Saad return underwhelming, but what did you expect?

At first glance, it’s pretty tempting to look at the return Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman got for Brandon Saad and deem it to be underwhelming. Like, really underwhelming.

At first glance, it’s pretty tempting to look at the return Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman got for Brandon Saad and deem it to be underwhelming. Like, really underwhelming. But Bowman also realizes, perhaps better than any other GM in the business, that when you’re not dealing from a position of strength, your pals in the GM fraternity are more likely to throw you an anchor than a life preserver.

Either that, or Marko Dano is going to be a lot better than everyone thought. Or perhaps Bowman, who seems to know a little bit about evaluating talent, saw in Saad a player whose value was perhaps a little inflated by playing with Jonathan Toews so much and being part of such a strong team. No doubt, he saw an offer sheet coming. But if that offer sheet had contained a six at the front of the salary number, the Blackhawks would have received a first-, second- and third-round choice. Instead, they dealt Saad and two prospects to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Artem Anisimov, Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and a fourth-round pick in 2016.

Discuss amongst yourselves whether you’d have rather received the compensation package instead. But Bowman must have known that in the position he was occupying, there was no way he was going to be able to get full value for Saad. And that’s largely because he’s been in this precise situation before.

After the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, he was forced to deal away core players Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg. Care to hazard a guess as to how many actual full-time roster players he got in return? Just one, Viktor Stalberg. Ironically, the one that sent Byfuglien to the Atlanta Thrashers netted a package that included Morin and a first-rounder used to take Kevin Hayes, another player they lost when he chose to sign with the New York Rangers.

After winning in 2013, the ice was barely dry after David Bolland’s game-winner in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final before Bolland was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs for three draft picks, none of which has turned out to be much of a threat to play in the NHL. And when Bowman ran into another cap crunch last summer, he dealt defenseman Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders for three marginal prospects.

Yet all the Blackhawks do is keep on winning. They will certainly be lesser without Saad in the lineup and of all the departures, this one might have the largest long-term impact on the franchise. Saad is a burgeoning power forward who was an integral part of this most recent Stanley Cup, but Bowman has enough faith in his prospects and young players that he feels they will be able to fill the void left by Saad’s departure.

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(And anyone who suggests the blame for this rests with Toews and Patrick Kane for taking up $10.5 million each in cap space doesn’t realize that actually amounted to a hometown discount. Had they split up and gone to free agency separately, they each would have netted more.)

So rather than subject himself to choosing between the prospect of having to match an offer sheet or losing Saad for draft picks, Bowman made the best deal he felt he could. And as we said, the return is not going to make Blackhawk fans happy. Anisimov is a serviceable player who is a year away from unrestricted free agency and on a fairly pricey ticket at $3.3 million. Dano was rated as Columbus’s sixth-best prospect in THN’s annual Future Watch edition and struggled in the AHL this season. Morin and Tropp are depth players who can fill in with the bottom six forwards.

But when you need cap space and you need to subtract from your lineup, that’s what happens. Which is why this corner has been saying for some time that Toronto Maple Leaf fans better prepare themselves for a less-than-scintillating return on the likes of Phil Kessel and/or Dion Phaneuf, particularly if the Leafs are not prepared to eat some of the cap space. (Wonder what those who ridiculed me for suggesting the Leafs could expect next to nothing if they weren’t willing to eat some cap space feel about this deal.)

Moments after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, Bowman stood at center ice at the United Center and vowed his team would remain a serious contender. “There’ll be some changes next year,” he said, “but by no means do we intend to take a step back.”

Hard to believe the Blackhawks haven’t done just that with this move. But then again, it’s the Blackhawks we’re talking about here.