseman — and had all of four assists. As for his shorthanded work, the Penguins were killing 80.1 percent of opponents’ power play when Granlund joined them, and dropped to 79.1 percent by the end of the season.
He gave the fan base — and perhaps the organization’s next batch of decision-makers — every reason to believe that whatever this team looks like by the start of next season, Granlund shouldn’t be part of it.
Fact is, Granlund likely would finish a distant third to Tom Wilson and Jacob Trouba if Penguins partisans were asked to pick their favorite of the three.
All of that is understandable.
And all of it just might be premature.
Granlund, 31, isn’t a big-time goal-scorer, but his shooting percentage with the Predators in 2022-23 was 10.8 percent, or nearly four times what it was with the Penguins. Based on his career average of 10.4 percent, it’s reasonable to think that he will score more often in the future than he did here, even though he’s had several protracted slumps in recent years.
He also earned a reputation for having good instincts during his days in Minnesota and Nashville, even if those weren’t consistently evident after Hextall traded for him. Speed and hand skills can degrade over time; hockey sense shouldn’t.
Granlund looked lost most of the time after joining the Penguins. Giving him a training camp to get comfortable with linemates and Mike Sullivan’s systems, compared to trying to get acclimated on the fly during a high-stakes playoff race, doesn’t seem unreasonable.
Now, the simple truth is that even instant gratification isn’t fast enough for some in today’s NHL, and Granlund didn’t provide so much as a wisp of that here.
The easy — and popular — thing for the next GM to do would be to jettison Granlund at the earliest opportunity, regardless of what that entails.
That doesn’t mean it would be the prudent approach.
Oh, it’s possible that giving Nashville a No. 2 for Granlund will end up being almost as regrettable as sending Markus Naslund to Vancouver for Alek Stojanov, but it’s also possible that Granlund’s versatility and traditionally solid two-way game will be revived after he’s given a chance to settle in, and that he’ll actually have a positive impact next season.
Yeah, that seems unlikely now. Which is exactly how a lot of people felt about Jason Zucker and Marcus Pettersson when they were demanding the Pittsburgh Penguins rid themselves of those two last summer.