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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin - USA TODAY Sports

The Canucks Should Prioritize Markus Granlund This Off-Season

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.

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.

  • RoCkFaThEr

    Nice article J.D!
    Thank you!
    I disagree about his threshold for scoring though.
    With a perfect storm of confidence, proper linemates, and good coaching it wouldn’t surprise me if he became a 35 to 40 goal scorer in a couple of seasons.

    • TD

      I agree with you on his ceiling. If he was on pace for 23 in a full season mainly playing in a third line roll with Sutter, why wouldn’t 30 or more be a real possibility is he plays on the Sedins’wing and on the PP. I wonder what his scoring rate was for the games with the Sedins and when he was on the point on the first PP. he scored at a fairly high rate in those deployments. Additionally, if his wrist has hampered him since before the trade, he may have extra velocity and and a quicker release on his shot and may have better moves. Hockey is not any easy sport to play with an injured wrist.

    • Fortitude00

      Well he’s two years older so their careers are comparable still. I always liked this trade and thought of all the people brought in by Benning he has the highest upside and the only potential first line player down the road.

    • BendingCorners

      You’re welcome. I think Hunter will end up following a similar trajectory but with a two-year lag, which fits the Flames cap projections better than Markus’ timeline did.

    • Break The Canuck's Curse

      Maybe throw in a healthy bonus structure to reward him if he does explode and you don’t want him to resent being locked into a lower value contract

  • BendingCorners

    Markus had a good year on a bad team and next year will have I think a better year on a team that is less bad. He could easily be a strong second or third line winger on a championship team. If the ‘Nucks can lock him up for 8 years at 3.5 – 4.5 they will be getting a good deal but maybe they want to wait and see how he performs this year before pulling the trigger, even if the cost goes up.

  • DJ_44

    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.

    This may be an accurate statement, and speaks volumes to two things: 1) Shinkaruk was a “fan favourite” (although more accurately put “CA/media darling” –> see Subban, Jordan) speaks to the absolute desert of a prospect pool Gillis/Gilman established; and 2) the hockey intelligence of the media firing the barbs.

  • Fred-65

    Compared to Baertschi I would prefer Granlund so yeah try and sign to at least a multiable year contract. I don’t see Baertschi as a play-off type player but I thoink Granlund can and will play in the dirty area

  • bobdaley44

    All the flak Benning took with that trade was ridiculous. Shows how little the average fan knows. I’m sure the Canuck Army writers were bashing that deal at the time. Leave the trade decisions to real hockey people. Shinkaruk who?

    • Cageyvet

      Yes, I have always said the trade made merely nervous, but trust the professionals. Some things are obvious to us all, such as why did the Megna-Sedin experiment last so long with atrocious results? Much of the rest is best put in the hands of the pros, and resist the urge to judge too quickly. I hope they lock up Granlund, I think he has plenty more to give. The eye test matches the low shooting percentage, I recall a couple of disallowed goals and some bad luck, he should have cracked the 20 goal mark already. He also had some excellent assists and shows great vision on the ice. I don’t have a clue if he should play center or the wing, but I might start him with the Sedins. Certainly I’d be trying to find a top 6 role for him, how many goals should it take on this team to be considered for that job? I think he did enough and if he ends up as 70 per cent of the player his brother is, we’ll be happy.

    • Fred-65

      You’re right of course and you know what they about hindsight. But frankly I was upset because Shinkarik represented to me an attempt to offer fans some offensive “dangle” some thing fans had not seen seems like centuries, I just wanted some pissas desperately and Shinkaruk was promoted to be just that !. Equally if I hear the term a 200′ player one more time I’ll commit harri karri I swear. When I plonk down my money I want some etrtainment not some deep well intended statistical review

      • bobdaley44

        So you’re saying you wanna see some dangling and disregard the importance of being a 200ft player. You can see guys playing beer league who can dangle but the reason they never went anywhere is because they couldn’t or wouldn’t process the defensive side of the puck. Nothing more entertaining than watching a bunch of danglers getting the crap kicked out of them every night. If you can’t keep you’re man in check you can’t play in the NHL. There’s a reason it’s the best league in the world.

        • Fred-65

          I don’t get much entertainment from watching line afterlineof checkers skating up and down the ice. I pay a big dollar to attend a NHL game and I expect to be entertained. I guess for those that watch from their couch you can always change channel but for those who dig deep for a ticket it’s boring. It’s why so many NHL arenas are half empty

  • Peezy F

    Markus Granlund figured out how to be a sniper with a mangled wrist which is impressive in itself. I can only expect an even stronger performance in a contract year and with a healthy wrist.

    The type of goals he scored were of a pure goal scorer. He scored that one against Philly where he drove the net and kinda toe dragged it and tucked it through five hole. I think that game was a 2 goal game for him and he also had about 2-3 goals off the faceoff where the centremen won the draw and he shot a low wrister far side and picked it . Also, he showed off that quick snap shot playing with the Sedins, highlighted by that two goal game against Boston at the end of the year. Remember when him Bo and Bae played on a line against the Oilers, he didn’t score but he rung two heavy shots of the posts playing with them and they looked really good. Put him with a legit setup guy and he can be a 30-35 goal scorer. He isn’t going to dangle and snipe but if you give him a legit setup man or linemates to play with, he always kills it.

    • Rodeobill

      Now with Granlund, Boeser, and Goldobin, maybe even boucher, we have some good finishers in the system to go with the Playmaking ability of the sedins, horvat, and petterson.

  • TheRealPB

    I think Granlund is one of the main reasons that they saw Hansen as expendable — he’s a similar kind of versatile player, can PK, not as speedy but with arguably better offensive skills. His brother is better and made the NHL earlier but really only broke out last year — before that he’d averaged around 40 points a season. $5.75 million for Mikael; I’d think $4 – 4.5 million would be about right, maybe at the same 3 year term his brother got.

  • Doodly Doot

    I like Granny with the twins this season. He’s the most Burrows-like on the roster and can help the twins Finnish their careers strong (ba-dump-ching!). Many think he replaces Hansen, but I think that ultimately that’s what Virtanen will be. I do wonder if Rodin comes in healthy and hungry, he could be the best fit with the twins, in which case Granny on the third line with Gags and Eriksson would be pretty strong.