The New Jersey Devils were left with a gaping hole on the left side of the team’s top line. This after Taylor Hall was dealt before the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. The hole got deeper after the Devils shipped off Blake Coleman, arguably the team’s best role player the past few seasons.
Needless to say, it is difficult to fill in this gap with a player of Hall’s caliber. Jesper Bratt, one of the Devils’ top-line, left wing candidates, has shown flashes of promise and potential, but has yet to emerge as a consistent top-line producer and play driver. Not to mention, he has also found solid chemistry with Nikita Gusev. As a result, those two may remain on each other’s wings not on the team’s first line.
For this reason, the Devils may survey the free agent market to acquire a skilled top left wing. Looking for a player with the potential to produce on a line with Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri.
One compelling option is 29-year old “Fin”, Mikael Granlund. The former ninth overall pick is coming off of a lukewarm stint with the Nashville Predators. He just finished up his three-year contract that he originally signed with the Minnesota Wild worth a total of $17.25 million. Note, Granlund’s primary position is center, but he has hefty amount of time as a left wing.
Quite frankly, Mikael Granlund is a puzzling player. He had back-to-back 60-plus point seasons in Minnesota. However, his production dropped off over the last three seasons (two of which were with the Predators).
In Nashville, he was surrounded by talented enough players to produce at a higher rate than his 0.44 points per game career average. Specifically, he played mostly on a line with Matt Duchene and also saw plenty of time on the team’s second power play unit. However, it is worth noting that Duchene also has not found his stride with Nashville. Maybe this was a result of getting acquainted with John Hynes’ system?
Granlund plays a two-way game. This thanks to Bruce Boudreau instilling in him the importance of defensive responsibility while in Minnesota. From that perspective, he can work well with Nico Hischier on the top line and help transition the puck out of the defensive zone.
How many teams boast a top line with two extremely defensively-responsible players who also have top-end skill? Further, in the offensive zone, each of them can leverage their playmaking instincts to help Kyle Palmieri capitalize on his elite goal-scoring ability. Now that’s intriguing.
From a contract perspective, this can go either way. Although Granlund had a less than stellar campaign in Nashville, surely he believes he has much more in the tank. Thus, he will not sell himself short.
He made $5,750,000 per season the past three years after signing his contract with Minnesota. Because of this, he may ask for upwards of $6,000,000 per year. The Devils have the cap space to pull it off, but general manager Tom Fitzgerald may feel that a defenseman is a more glaring need on the roster. And thus, wants to spend more to acquire a blue-chip defenseman in free agency instead.
Mikael Granlund is not worth signing to a long-term contract, but he can provide some much needed stability in the top-six. If he ends up playing with Nico Hischier, then Jesper Bratt will likely find some much-needed consistency playing on the second line with Nikita Gusev. This also against some lesser competition which would help.
Mikael Granlund is not the perfect replacement for Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall. He also will not replace Blake Coleman’s snarl and scoring touch. But, Granlund is a quite serviceable option who can provide playmaking ability, defensive responsibility, and a veteran presence. This veteran presence would help the Devils’ young core emerge as a formidable group in the NHL.
Nonetheless, general manager Tom Fitzgerald has his work cut out for him this offseason.