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Chicago Blackhawks’ Brandon Saad Should Not Be Given Up On

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CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 26: Brandon Saad
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 26: Brandon Saad /
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Brandon Saad has had a difficult season with the Chicago Blackhawks, to say the least. But fans calling for Saad to be shipped away this summer would be making the wrong move as couch general manager.

After a difficult season like the one the Chicago Blackhawks have had, it is easy to start finger-pointing, calling for players, coaches and front office members to be gone in the offseason, and playing the game of “if the team had done this instead.” I know I have done it all season long.

One name that has gotten a lot of heat this year has been Brandon Saad. He is being talked about, once again, as the season winds to a close and fans see that Artemi Panarin has eclipsed the 80-point mark in Columbus this season, becoming the leading single-season point scorer in Blue Jackets history.

But I am here to ask fans to put down the pitchforks and torches and think carefully before calling out for Saad to be traded this summer. Frustration over his season is absolutely acceptable. Outcries for him being shipped away are a little too reactive.

Saad’s return season

When Saad was brought back to Chicago last summer, the move felt two-fold. First, Saad was brought on to replace the role Marian Hossa played brilliantly with the team for eight seasons. Second, the forward was brought back to try and reignite the chemistry between him and Jonathan Toews, which was strong on Saad’s first go-around in Chicago.

Obviously, all did not go according to plan. With only 18 goals and 17 assists this season, Saad’s point total (which usually sits in the low-50s range) is down this year. The spark the team was hoping the first line would get with Saad and Toews teaming up again has only showed flashes of excitement this year, never a consistent threat.

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Watching games all year, there seems to be a little bit of bad puck luck finding Saad; mishandles with open nets, shots going just wide, passes hitting him in the skates instead of on the stick. Saad has not been able to put it all together on the ice, but we have seen before what he can be when he is at the top of his game.

This bad luck may be most evident in Saad’s shooting percentage this year. Saad is only seeing 7.8 percent of his shots on goal hitting the back of the net. In the four years before this season (two in Columbus and two in Chicago), Saad didn’t have a shooting percentage for a full season lower than 11.3. Meanwhile, he is two shots away from having the most shots on goal in a single season in his career.

If Saad was scoring at 11.3 percent this year, he would have 26 goals on the season, which would be the second most in a single season in his career. Saad is putting a career-best number of shots on net, but they are just not turning into goals at the same rate as previously in his career.

Fans can look at it two ways. Pessimistically, you can say Saad is starting to come back to earth after having years of high shooting percentages. But I choose to look at it optimistically, which is to say that Saad having terrible luck shooting the puck all year (a year in which the entire team had a bad season) does not trump the solid years Saad had for multiple seasons before 2017-18.

Wrong comparisons to the Bread Man

Another factor in the defense of Saad is not a glowing praise of the forward: Saad’s trade value is lower than it has ever been. When the ‘Hawks traded for Saad last summer, they were receiving a financial gain over the length of his deal, with the forward having two additional years that he would be under contract compared to Panarin. Panarin is earning the same money as Saad this year and next, but he is lined up to get paid handsomely in the summer of 2019.

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While having a dynamic scorer like Panarin is always fun, I don’t believe he alone would have been the difference for the Blackhawks’ rough season this year. With only one year left on his bridge deal, the ‘Hawks would have been at risk of not being able to afford Panarin next summer and getting absolutely nothing in return for him.

Moreover, comparing Saad and Panarin straight up based on points scored on the year was a comparison Saad was always going to lose.

Panarin has scored more points than Saad every year in the league and is one of the most successful scorers currently playing in the NHL. The Blackhawks didn’t trade for Saad to get the same point production as Panarin. Looking at end-of-the-year stats and seeing the massive difference is hard, but Panarin scoring more than Saad was always expected. The real hope is that Saad can close that gap next season.

Summary

As much as it pains me to watch our beloved Bread Man having a fantastic season away from Chicago, the reality of the business is that Panarin and Saad bring a lot of different skills to the table, and the Blackhawks saw a need for what Saad offers.

His rough season does not help the perception of this trade, but if he has a strong 2018-19, that view should change. Especially when Panarin signs a deal that could have a $10 million cap hit next summer.

Additionally, with three games to go in the season, the Blackhawks have only scored 18 goals fewer on the year than last season. Meanwhile, they have surrendered 31 more goals than the 2016-17 year. While lapses in offense for long stretches have felt like the major downfall of this year’s team, the Blackhawks’ drop from 109 points last season to 74 points this season falls more on defense and goaltending than offensive droughts.

Is Saad’s season disappointing? Absolutely. Have the ‘Hawks missed Panarin’s dynamic scoring? For sure. But Saad’s rough season should not warrant him being run out of town — not yet. The best course of action, both in perspective of Saad helping the team or his trade value going up, is to come back fresh in 2018-19 and see what Saad can offer.

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The trade that sent Panarin to Columbus already happened. It is useless comparing numbers between the two players other than to come up with the unnecessary statement of who “won” the trade. Saad is a 25-year-old forward who has already won the Stanley Cup twice and been to an All-Star Game. There is no reason to give up on a young forward like that after one bad season.

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