It was clear changes would be coming for the Chicago Blackhawks following their 2015 Stanley Cup championship, but no one would have expected those changes to include trading away burgeoning star Brandon Saad. But with their hand forced, the Blackhawks did exactly that.
Chicago confirmed Tuesday afternoon that they have dealt restricted free agent Saad, along with prospects Alex Broadhurst and Michael Paliotta, to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for a four-player package that includes Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and a fourth-round selection in the 2016 draft.
News of the deal took the hockey world by storm. Less than half an hour after the first reports of the deal between Chicago and Columbus first surfaced from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the deal had gone through and Saad was sent packing to the Blue Jackets.
An interesting wrinkle in the scenario, however, came from TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who reported that Saad contract requests were in the $6.5 million range per season. McKenzie also reported that an offer sheet of that size may be coming as early as tomorrow, which is another reason the Blackhawks may have had their hand forced. McKenzie did, however, add that Saad’s agent, Lewis Gross, disputed the fact Saad was looking for a six-year deal. If the dollar figure is correct, though, it’s evident why the Blackhawks believed Saad’s ask to be too rich for their blood.
The deal is incredibly shocking considering that up until news of the trade broke, both Saad and Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman hadn’t been shy about their belief they could come to terms on a new contract. Bowman had previously said bluntly that a new agreement for Saad was coming, and Saad had told Chicago Sun-Times reporter Mark Potash following the Blackhawks’ Game 6 Stanley Cup clinching victory that the two sides would, “get something done. It’s an incredible city; incredible team. I’m looking forward to being here.”
In 2014-15, Saad scored 23 goals and 52 points, adding another eight goals and 11 points during the Blackhawks’ Cup run. When asked about the addition, Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen said Saad was, “exactly the type of player (they) want as a Blue Jacket.”
Following the trade, Bowman spoke with media and said that the Blackhawks gave it their “best shot” at retaining the 22-year-old Saad and that, “it was a joy to have him on our team.”
“It’s fair to say we both tried hard to make it work,” Bowman added. “It just wasn’t going to work in that scenario.”
While the return for Saad isn’t exactly mind-blowing, it’s certainly more than Chicago would have gotten had they lost Saad via an offer sheet. In Morin, the Blackhawks reacquire a player that had previously been dealt to the Blue Jackets and Tropp is a depth forward who can fill in their bottom-six. The keys to the deal, however, were Anisimov and Dano.
Anisimov, 27, is a center, which will help Chicago in an area they desperately need it. With the salary cap restrictions the Blackhawks are facing, it seemed likely that Brad Richards would be gone from next year’s team. Acquiring Anisimov makes that all the more likely, as does the fact that Bowman said following the trade that the club was working on an extension for the Russian pivot.
As for Dano, the 20-year-old was a first-round selection, 27th overall, by the Blue Jackets in 2013. The Austrian winger made his NHL debut this past season with Columbus, racking up eight goals and 21 points in 35 games.
While some would consider the move to mean the Blackhawks are done, Bowman said there are still, “a lot of options” the organization could pursue. Patrick Sharp has been at the forefront of trade rumors surrounding Chicago, but Bowman would not commit to saying the 33-year-old winger would remain in the Windy City. The Blackhawks still have some salary cap constraints, too, which could lead to additional moves, including dealing Bryan Bickell or Kris Versteeg.
With today’s deals, the Blackhawks now have a total cap hit just slightly under $70 million, with a deal still being necessary in order for RFA center Marcus Kruger to remain with the club. As for the Blue Jackets, they now have more than $13 million in cap space and will likely match any offer sheet, if there is one, for Saad.