OPINION: Sabres free agent options: Mikael Granlund

When NHL free agency opens next week, Granlund could be a target for the Sabres

In case you are wondering, NHL free agency is just over a week away! Players who's contracts were originally set to expire on July 1 will now hit the open market on Friday, Oct. 9.

The Buffalo Sabres likely won't be major players in free agency with the possibility of having an internal salary cap. However, considering there are reports of as many as 17 teams considering having an internal cap, the Sabres could get players at a cheaper than normal cost.

The first free agent to take a look at, with the Sabres in mind, is Nashville Predators forward Mikael Granlund.

The Player:

Granlund took a big step back in offensive production in the 2019-20 season in Nashville.

In his final 221 games with the Minnesota Wild, Granlund had 62 goals and 185 points. That's an 82-game pace of 23 goals and 68 points.

After being traded late in the 2018-19 season to the Predators, Granlund immediately saw a decrease in production.

In 79 games in Nashville, Granlund had 18 goals and 17 assists for 35 points. Goal scoring was not Granlund's issue, it was his change of role.

The Wild used Granlund at center and on the wing in his career, while the Predators kept him primarily on the wing.

Granlund is a playmaking forward, very similar to Marcus Johansson who keeps to the outside and sets up his teammates in quality scoring areas.

In his career with the Wild, Granlund averaged 15 primary assists per 82 games.

In the 79 games he played in Nashville, Granlund had just five secondary assists. That’s one-third of his Minnesota average.

What's the explanation for Granlund's play in Nashville? It certainly wasn't because of who he was playing with. Granlund's most common linemates while playing 5-on-5 with the Predators were Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg.

Any team signing him this offseason will be hoping that the 2019-20 season was an anomaly for Granlund and he'll bounce back with a change of scenery.

Adding to that, Granlund is only 28-years-old. This may be a player that's hit his cliff early, but taking that risk may be more worth it over investing in a player in his early-to-mid-30s.

The Fit:

Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams has already stabilized the second line center position this offseason. By trading for Eric Staal, the Sabres should not be desperate at the position for at least a year, maybe more if Dylan Cozens pans out as a 19/20-year-old.

The Sabres don't need to sign Granlund to play second line center, but the Sabres do need more scoring depth, especially down the middle.

At this point, we could see Jack Eichel, Eric Staal, and Curtis Lazar all playing center to start the season. That leaves one opening in the bottom-two lines.

If the Sabres can convince Johan Larsson to come back, that's the ideal way to fill the third line center spot. Even if that happens, Granlund can still be serviceable to the Sabres.

Eichel, Victor Olofsson, Sam Reinhart, Staal, Jeff Skinner, fill in the blank. That's the current picture for the Sabres’ top-six.

Granlund's playmaking ability should be helped if you paired him with two proven goal scorers in Skinner and Staal on a line.

Plus, Granlund and Staal do have experience playing together in Minnesota. During their time as teammates, Granlund only played more with Mikko Koivu. Staal was his second most common teammate with 714 minutes played together at 5-on-5.

The contract:

Granlund is coming off a deal with a cap hit of $5.75 million per-year. It would be stunning if any team gave him that money, given the season he just had and the current financial environment in the league.

The Sabres currently have $47.841 million committed to their salary cap for the 2020-21 season. That number will increase with so many restricted free agents to re-sign including Reinhart, Olofsson, and Dominik Kahun.

If the Sabres' internal salary cap lands just about $70 million, they might have room for one big free agent move, and that would be if they trade defenseman Brandon Montour, rather than sign him.

Let’s compare Granlund to Johansson again, this time in terms of what a possible contract may look like. It’s possible he could get the exact same deal the Sabres had Johansson on at two years at $4.5 million per-year.

That's the absolute highest the Sabres should go. This is a decent player, but not someone to get into a bidding war over.

There's a good chance that the open market will be driven down more than what’s given credit for, which could even see Granlund settle for something less than $4 million.

All in all, Granlund is a good buy-low candidate that could outperform the value of his contract. Those are the type of players the Sabres need to bring in.

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