How many players added more value to the Canucks lineup last season than Markus Granlund? If we’re to believe the GAR metric (GoalsAbove Replacement) developed by HockeyData’s Dawson Sprigings, you can count the players on one hand with a pinky to spare.
For the statistical neophyte, GAR combines a series of statistics into one currency as a starting point for analysis on any given player. Its purpose is to provide a rough estimate of a player’s impact when one combines the different ways a player helps the team — i.e. Corsi, point production, etc. The value is in aggregate, relative to a replacement level player. It’s not perfect, and it’s developers and chief proponents are the first to admit as much, but it can work as a good starting point.
— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) December 19, 2016
If we’re to interpret some of the possible inputs into Granlund’s sterling rating by WAR at face value, it makes sense that the Finnish pivot shows so favourably. Of course, any conversation about Granlund’s contributions last season should begin with his 19 goals, buttressed nicely with 13 assists to give him 32 points. That’s not awe inspiring — we’re talking low-end second line scoring — by any means, but it looks better in the context of his role and on-ice percentages. Granlund’s 1.30 points per hour last season were the fifth such mark among Canucks with 15 or more games to their credit, and he accomplished as much with an abnormally low on-ice shooting percentage of 6.56%.
Under the hood, everything checks out. There are three qualifying Canucks players to finish the season with their heads above water as it concerns controlling the run of shot attempts at even strength, and Granlund’s 50.5% shot attempt share makes him a member of this exclusive club. Among Granlund’s most common linemates last season, only the Troy Stecher-Alexander Edler pair faired worse when sharing the ice with Granlund than without, and by a negligible amount at that. For the majority of Canucks, playing with Granlund was a one-way ticket to the offensive zone for a stay in length of their choosing.
It would be wholly misleading not to add that “Markus Granlund, significant contributor at the NHL level” is a phenomenon of 69 games. The same reasons one might’ve reasonably been put off by the trade that catapulted Granlund to the Canucks aren’t any less sound. For almost two-thirds of Granlund’s career, he’s been a sub-replacement level player no matter how you want to slice it.
Granlund isn’t that player now, though. And at 24-years-old, it seems highly unlikely this is a player who’s going to suffer the ills of reversion. This next handful of seasons should make the prime of Granlund’s career. If anything, this is the appetizer to a career that should dance on the Canucks’ palate for years to come.
How long, exactly, is a decision left in the Canucks’ court. Granlund’s entering the second season of a two-year contract valued at $900,000 and set to hit restricted free agency with arbitration rights. Most of his underlying results, varied as they may be, paint the picture of a modestly effective middle-six scorer teetering towards the high-end of that designation. If we’re to take Sprigings WAR metric seriously, he’s already adding that level of value. Look at the players Granlund compares most closely to if you’re not yet convinced.
Canucks general manager Jim Benning believed in Granlund when he was one bad year away from a return flight to Europe. Their confidence was such that they traded a fan favourite among the Canucks’ prospect pool to make it happen, and suffered an unrelenting salvo of media barbs for the trouble. Time has served the Canucks well, so far, and it’s still on their side.
If they’re as progressive a front office as this offseason has led many to believe, they will serve themselves best by taking advantage of the volatility of Granlund’s situation. It’s just one good year to Granlund’s credit, but the same was true of Nashville Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson when he signed a seven-year deal valued at $4.25-million per season — as one example. That’s company policy for the Predators, and it’s helped vault them to a Stanley Cup appearance with a core locked up for the foreseeable future.
Granlund probably doesn’t have a 30-goal season in him, but it’s not outlandish to suggest that as the circumstances around him improve in Vancouver, he could get to 25 goals with some level of regularity. Had he played a full 82 game season, Granlund was on pace for almost 23. Players who can score at that pace eventually force their way to the top of their team’s payroll.
The Canucks haven’t been gun shy about pulling the trigger on contracts for players based on what they see as the likely outcome of that player’s contributions over the course of the deal. They’ve missed more often than they’ve hit, to be certain. Rare are the investment opportunities at this stage in the Canucks’ lineup more sound than the one Granlund’s situation presents. It’s not a can’t miss proposition, but it’s damn close.