Sometimes the NHL can be a cruel, cut-throat world.
The Chicago Blackhawks experienced just how dire the situation can get when the team dealt star winger Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a seven-player deal.
There were plenty of quotes from Saad saying he would love to get a deal done in Chicago. There were even more quotes from general manager Stan Bowman, who said he would make Saad a priority and get a deal done at all costs. It ultimately came down to a trade the day before free agency to resolve the situation.
One side must have been blind-sided by the other, as Bowman said in a conference call Tuesday afternoon that the sides weren’t near an agreement.
The last sentence is the key to why this trade occurred. According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Saad wanted a six-year contract worth $6.5 million annually. This was a price Bowman and the Hawks clearly weren’t going to offer. Many believed Saad would get about $4.5-to-$5 million per year.
Saad has the tools to be a superstar worth that type of money, but not to the Blackhawks, who pride themselves on drafting and developing youngsters who will replace stars like Saad who go elsewhere. Had they signed Saad, it would have meant they would be paying Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp, Corey Crawford and Saad more than $5 million per year.
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Saad is a tremendous talent, but his price tag would have fractured the roster and forced the Hawks to make more subtractions to the depth that propelled them to a Stanley Cup.
Bowman did get a pretty good return for Saad from Columbus and addressed Chicago’s greatest weakness from year-to-year, depth at center. The Hawks acquired centers Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano, along with former Chicago wing Jeremy Morin and prospect Corey Tropp.
Anisimov is a solid center whom Bowman is already trying to lock up with an extension. Anisimov scored seven goals with 20 assists last season with the Jackets. His play could be amplified with the talented forward group in Chicago and should serve as a very good second-line or third-line center.
The crown jewel in this trade is Dano, who is only 20 and showed spurts of brilliance last season. Dano played 35 games with the Jackets last season and scored eight goals with 13 assists during that span at the end of the year. Now, the Blackhawks could have two potentially young, phenomenal centers in Dano and Teuvo Teravainen. Looking long term, Dano could make the Blackhawks winners in this deal.
The Hawks are re-acquiring Morin after Bowman shipped him to Columbus for defenseman Tim Erixson in December 2014. Morin has been relatively ineffective in Columbus, but will get a chance to reignite his career with his original club. Tropp is a former third-round pick.
This trade does have implications on the rest of the offseason and the current roster. First off, it could mean Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell are returning next season. Both players carry serious cap hits and were being shopped around during last weekend’s NHL Draft, but were never dealt.
Sharp has two years left on his contract and is making $5.9 million over the next two seasons. He is a depreciating asset and Bowman was reportedly trying to get a first-round pick for him, which was simply unrealistic.
Bickell earned a four-year extension after his heroics in the 2013 playoffs and is making a whopping $4 million a year. There seemed to be minimal interest in him, which is unsurprising given his underwhelming 28-point season.
Striking out on the trade market definitely had a role in Saad’s departure. The Hawks needed to get at least either Bickell or Sharp out of Chicago in order to clear space to match Saad’s demands. Once Saad came in with a higher expected salary than expected, the Hawks were in trouble.
With the trade, the Blackhawks now have $68.9 million committed to 18 players next season. Their cap issues are still undoubtedly evident, as they are left with approximately $1.72 million in spending this offseason, according to Spotrac.
The Hawks will definitely part ways with Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette. Richards was rumored to be interested in returning to Chicago on a hometown discount, but the acquisitions of Anisimov and Dano eliminate any possibility of his return. The Blackhawks can also slot Andrew Shaw in his more natural position on the wing, where he was incredibly productive during the playoffs. With the Hawks expected to re-sign fourth-line center Marcus Kruger, the Hawks should have plenty of depth at the position.
It’s hard to believe that Brandon Saad’s time in Chicago is over, especially after his comments days after he won his second Stanley Cup at 22 years of age.
“The money is going to come and go, but to win championships, play on a great team, that’s what it’s all about,” Saad said.
Instead, it appears money became more involved in the situation. Saad did what any star entering his prime should do, strike while the iron is hot. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, the disappointingly low salary cap prevented them from keeping one of the many stars they’ve discovered and cultivated during this historic decade.
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