Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Saad going in opposite directions for Blackhawks
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When the Blackhawks reacquired winger Brandon Saad during the summer of 2017, they thought they were getting an ideal running mate for center Jonathan Toews.
So far this season, it looks as though the Hawks have given Toews a high-scoring winger. But that production isn’t coming from Saad; it’s coming from Alex DeBrincat.
‘‘I think I’m getting pretty lucky right now,’’ DeBrincat said after scoring twice, including the game-winning goal in overtime, Saturday against the Blues. ‘‘I think playing with [Toews] and [Dominik] Kahun, they’re making great plays and getting me the puck. It’s pretty easy when you have those guys as your linemates.’’
In his second season, DeBrincat has six goals in the Hawks’ first five games. His all-around play is drawing plaudits, and any questions about his lack of size have pretty much been silenced.
As for Saad, he’s going in the opposite direction. Saad spent the bulk of last season playing with Toews, and neither produced at the level the Hawks needed. Their possession numbers were strong, but that didn’t translate to goals, which was one factor in the Hawks’ crash to last place in their division.
This season was supposed to be different. Saad was moved to the Patrick Kane-Nick Schmaltz line, but he had only one assist in the Hawks’ first four games. He was dropped to the fourth line Saturday and got off to a decent start against the Blues, drawing a penalty and picking up an assist on a first-period goal by Artem Anisimov.
But a look at Saad’s ice time against the Blues shows he didn’t maintain that level over the course of a game that lasted almost 65 minutes. He played only 10 minutes, 14 seconds, skated just four shifts in the third period and didn’t play in overtime.
Asked about keeping Saad on the bench in overtime, coach Joel Quenneville was blunt.
‘‘Decisions are made based on performance over the course of a game, and that’s what we elected to do,’’ Quenneville said.
That kind of decision wasn’t what the Hawks envisioned when they brought Saad back. And it’s not like he came cheaply.
Not only is Saad eating $6 million of salary-cap space through the 2020-21 season, but the Hawks gave up a premier player in Artemi Panarin to get him back from the Blue Jackets. While Panarin is proving he wasn’t just a creation of Kane’s wizardry, Saad can’t get on the ice in overtime.
The Hawks, meanwhile, are trying to look at the positives in using Saad on the fourth line.
‘‘He’ll get back up, and hopefully for the time he’s down there, he can produce and play well with that line,’’ Kane said. ‘‘It seems like he has a good attitude, so it’ll give us some more depth all around the lineup.’’
The issue is that the Hawks didn’t swap Panarin for a player they hoped would produce on the fourth line. They wanted the Saad who once drew comparisons to Marian Hossa and, during a pair of Stanley Cup runs, showed the potential to play an elite all-around game.
Meanwhile, DeBrincat — though not the same kind of player — is showing he might be ready to take another step after his strong rookie season. Quenneville was effusive in his praise of DeBrincat, talking up pretty much everything about his game.
‘‘That line’s really gotten off to a fun start together,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘They’ve got some good chemistry together. But ‘the Cat’ has had an excellent start.’’