Brandon Saad wanted to stay in Chicago. Stan Bowman wanted him to stay in Chicago. All of Chicago wanted him to stay in Chicago.
Instead, one of the best young players in the game — a guy Joel Quenneville repeatedly said had the potential to be one of the best power forwards in the game —will play for the Columbus Blue Jackets next season.
“This is a business and we have a job to do,” Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said after dealing away Saad and two prospects for 27-year-old center Artem Anisimov, 20-year-old winger Marko Dano, former Hawks winger Jeremy Morin, and 25-year-old winger Corey Tropp. The Hawks sent defenseman Michael Paliotta and forward Alex Broadhurst to Columbus along with Saad.
Everyone knew there’d be significant cap casualties for the champion Blackhawks this summer. But they were supposed to be because of Saad, not Saad himself. Saad was a restricted free agent, but negotiations didn’t go well. A source said Saad wanted a long-term contract worth well north of $5 million, but the Hawks wanted a cheaper two-year bridge deal to buy them time while they clawed out of salary-cap hell.
So rather than see Saad sign a lucrative offer sheet once free agency opened on Wednesday — one that would only net the Hawks draft picks if they didn’t match —Bowman opted to trade him to Columbus and get NHL-level players instead.
Two days after winning the Stanley Cup, Saad suggested he’d be willing to take less money to stay in Chicago.
“The money’s going to come and go,” he said. “But to win championships and play on a great team, that’s what it’s all about.”
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said Columbus is already working on an extension with Saad and will match any offer sheet.
“We both tried hard to make it work,” Bowman said. “It just wasn’t going to work in this scenario. I don’t think we ever came close on a contract.”
As with any trade, only time will tell if this was a good one or a Phil Esposito-like disaster for the Hawks. Saad was everything you could want in a power forward, and he was only 22. The “Man-Child,” as his teammates dubbed him, had 23 goals and 29 assists this season, and added eight goals in the postseason. He also was an elite defender and a penalty-killer, a Marian Hossa-like player with great speed and great hockey sense. A top-liner from the get-go in 2013, he was a key part of both Stanley Cup runs during his brief career.
But as the Hawks learned in 2010 and again in 2013, in a hard-cap league, you can’t keep everybody. Anisimov carries a $3.283 million cap hit into the last year of his contract (Bowman said the two sides were already closing in on an extension), and Dano costs $925,000. Bowman said that while those two are in the plans long term, both Morin (who requested a trade out of Chicago last season after failing to escape Quenneville’s doghouse) and Tropp will have to compete for spots in training camp.
Bowman put a positive spin on it, raving about Anisimov. The 6-4, 198-pounder’s arrival surely means that neither Brad Richards nor Antoine Vermette will return (both were long shots). Anisimov had just seven goals and 20 assists in 52 games this season, but had 22 goals and 17 assists in 81 games in 2013-14. He can also kill penalties. Bowman said he’s been “chasing” Anisimov for “a long time” and likes the 1-2 punch he has at center now.
“He’s done a little of everything in his career,” Bowman said. “For our needs, to know that we’ve got [Jonathan] Toews and Anisimov for years to come, that was a very big part of this.”
Bowman also believed that Dano, a first-round pick in 2013 who had eight goals and 13 assists in 35 games as a rookie this season, could be a gem. Bowman always was high on Morin, but the winger never gained Quenneville’s trust, and requested to be dealt in November after going 15 games without recording a point, and being regularly scratched. Bowman said it won’t be awkward for him to be back in camp.
“You can never look backwards,” Bowman said. “You’ve got to look forward.”
The Hawks now have about $71 million committed to just 18 players (and that’s not counting Morin or Tropp), which leaves them with $2.9 million and five or six spots to fill. And they still would like to add a veteran defenseman (they’re believed to have interest in St. Louis veteran Barret Jackman, among others). So there are more moves on the horizon. Whether it’s Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell or Kris Versteeg or someone else remains to be seen. But by dealing Saad, whose new deal was the biggest albatross hanging around Bowman’s neck, the Hawks have a little more flexibility.
“We’ve got a lot of options that we can pursue now,” Bowman said. “We don’t have one path we’re going down. A lot of discussions that will happen over the next few days with free agency. We’ve got a few different plans, and it’s too early to tell what we’re going to do. Everything is a possibility going forward.”
NOTE: Bowman said the Hawks are “getting closer” to a deal with RFA Marcus Kruger. “Those talks have been going very well,” he said.