Saturday, November 28, 2015

Markus Granlund and the Risks of Giving him the Marty St. Louis Treatment

Is Markus Granlund turning into the Flames next Marty St. Louis?

The way he's being utilized so far, it's sure starting to look that way.

In one of the most famous player-that-got-away stories in team history, St. Louis was a Flames prospect in the late 90s. He was an offensive star in the minors but whenever he would get called up by Calgary, coach Brian Sutter would usually deploy him on the fourth line with limited ice time and his offensive totals would dry up.

You want to stifle the creativity of a highly skilled player? Miscast him by consistently playing him with linemates like Bill Lindsay, Dave Roche, Steve Dubinsky and Clarke Wilm. Oh, the memories.

Of course, everybody knows how the St. Louis story ended. After being released by the Flames in 2000 by general manager Craig Button, he signed on with Tampa Bay and turned into an NHL star that played until age 40. His totals after leaving Calgary included over 1,000 games and over 1,000 points between the Lightning and the New York Rangers.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not predicting Granlund is going to have the same prolific NHL career as St. Louis. That's not my point at all. But I will suggest there is great similarity to how their careers have begun in the Flames organization and the puzzling variance in usage between the minors and the NHL.

Marty St. Louis (with the Flames organization)
  • AHL - 95 gm, 58-56-114
  • NHL - 69 gm, 4-16-20

Markus Granlund
  • AHL - 85 gm, 39-33-72
  • NHL - 57 gm, 10-11-21

The Tease 

For a fleeting moment, Thursday's practice in the desert to be precise, it looked like this time was going to be different for Granlund. Finally, it looked like his planned role and usage would better fit the skill set of the 22-year-old, who has shown time and time again that he's an elite player in the AHL and led Stockton in scoring with nine points (5 goals, 4 assists) when he got called up.

At that practice two days ago, Granlund had Jiri Hudler on his wing and Joe Colborne on the other. This was a refreshingly new look from coach Bob Hartley. While the veteran Czech is not having as good of a season as he enjoyed a year ago, Hudler is still tied for third on the team in scoring with 14 points (4 goals, 10 assists) and is a far more talented and offensively-gifted player than Granlund has played with recently in Calgary.

As an example, Granlund's previous six NHL games had come with Brandon Bollig as his left winger. In five of those games, Josh Jooris was on the right side. Neither are guys known for their offensive panache.

But come Friday, we never saw it. The experiment ended before it began.

Same Old, Same Old

It sure seemed like a pretty good idea at the time but overnight, Hartley changed his mind and on Friday, Hudler was back on the top line and Granlund was dropped to the fourth line.

The second-lowest scoring team in the Western Conference then went out and scored only one goal in losing 2-1 in overtime to the Arizona Coyotes, to fall to 0-1-1 on their three-game road trip.

Granlund, who centered Micheal Ferland and Jooris, played just 6:14.

Here are Granlund's linemates by frequency in his last 25 NHL games dating back to the start of the 2015 calendar year:
  • Mason Raymond, 10
  • Josh Jooris, 10
  • Joe Colborne, 8
  • Brandon Bollig, 6
  • Micheal Ferland, 6
  • Lance Bouma, 3
  • Paul Byron, 3
  • Emile Poirier, 3
  • Curtis Glencross, 1

Not a lot of silk mitts in that group.

Over that span, Granlund has been deployed pretty much exclusively as the club's fourth line centre. He's averaged just over 10 minutes of ice time, collected only six points (3 goals, 3 assists) and mustered only 27 shots, barely one shot per game.

Granlund on the fourth line just isn't a fit when you consider how he has been deployed in the minors. At Stockton this season, like in Adirondack in 2014-15 and in Abbotsford the season before, Granlund has generally been the team's No. 1 centre.

Over the past two weeks, Granlund had centred Kenny Agostino and Garnet Hathaway on the Heat's top line and they've been good together. In the last five games, Granlund had five points (3 goals, 2 assists) and rung up 23 shots on goal, an average of 4.6 shots per game. That's over four times as many shots on goal as he's put on target over his last few stints in the NHL.

Needs a Genuine Opportunity

Upon his recall, general manager Brad Treliving referred to Granlund as Stockton's most consistent player. It begs the question, when are we going to see them let this horse gallop at the NHL level and see what he can do. Or, will we?

It seems like now would be a pretty good time. The Flames woke up today in 29th spot in the NHL's overall standings. Only the Edmonton Oilers have been worse. They could use more scoring and they drastically need to improve their 30th ranked penalty killing and 29th ranked power play. Both of which are areas in which Granlund, Calgary's second round pick in 2011, could have an impact.

With this team still rebuilding -- don't kid yourself, the first two months has been a stiff reminder of that -- this should be the time for a young, highly-touted player like Granlund to get an opportunity to play. Give him the chance to secure a full-time spot in the line-up and establish himself as part of the club's future. This is the time to set him up for success by trying him in a role that caters to his abilities.

In case you don't remember, Granlund actually had played with Hudler before but only briefly. In a stretch that began on December 22 last season with the Flames dramatic comeback victory over the Kings that snapped that eight-game winless streak, it was Granlund that centred Hudler and Johnny Gaudreau that night.

That unit stayed together for four games with Calgary winning all four. Included was this slick tic-tac-toe passing play against the Kings on December 29 that went Gaudreau to Hudler to Granlund, who neatly finished it off for a highlight reel goal.

Final Word

Granlund may never amount to anything more than a AAAA player. To steal a term from baseball, that's the description for a player that tears up AAA when they're in the minor leagues but just can't seem to get it done in the big leagues. Too good for one level, not good enough for the other.

Granlund is very much a guy stuck in-between at the moment. However, he's certainly not going to realize his potential when he's getting a dozen shifts a night and being played with players that can't match his skill. Ferland and Jooris, his wingers on Friday, they bring energy but have a combined five points (2 goals, 3 assists) this season in 34 games.

At some point, Calgary needs to make a determination on what Granlund is. Is he part of the future or is he a trade asset? Before making such a determination, it would be incumbent upon the coach to put him in a position to succeed. This way, if you move on from the player, at least you do so having done your due diligence. At least then, you move on with no regrets.

Otherwise, you run the risk of seeing him flourish elsewhere and fans in this city old enough to remember the the late 90s are all too familiar with how that could end up turning out.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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  1. Great read Darren, but you're preaching to the choir. Get this to the coaching staff. Seems like a good time to try this kind of stuff, what's the worse that could happen? Drop 1 spot in the standings?

  2. I agreed with your article 100% and that was before he scored tonight. Imagine how he'd do with some skilled support.