Tuesday, 30 June 2015

He Came, He Saad, He's Gone

Stan Bowman tried to convince everyone, including himself, that Brandon Saad was going to be back. Bowman was talking long-term contracts and "core players" when it came to Saad's impending restricted free agency, and there was some general excitement that Saad would be a long-term fixture in the Blackhawks' future. Bowman tried to make things work and he was right when he said that Saad would return to the United Center, but in the end he'll return as a Columbus Blue Jacket after Bowman tried Saad to the Ohio-based NHL franchise in a multi-player transaction.

There was always a chance that a team could come along and throw an offer sheet at Saad that Chicago wouldn't be able to match due to their salary cap constraints, so arriving at a new deal with Saad or trading the winger had to happen before July 1. While there would be compensation returned to the Blackhawks in the form of draft picks if a team put an offer sheet on Brandon Saad, it's hard to replace a player like Saad at any point due to how much he brings to the table - the same reason why so many teams were salivating at the chance to submit an offer sheet. Bowman, in short, made a deal to salvage his salary cap and bring back NHL-ready talent because he felt that he couldn't sign Saad without destroying the core of the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks dealt the 22 year-old Saad with prospects Mike Paliotta and Alex Broadhurst to the Blue Jackets for Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and a 2016 fourth-round pick. To call this a blockbuster would only be scratching the surface. On any given day, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who felt that Chicago was losing a big piece in this trade. However, today is not that day as I'm here to tell you that the Blackhawks may very well have won this trade based on the pieces they got back.

Losing Saad will certainly hurt, but the Blackhawks have dealt with losing key players before. Finding a second player of Saad's skill set on the trade market is rare, and it's even tougher to find them in the minor leagues. The Blackhawks will attempt to replace him with Artem Anisimov who is a bigger body and can skate. Anisimov can play both the second and third lines for Chicago, but would probably benefit greatly from being on the second line where his offensive game can flourish. In 81 games in 2013-14, Anisimov had 22 goals and 17 assists and was regarded as a solid winger as the Blue Jackets went to the playoffs. He'll need to rediscover that scoring touch as a member of the Blackhawks and, if he can find that touch, should be expected to be a 20-25 goal scorer.

Slovakian Marko Dano may be the piece about which Chicago should be most excited. He reminds me of another breakout player that Chicago watched this season in Teuvo Teravainen. He uses speed to find holes, he has excellent hands, likes to go into high-traffic areas, and he makes good passes. He's not going to dipsy-doodle like a Patrick Kane and doesn't have Marian Hossa's size, but he'll be an excellent piece on that third line with Teravainen. Again, I'd be excited as Dano is a younger, cheaper upgrade than Antoine Vermette.

Jeremy Morin was once a Blackhawk, and will now return to the Blackhawks. Morin was always a favorite in the Chicago front office, and he was a very good player with Rockford before he left for Columbus. He'll be given a shot to make the Blackhawks' roster, but we're looking at no more than a third-line spot with the fourth-line being more realistic. He scored 30 goals in 2012-13 for Rockford followed by 24 goals in 2013-14. He was swapped for Tim Erixon in December 2014, and there were some who said that Rockford lost one of their best goal scorers following that deal. Chicago will find a way to use his talents this time.

Corey Tropp has bounced all over the North American map with stops in Portland, Rochester, Buffalo, and Columbus as a professional alone, and he's a speedy winger who hasn't seen his NCAA numbers emerge. I can see Tropp starting in Rockford where he'll get a legitimate shot at being a full-time player with the IceHogs, but his cracking the roster in Chicago will be a long-odds longshot.

Columbus gets grittier, gets more scoring, and gets more hustle from Saad. There's no doubt that they have wingers who are fast, skilled, and gritty in Saad, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, and Cam Atkinson. People can talk about the talent that Pittsburgh has or the speed and skill the Capitals and Islanders have, but the Blue Jackets might have the best all-around forward group in the Metropolitan Division at this point. Which is scary if they can avoid the disastrous injuries that swept through their team this past year.

Saad won't push them into Stanley Cup contender status, but they should be a discussion for a playoff spot at least. He was becoming a difference-maker in Chicago, and the Blue Jackets need another player like that. In getting him, they have a Western Conference crash-and-bang set of forwards with a decent Eastern Conference speed-and-skill set.

If you ask who won this trade, you may have to wait a few years to answer that question.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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