Brandon Saad (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Brandon Saad is set to become a restricted free agent this off-season, but the Chicago Blackhawks should do whatever it takes to get the 22-year-old winger under contract. His development into a two-way force could make him a key player in Chicago’s future.
Much has been said about the Chicago Blackhawks salary cap situation over the past season, but one thing is for certain: there’s almost no way that GM Stan Bowman is letting Brandon Saad get away.
Matter of fact, Bowman himself has made it perfectly clear what his intentions are for Saad, and he didn’t mince his words. Plainly, he stated Chicago would, “get (Saad) signed.” If the decision was ever a difficult one regarding Saad – and it’s doubtful it was – the 22-year-old winger is making it evident with each passing game that Bowman would be foolish to let him walk. Make no mistake; Saad is going to be a big piece of the Blackhawks for years to come.
“(Saad has) emerged as a guy coaches trust, so I would think he’s going to play an even bigger role next year,” Bowman told the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc. “He’s ready for that. He’ll be 23 and he’ll have a couple of years of solid NHL experience under his belt. He’s ready for taking that next step to being a featured guy.”
Being called a “featured guy” on a roster that includes Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa is no small praise, but it went even deeper, as Bowman told Kuc that he sees Saad and Teuvo Teravainen as Chicago’s, “next tandem (that are) going to be significant players,” for the Blackhawks.
And, really, making Saad that guy is a no-brainer.
Over the past three seasons, to say Saad has stood out on a Chicago roster that already boasts many talented players would be an understatement. While his scoring touch may still be developing – he’s increased his goal totals each season, but there have been games in which he looks as if he could score three or four and musters just one – Saad has consistently been one of the most effective offensive weapons for the Blackhawks. Each of his first three seasons in the Windy City have seen him increase his career highs.
In his rookie year, he managed 10 goals and 27 points and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy. His sophomore year, Saad bucked the potential slump and notched 19 goals and 47 points in 78 contests. This season, just his third in the league, Saad broke the 20-goal mark with 23 tallies and eclipsed the 50-point plateau by finding the score sheet 52 times. If that isn’t consistent and promising improvement, it’d be tough to say what would qualify.
But it’s more than simply the points. In playing with Toews and Hossa, who are two of the Blackhawks’ premier offensive players, but also two of Chicago’s very best two-way forwards, Saad has developed a great game at both ends of the ice. His evolution into a two-way force has given him increased penalty kill time each season, and that’s while he maintains a regular spot in the power play rotation.
Analytically speaking, at 5-on-5, Saad is one of the best players on the entire club. Of the eight forwards on the Blackhawks that took at least 25 percent of their shifts in the defensive zone, Saad ranks only behind Toews and Hossa in shot attempts for percentage at 53.6 percent. That line combination has been a terror and Saad is a big part of it, often being the first man into the corner and digging out puck to start the cycle.
And then there comes the praise from his captain, Toews, who told ESPN’s Scott Powers that Saad’s growth comes from his work ethic, something Toews saw from day one.
“I said this when he was in his first year in the league: he was scoring, he was making big plays, making a difference in games,” Toews said. “I think you see that with a young player sometimes. They may have a couple good games and they get excited and may sit back and rest on their laurels, as they say, for a few days. He wasn’t satisfied. He kept building off the good games that he had.”
So what becomes a fair price for Saad? What do the Blackhawks pay him with their cap situation so tight?
Ideally, Chicago would hope to get him inked to a long-term deal that paid him between $3.5 to $4.5 million per season, which is likely the range Saad’s ability allows him to command.
Last season, there were four similar restricted free agents to Saad – Reilly Smith (20 goals, 51 points), Derick Brassard (18G, 45P), Jaden Schwartz (25G, 56P) and Ryan Johansen (33G, 63P). Johansen, the youngest of the bunch, had the best season and commanded $12 million over three years, a $4 million cap hit. Brassard, the oldest, traded years of unrestricted free agency for a 5-year, $25 million deal. But it’s Schwartz’s deal, a mere $2.35 million cap hit, which might give the Blackhawks some hope. A little bit more money – say $3.75 million over a longer term – and Chicago could potentially avoid the contract dispute the Blues and Schwartz got into.
As THN’s Matt Larkin explained yesterday, however, Saad could be the ideal offer sheet candidate. The Blackhawks are against the salary cap and a Western Conference team could put the screws to Chicago by getting Saad to ink a long-term deal that would pay him $5 million annually. If the Blackhawks were to match – which, in all likelihood, they would – it would mean they have $31.275 million tied up in Kane, Toews, Hossa and Saad. Add in Corey Crawford’s $6 million cap hit and that Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson make nearly $10 million combined and things get messy.
Messy or not, though, Saad, like Bowman said, can be part of the next big Blackhawks tandem. The Detroit Red Wings have built a franchise on continually passing the torch. While Kane and Toews aren’t yet at the age where the next generation has to be ready to step up, Saad is showing that if it had to be tomorrow, he just might be capable.