The three losses recently suffered by our beloved Chicago Blackhawks have without a doubt sunk them lower than they ever have been this season. While they’ve stood and delivered commendably in numerous tests this year in the forms of long road trips and tough matchups, in the face of the challenges they faced this past weekend, the Hawks failed, pure and simple. The failure was further solidified by the loss of their captain and leader Jonathan Toews for the rest of the regular season (as we recently found out today).
However there was one shining beacon amidst the darkness, and that was Brandon Saad. Yes, statistically Saad (like most of the Hawks roster) did nothing spectacular in the last three outings; accumulating a cumulative -6 rating, but never has such a poor rating looked so good. For those of you who were not able to witness the Hawks’ past three contests, Brandon Saad’s play was one of the few highlight the Blackhawks had, especially against Boston. There were certain offensive rushes where Saad practically took on the Bruins single-handedly; using his agile skates and stick-handling to turn opposing players inside out, generate offense, and even get the rebounds of his own shots.
I know I’m waxing about intangibles here and that many of you are probably shrugging your shoulders, and I agree: it doesn’t matter how it looks, it matters what the end results are, and they weren’t pretty the last three games, in fact they were outright ugly. However Hawks fans, in the wake of such devastating defeats, we need to look at our $8.50 United Center beers as half full.
We all know the absence of Patrick Kane and now Jonathan Toews leaves a glaring void in point production, leadership, and morale for the Blackhawks. We also know that now more than ever is the time for other Hawks players to rise to the occasion and fill one of the many central roles left vacant by the injuries to the two franchise fixtures.
Brandon Saad has often been touted as the heir to Marian Hossa, and rightfully so, but he’s also capable of flashing some vintage Patrick Kane moves, and right now this is more important for the Hawks, and not just because Kaner is sidelined.
Other than their contributions to the boxscore of a game, Kane and Toews provide another often unsung service to the Blackhawks offense with their talent, and that is their ability to draw double teams and extra defensive coverage with their sprightly stickhandling and skating, freeing up other Hawks forwards to put themselves in scoring positions. While there are certainly several Hawks forwards capable of performing such a task, only Brandon Saad has consistently demonstrated a sustained ability to generate offensive opportunities via his skill.
Brandon Saad could emerge as a potent leader in multiple capacities going forward during Kane and Toews’ absence, the only question now is whether Coach Joel Quenneville will recognize this and a) put Saad in a position to flourish and b) pair him with the Hawks forwards he needs to succeed. Lately, Coach Q has had Saad skating with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp on the first line, which is fine, but wily veterans like Sharp and Hossa and are more or less opportunistic sharp-shooters, which (at least in this point in his career) doesn’t cater best to Saad’s style.
Saad would be able to do the most damage if his line-mates were similarly skilled forwards, i.e. young, up tempo skaters capable of some flash and dash. Luckily, the Hawks just brought in a 19-year-old Finnish prospect that many have compared to Patrick Kane and certainly fits the bill: Teuvo Teravainen. Saad and Teravainen have the potential to form wicked synergy, especially considering Saad’s is already a proven quantity in a similar equation: remember when he was skating with Patrick Kane and Brandon Pirri earlier this season? The final line-mate Saad and Teravainen would need is a young forward to maintain a net-front presence, act as enforcer/protector when needed, and most importantly keep up with their furious pace. If you were already thinking of Andrew Shaw, I like your style!
Such a combination of forwards led by Saad would result in a Blackhawks blitzkrieg that could easily overwhelm their opponents by their frantic pace alone, but think of how potent such a line could be if Coach Q leaves them to their own devices to develop chemistry… As the “veteran” of such a hypothetical line, it would be on Saad to provide leadership. However, as the sixth leading scorer on the Blackhawks, with Kane and Towes out, it’s Saad’s opportunity to provide leadership and so much more no matter where he is on the depth chart.
Tomorrow evening, the Blackhawks take on a beatable but very hungry Minnesota Wild team at the Madhouse on Madison. Here’s hoping Saad can not only emerge as a leader in the Hawks vacuum, but rally other teammates to his banner. For the Blackhawks, now more than ever, it’s time for a hero to rise, and it might as well be Brandon Saad.
FOR THE DAGGER!