Mikael Granlund‘s agent came out recently, making it known that the forward has no intention of re-signing with the Nashville Predators before free agency begins. He is instead opting to test the open market. This is surprising but not unwise. With an ability to play in all three forward positions and a proven, reliable track record, Granlund is sure to be highly sought after in free agency.
Granlund is the one-stop-shop for reliable offence. He’s also a proven top-six centre, making his skillset that much more attractive. Simply put, he’s absolutely everything the Buffalo Sabres want right now. And they have no excuse to not pursue him.
The Buffalo Sabres Need Mikael Granlund
What He Brings
Granlund has often held a bit of a weird reputation. He’s nowhere near a star, and not a household name, but he’s also given off a presence of reliable, top-six play. No fans would argue his place among his team’s top-two lines and rightfully so. Granlund had a dance with around-25 goals and just-under 70 points in both 2016-17 and 2017-18, with the Minnesota Wild. He digressed a bit with a move to Nashville but he remained a strong goal-scorer and point presence all the same.
The advanced stats argue much of the same. In his statistical peak, during the 2017-18 season, Granlund recorded a 2.63 xGF/60 and a 1.78 xGA/60 (expected-goals-for/against per-60). These are absolutely terrific numbers and ones that he didn’t stray far from in any other year of his career. Excluding the first two years of his career, Granlund has never recorded an xGF/60 lower than 2.37 or an xGA/60 above 2.32.
Even at his worst, Granlund’s offensive impact is league-average and his defensive-impact is elite. In fact, Granlund ranks 41st among all 771 NHL forwards in GAR (goals-above-replacement) over the course of the last four seasons. That effectively places him in the 95th percentile of the entire league. This is largely thanks to his EVD GAR (even-strength defence) which ranks fourth among the same category. That’s above players like Patrice Bergeron, Ryan O’Reilly, and Sean Couturier; to name a few.
These same sentiments held up even just looking at this season; one where many fans claimed he struggled. Simply put, Granlund’s defensive impact is impeccable and his offence is strong to boot. He’s an elite top-six centre with the flexibility to play on the wings as well. He can play on both special teams reliably to top things off.
Granlund is the perfect second-line centre.
What He’ll Cost
Of course, Granlund is well aware of the talent he brings. That’s exactly why he’s testing the open market. He knows he has what it takes to charge a premium.
And that’s the downside. While the Sabres have all the money in the world right now, and plenty of trustworthy, contracted AHLers to fill any bottom-six holes, they also have to re-sign Sam Reinhart. They also have to find a way to revamp the lineup. If they can’t find a way to be competitive, they may lose disgruntled stars in Jack Eichel, Reinhart, and even Rasmus Dahlin.
So there’s a fine line that needs to be walked. That might be the thing that disqualifies Buffalo from the Granlund-running since the forward is projected by Evolving Hockey to earn a seven-year deal with a cap hit of $6.525 million. The projections also favour a four-year deal with a cap hit of $5.784 million or a five-year, $6.216 million/year deal.
That is an absolute steal for what Mikael Granlund brings to the table and locking such a reliable player up long-term is always a plus. But it may be too high of an ask for Buffalo. Reinhart is expected to demand upwards of $8.74 million of his own and the Sabres still have 11 other soon-to-be free agents, each with their own reason to return.
What Will Happen to the Lineup
But while the price is high, it’s a great discount for a player that’s proven his worth in both ends of the ice. And if the Sabres do find a way to reel him in, it drastically improves their lineup. Granlund will be able to slot into their second-line immediately, bringing a huge upgrade to the top-six. With him in, the Sabres top-six will look like:
There is no beating around the bush here. This is an insane top-six. The goal-scoring punch of Olofsson and Skinner is beautifully complemented by the playmaking ability of their centres. Of course, the centres are also potent goal scorers and the off-wingers would simply tie everything together. It’d be harmonious; easily the best top-six the Sabres have had in a while. The same can be said for the power-play, which would now have six highly-competent forwards to carry its weight.
This top-six would easily be enough to boost Buffalo into playoff contention, something they weren’t actually too far from this year. And acquiring this amazing sextet would be relatively cheap, still leaving the team $19.22 million (at worst) to re-sign Linus Ullmark and rebuild their bottom-six and defence.
It Needs to Happen
Granlund isn’t cheap. But for the package he brings, his $6.252 million price tag is incredible. Bringing him to Buffalo would drastically improve nearly every facet of the team’s game. His one-two punch of goal-scoring and playmaking abilities would surely bring to life the second line. His amazing defence would help resolve a team that looked scrambled in their own end. And his special-teams prowess would help solidify a Sabres team that was inconsistent.
Mikael Granlund fixes the Sabres. It’s as simple as that. By bringing him in, the Sabres squash all worry of who will fill out the second-line centre role for the foreseeable future; a concern they’ve had for many years. And they’re still left with plenty of money to fix up the defence or bottom-six after signing him. He also wants to leave Nashville for a place where he can bear more responsibility.
The Sabres need to sign Granlund. Anything less would be an outrage.