Every Brandon Saad goal comes with an underlying message: the Blackhawks are going to have to pay this guy.
The 22-year-old Saad has scored four goals in the playoffs heading into Game 5 of the Western Conference final against the Anaheim Ducks. But it’s the last two that have made that reality loud and clear.
In the opening two minutes of the opening game of the second round against the Minnesota Wild, Saad powered his way past defenseman Ryan Suter — even shoving Suter’s stick from his hands as he raced by — and scored on Devan Dubnyk for a 1-0 lead. If it didn’t set the tone for the Hawks four-game sweep, it at least was a harbinger of things to come.
And in Game 4 against the Ducks on Saturday night, Saad scored an even more impressive goal that showed off the versatility that makes him a “must-keep” for the Blackhawks. On the penalty kill, he took advantage of Francois Beauchemin stumbling over the referee in the neutral zone, turned on the after-burners to create a breakaway and fended off Ryan Kesler’s desperate attempt to poke away the puck and beat Frederik Andersen for a short-handed goal.
That’s helped make it an exciting and lengthy postseason for the Hawks — and an eventful postseason as well. Saad and Marcus Kruger — the hero of the triple-overtime victory in Game 3 — will be free agents after this season. Saad will be the more marquee player. But Kruger’s impact as a penalty killer and on faceoffs might actually make him a tougher decision. Because Saad is a no-brainer.
“He’s going to be back,” Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said when asked about Saad earlier this season.
Signing Saad and Kruger will be a priority in the offseason, but only then.
“We’ll tackle it when we get to it,” Bowman said. “They want to negotiate when the year’s over. We’ll get to it then. They both play big roles. They’re important and we expect them and want them to be back.
“We’ll work that out. We’re got a good relationship with both agents. At this point, we’re respecting their wishes in the middle of a playoff run.”
Saad’s value is only going up, which could create problems for the Hawks — certainly residually — with cap-space sure to be tight next year with eighty-year, $84 million deals ($10.5 million cap hits) for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews kicking in.
But that’s the price of success. Saad, who became a regular with the Hawks at 20 in 2012-13, scored 23 goals and 52 points and didn’t miss a game this season.
“He’s been excellent,” Bowman said of Saad. “We love his game and his maturation into a key player on the team. We’re thrilled.”
Saad had four goals and six points, with a plus-1 differential in the playoffs heading into Game 5 against the Ducks. The Hawks have won all four games in which he scored.
“It will [cost us],” Bowman said. “Like I said when I answered those questions on Toews and Kane — I’d much rather have guys that are doing well and making money than trying to find those players. Brandon’s a great young player and he’s going to be for a long time. So that he’s on our team is a good thing, not a bad thing.”