WWYDW: The Granlund Conundrum

What a strange case Markus Granlund is. The man can score goals and put up points at the AHL level. There is no doubt about that. But while every physical clue we have points towards him playing wing, this season Granlund has basically been welded to the number-three centre spot and been given choice situations all while failing to do much of anything as an NHL centre thus far.

So what should the Flames do with him? Move him to the wing? Trade him (as Pat suggested was a possibility this morning?) Let’s talk about it after the jump.

WHAT TO DO?

Since being selected in the second round of the 2011 Draft (courtesy of the Tim Erixon trade haul), Markus Granlund has been something of a mystery to most Flames fans. A bona-fide stud at the AHL level but unable to produce meaningful possession or counting numbers at the NHL level, I’m not quite sure most fans know what to expect from him any more.

Since coming to North America, Granlund has been one of the most consistent offensive contributors at the AHL level, including a sizzling-hot 46 points in 52 games during his rookie campaign of 2013-14. Since then, Granlund has been subjected to a million different recalls and demotions (as described here by Ryan) but has settled into a long stretch of games during this season.

The problem? He is playing almost exclusively as a centreman and that…is not really working out so well. It goes without saying that Granlund is still only 22 years old so there is definitely room for his game to grow, however, in the growing sample that he has offered the Flames at the NHL level there is increasing evidence that he might be in over his head. 

Max Reinhart. Right. I had started to forget about him. Wonder what he’s up to? *checks* (20pts in 40 AHL games this year) Yeah, that’s about exactly right.  

Let’s start with one of the most obvious measurements of centremen: faceoffs. Over 78 NHL games, Markus Granlund’s career faceoff percentage is a paltry 39.6%. This season, Granlund’s got himself to 43.3% over 23 games, worst among all Flames centres who have taken at least 200 faceoffs. It should also be noted that the Flames, as a centre-corps, are generally dreadful at faceoffs with Sean Monahan, this season’s top faceoff guy, sitting below 50% in close to 1000 draws. 

This has been a problem for Granlund throughout his time in the NHL as last season, in over 500 draws, Granlund won just 36.8% of them. Yikes. Though it should not be overly surprising that a young player struggles to win faceoffs it is concerning that throughout his career (nearing one full season split over three years), Granlund has been brutalized in the dot.

While the Flames struggle to win faceoffs since well, Stephane Yelle, has been well-documented, the Flames may have someone within their system who can actually do it. Derek Grant, the never-publicized Flames signing from this past July has been dragging the Stockton Heat on his back this season, scoring at better than a point-per-game rate (28 pts in 24 games)

Grant even spent a bit of time up with Flames this season, playing nine games and averaging under ten minutes of ice-time during that stint. However, what is striking about Grant is that the man can win faceoffs, albeit in a pretty small sample so far. Through 34 games played over three seasons, Grant has won 138 of his 255 faceoffs (54.1%). I understand that Grant isn’t exactly Patrice Bergeron in the circle but among Flames centres in the dot, it wouldn’t take much to become FACEOFF GOD™

Also, Grant can do this (skip to 1:44), the rest is mostly Jon Gilles getting scored on which no one needs to see:

While there may be a temptation to look at Grant and say “Great! Send Granlund down and recall Grant!” we likely know what Grant is already. We know what he can bring to the team and while that is valuable, Granlund’s skill may be more valuable to the team in the long-run. Essentially, it may be a better bet to try and develop Granlund because he’s younger while Grant is more-or-less a reliable AHLer who can win a draw every now and again. However, Granlund’s offense, at least this season has been basically zilch, and may be the product of playing centre. 

SCORING  

As far as possession goes, Granlund hasn’t been driving play effectively at all in the most basic of metrics (AKA: the only ones I am really equipped to speak about). Among Flames forwards who have played at least 20 games, and are not named Brandon Bollig because dear god don’t get me started, Granlund ranks dead last with a GF% of 38.5. When looking at all Flames Forwards, I mean every last one of ’em, including the aforementioned bumbling beard on skates, Granlund is dead-last again in terms of Shots-for% with 41.9. Furthermore, Granlund is managing these struggles while getting the best offensive zone start percentages of any Flames centre (41%). 

During a game from last week, Kent noted Granlund’s struggles to drive play:

Then there’s the scoring problem. This season, despite all the cherry offensive zone starts, Granlund has just four points in 24 games. That’s not great for a player who has been able to score throughout his entire career. While I know that scoring goals isn’t the only measurement of whether or not a player is effective at his job, I wonder if a centreman can’t win draws, generate shots at his opponent’s net, doesn’t hit people, score goals, or garner assists, then what exactly are they good at? 

No doubt that Granlund is a hard-worker and Bob Hartley seems to like him a great deal, using Granlund as a penalty-killer as well. Personally, it is refreshing to see Hartley give his affection to a different kind of player, rather than say, Kevin Westgarth, but the loyalty, at least positionally-speaking, is strange. 

Granlund has scored at the NHL level, but mostly during last season where he was used as a winger as well. Granlund’s size and skill leads one to infer that he would be a winger at the NHL level but this season Hartley seems intent on developing him as a centre, a process that has been rather painful to watch. As many have pointed out, the Flames have Sam Bennett waiting in the wings to become a centre, perhaps it is time they simply swapped spots. 

What do you think? Should Granlund be moved to the wing? Moved to Stockton to continue to develop as a centre in the AHL? Used as an extra forward? Traded? Let me know what you would do.  

  • Derzie

    We are seeing a lot of discussions that are coach and GM topics. My feeling is the Flames have really stalled. The coaching is suspect and the personnel are mediocre. Time for some positive change. Play who we have and prepare for the draft, some trades and a new coach next year. Granlund is not an nhler and may never be. Try another option from the farm. Inventory time.

    • FeyWest

      Did they stall or did they just make such a jump last year that this year would have been a miracle to see another equally big jump in the rebuild? I think we ar in an equalization period from last year to this year. Where last year was a lot of Low Corsi High PDO and this year is higher Corsi lower PDO, essentially what everyone saw as luck and adrenaline last year is changing to more possession.

      Once some of our UFA’s and aging contracts are off the books we’ll see more turnaround through the ranks and we’ll, hopefully, see the next big jump for the Flames!

    • cberg

      Derzie,
      I realize from your comments you have it in for BH and you seem to believe if that would happen many other problems would just disappear.

      Unfortunately, for Granlund, as many have mentioned he is struggling to produce much in the way of points, Corsi, Face-offs or physicality in any of his call-ups and since its nearing the end of the time where he is waiver-free that is a problem. Unless he finds a role on the team he’ll be gone soon one way or another.

      Personally I would like to try him at wing, perhaps switching he and Bennett, which I’m pretty sure will happen sooner than later, and then we’ll see if that makes any difference.

      In addition I would like to know what kind of PK guy he is, as that is likely his best potential role on the team going forward (just like Byron, for instance), and I’m not sure but that he isn’t one of the Flames best PK’ers already? Unfortunately, Taylor doesn’t delve into that at all. Not that this is uncommon on this site, as I find the authors are pretty consistent at giving one-sided, simplistic opinions and judging players pretty much solely on those (Corsi) measures.

      Finally, to answer the question of Taylors. I would like to try him at wing for a good stretch of say 15-20 games and see if that sparks his offence. Failing success there, and not knowing his PK prowess, I’d look to trade him,

  • cberg

    I think we should all prepare ourselves for the acquisition of a guy like Tyler Bozak to solidify our 2nd/3rd line centre position and for Bennett to be on the wing going forward. The organization clearly sees Bennett’s speed, skill and aggressiveness as a better asset at wing than at centre, and perhaps they are right. We can’t go forward with the centre position the way it is, neither Jooris nor Colborne should be there centring a third line. Ideally, that’s where Backlund would be and we have someone like Bozak on our second. We’ve got no one in the system who can fill anything higher than 4th line centre, at least not for a couple of years.

    • piscera.infada

      think we should all prepare ourselves for the acquisition of a guy like Tyler Bozak to solidify our 2nd/3rd line centre position and for Bennett to be on the wing going forward. The organization clearly sees Bennett’s speed, skill and aggressiveness as a better asset at wing than at centre, and perhaps they are right.

      And that would be a 100% horrible and unjustified mistake. It would give me a substantial amount of doubt about a management group that I actually have a lot of confidence in at the moment. Even suggesting Bennett isn’t a centre (at least until he’s proven he isn’t–which he likely won’t) would be a reason to clear out the coaching staff and management team, in my opinion.

      The only way you’re even considering that at this point would be if you draft Auston Matthews, and even then, you might be better off making Monahan the winger–and I really like Monahan.

  • flamesburn89

    With Bennett now playing with Backlund on the wing, a Flames’ decision to move Granlund to the wing at this point would leave the team with 3 guys down the middle (Monahan, Backlund, and Stajan). They’d then have to move one of the wingers to the C slot. Of the teams’ current crop of wingers, Bennett or Frolik make the most sense, as they’ve played centre before. However, with the Flames’ second line scoring as of late, Hartley would likely be reluctant to split the trio up. As a result, Granlund likely continues to play C for the foreseeable future (until the point when/if Hartley breaks the second line up), plays on the wing while a guy like Colborne moves to C, or the Flames trade/demote him.

    If it were me, I’d recall Grant and demote Granlund. I’m not ready to give up on Granlund yet, but I don’t like the idea of him playing centre in the NHL. Maybe tell Huska to play him on the wing exclusively while he’s down in the A.

  • Derzie

    Send him to Minnesota to play with his brother. Might be able to pull the rights for a college player out of them, no way Tuch, but maybe Lucia and Huala or Greenway? I don’t think Granny fits in here with our resistance to play him at wing might as well try to get some assets.

  • MattyFranchise

    At least TRY the kid at RW before he gets traded. If he can be converted to the right side it would be great.

    Also, good job on the You Say Party! We Say Die! song in the article Taylor. I literally know 4 other people that have heard of them and I was the one that introduced them to this excellent band. Too bad about their drummer.

    • Thanks! I’m glad you like them! YSPWSD are fantastic, the drummer story is absolutely heartbreaking 🙁

      I also agree that Granlund should get a regular shot at wing before he gets turfed. The system isn’t exactly overflowing with kids who can score at the moment

  • flames2015

    Colbourne and Jooris are natural centers. I’d like to see Granlund on the wing and perhaps one of those two guys center the 4th line. Colbourne is decent on the draw so it makes sense rather have him play wing again in the top 6. Granlund looked good the first few games when we called him up, but as outlined in the article, his face off % is atrocious and he just doesn’t win puck battles. I think we should see what he can do on the wing before we make judgement on whether to trade him or not. Perhaps even making him a healthy scratch or two will give him a shake up.

  • aflame13

    I have always promoted a trade with Minny…unfortunately the kid does not produce at the NHL level and he is 23 years old thus Minny would be foolish to give away any assets/drafts for the kid when they will likely sign him as a UFA in less than 2 years…I would suggest he be worked into a trade scenario involving multiple players as early as next month…get what you can….

  • Parallex

    At this point I don’t see a compelling reason for Granlund to be in the NHL. He’s not scoring, driving play, winning faceoffs, or doing anything else of note.

    He’s not ready.

    The question the Flames have to ask is whether they think he’ll ever be ready, and if they do how soon that’ll be because this is it for his waiver exemption. So they need to make a decision soonish.

  • aflame13

    I was just thinking during the Edmonton game that Granlund looked in over his head. I remember one shift in particular, the Flames got stuck in their own zone, he didnt know what man was his and was always a bit behind the play. Kinda disturbing really, for a player that’s been given the chance to adapt.

    A chance on the wing would be good, otherwise he might be a decent part of a trade.

  • RKD

    Either he’s just not ready for the NHL and can’t cut it as an everyday player. Maybe being in the center is a lot for him to handle and he is overwhelmed trying to be good defensively, trying to win face-offs, etc. I don’t know if moving him to the wing will fix his issues, his stat line in a lot of January game has been 0 0 0 across the board. Or maybe this is just a year of learning and he gets it right in another future season if he’s still here.