Penguins get: Forward Mikael Granlund
Predators get: 2023 second-round pick
Sean Kind: The “slammed window” analogy is going to be popular in Pittsburgh tonight, and understandably so. Falling behind in the Eastern Conference arms race and then trying to fix two years of cap mismanagement in three days to add a player as ineffective and unprofitable as Granlund is sure to freak some people out. It should.
You see, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are only going to have a limited number of apple bites. The odds of them being as good and as healthy as they have been this season are… slim. Plus, years of going for it under Jim Rutherford, and then overpaying for supporting actors under Ron Hextall, squeezed the margins. Still, even after last week’s trade-a-palooza, it looked like the Penguins still had a path to relevance in the East.
They were on Jakob Chychrun. He wouldn’t have fixed their problem with the bottom six, but he would have given them a second legitimate number 1 defender to partner in Kris Letang. And Chychrun is 24 years old. Adding one of the Canucks’ big forwards — JT Miller or Brock Boeser — would have been less helpful. They are good, but overpaid. A little harder to sell than Chychrun, but teams winning now have to make tough calls.
And if that failed, hey, they would at least be out of Kasperi Kapanen’s contract for next season. Spending a season as a buyer — as ridiculous as that would have seemed and as contrary to the organization’s approach from 2005 to 2021 — might have at least been sellable.
Instead, they’ve locked themselves into a player that seems designed in a lab to solve literally none of their problems. Granlund is 31 years old. He is small. His point production is mediocre. His five-on-five effects are worse. He earns $5 million. He earns that amount for two seasons after this one.
Poof is going into the cap space for this season. Poof goes flexibility for the next one. Now Hextall’s penguins are – as always – locked in a payroll with irreplaceable pieces at the top, irremovable pieces in the middle, and irrelevant pieces at the bottom. They are worse today than they were yesterday, and they will probably be worse tomorrow. That’s it. Maybe the window slammed. Maybe it closed slowly.
Or maybe we should move on to another analogy: the boiling frog.
Luszczyszyn House: It’s never a good thing when the trending topic on Twitter after a trade is immediately #FireTeamGM, but Penguins fans have every right to be mad at Hextall’s latest deal.
As the rest of the Eastern Conference tries to outdo each other in an epic arms race, the Penguins have responded with a Nerf gun. A super imbiber. A slingshot. Nothing that will matter when it comes time to take on one of the true beasts of the East, a battle the Penguins were unequipped for before the trade and remain ill-equipped for after.
Granlund was a fantastic player and it’s possible he could play a lesser role as the team’s third line centre. Possible, but unlikely. His recent results have been so deplorable that it is mind-boggling that he was the target.
At five-for-five, Granlund has scored 1.33 of 60 points this year. That’s bad enough, but it’s not like it’s a massive deviation from his score of the past few years: 1.57, 1.58, 1.38. Over the past three years, he ranks 256th among forwards sandwiched between Kyle Palmieri and Sammy Blais. Not a great company.
Unfortunately, that’s not the worst. There’s the other problem that at five-on-five, the Predators have only scored 45% of expected and actual goals this year with Granlund on the ice. Both are among the team’s worst ratings despite spending most of his minutes with Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene and Nino Niederreiter. All three did much better without him. The issues with Granlund are mostly on defense where the Predators allow 3.28 expected goals to 60 with him on the ice, 0.44 worse than his teammates and one of the worst ratings in the entire league. Offensively, the team is down 0.49 goals per 60 with Granlund on the ice. At both ends it was a wreck.
Unfortunately, it’s not the worst either.
The worst thing is that it’s not a one-year mistake: it’s a mistake that will persist for two more seasons after this one. Granlund, 31, will likely only get worse from now on. That the Predators were able to somehow get a second for a deeply negative value asset is an absolute blow, a masterclass of David Poile’s farewell tour. This is nothing but an absolute victory for them.
For the Penguins, it’s an absolutely baffling decision to dedicate what little space they have on their roster to an old, ineffective player. it’s not just a loss. It’s not just a bad grade. It could be the final nail in the coffin of Pittsburgh’s last chance to make a run in the Crosby, Malkin, Letang era.
(Photo: Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)