Free agent Brandon Saad sure to return — but at what cost to the Hawks?

SHARE Free agent Brandon Saad sure to return — but at what cost to the Hawks?
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Brandon Saad hoists the Stanley Cup for the second time in his career after the Hawks beat the Lightning 2-0 on Monday night in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. Saad will be a free agent in the offseason, but the Hawks are resolute about re-signing the 22-year-old power forward. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Brandon Saad is going to be back. He’s going to get paid. The only question is how much.

A two-time Stanley Cup champion at 22 — not even Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane accomplished that feat —the 6-1, 204-pound Saad took another giant step forward on a career arc that seems destined for elite status as an NHL power forward in this year’s postseason.

Saad scored 11 points (eight goals, three assists) in 23 games. He scored the game-winning goal in a critical Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final as the Hawks avoided falling into a 3-1 hole. The Hawks were 7-1 when he scored a goal.

But like Marian Hossa, Saad’s contributions go far beyond the numbers. His strength with the puck, his defensive ability, his speed and his aggressiveness in utilizing that speed combine to give Saad a Hossa-like value that makes the Hawks the championship team they are.

Now comes the hard part. Saad will be a free agent in the offseason. Hawks general manager Stan Bowman has made it clear publicly that the Hawks are going to re-sign him. But even if other teams can’t sign Saad, they’re sure to do all they can to drive the price up and put an even bigger dent in the Hawks’ 2015-16 salary cap.

With the hard cap in the NHL, it’s a familiar quandary for key players on a championship team like the Hawks. The more they get paid, the less money there is for the supporting cast. It’s a delicate balance for players who know they only have a finite amount of years to make big money, yet appreciate being part of a championship team.

“I’m not really worried about getting paid,” Saad said after Monday night’s 2-1 victory over the Lightning in Game 6 of the Final that clinched the Hawks’ third Stanley Cup in six seasons. “It’s about winning championships, being in Chicago.

“We’ll get something done. It’s an incredible city; an incredible team. I’m looking forward to being here.”

Bowman wasn’t ready to address the future in the jubilation of another Cup championship. But he reiterated that he’s counting on having Saad back in 2015-16 and beyond.

“I just talked to him right after we won,” Bowman said amid the post-game celebration on the ice at the United Center. “We [hugged] and I said, ‘This is the first of many —we’re going to win a lot together.’ He gave me a big hug and said, ‘Let’s go.’ So … he’s going to be here. I don’t think he would want to leave after this scene here.”

The big question is how much will it cost. Toews and Kane, with matching $10.5-million cap hits next year, take up $21 million of the expected $71.5 million salary cap. If Saad is intent on breaking the bank, the Hawks will pay up. But somebody else likely will have to go.

For what it’s worth, Saad — who scored 23 goals and 52 points in the regular season —seems to have a fine appreciation for being part of a winner and the impact Hossa has had on his development.

“They were champions before I came,” said Saad, who joined the Hawks full-time in 2012-13. “Just to be a part of this team and be around guys that like to win and conduct themselves in the right way, it’s huge for my career and I’m happy to be here.

“It’s an unbelievable team to be a part of. Obviously, the championship — that’s what you play for. Stan’s treated me well along the way. I’m looking forward to getting something done this summer.”

Hossa’s influence on Saad can’t be overstated. “It’s incredible,” Saad said. “He played for Pittsburgh when they made the Cup run [in 2008 when Saad was 15]. I was a fan of Pittsburgh and I watched him, watched him progress, watched the way he played. To be here and learn from him everyday, on and off the ice, the guy does everything right and he’s an incredible player. It’s huge, especially as a young guy, for my career.”

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