Money issues force Blackhawks’ hand in trading Brandon Saad
With every powerful rush to the net and every puck battle won in the corner this season, Brandon Saad displayed the potential for just how good an NHL player he can be while also raising the price for the Blackhawks to keep him.
Despite the possibility of a daunting salary number for the restricted free agent, Hawks general manager Stan Bowman never wavered in his assertions that he would get a deal done with Saad.
After negotiations with Saad’s agent, that all changed as Bowman’s assertions turned into resignation and the GM pulled the trigger on a trade Tuesday that sent the 22-year-old winger to the Blue Jackets in a deal that involved seven players and ultimately changed the landscape of the Hawks’ roster.
“Our plan all along was to sign Brandon,” Bowman said. “Obviously, we didn’t know until we began negotiations where they were going to be (salary-wise). … Both sides tried hard and we just couldn’t come to an agreement. When that happens you can’t get stuck in a position. You have to continue to prepare for the next season.”
In addition to Saad, who helped the Hawks capture Stanley Cups in 2013 and ’15, forward Alex Broadhurst and defenseman Michael Paliotta were shipped to the Blue Jackets for forwards Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin and Corey Tropp and a fourth-round pick in the 2016 NHL draft.
With Saad’s already impressive resume and potential to be even better — he set career highs with 23 goals and 29 assists in 82 games last season — the possibility loomed that a team would make an offer sheet to the Pittsburgh native when NHL free agency began Wednesday morning that could have exceeded $6 million per season. The Hawks would have been forced to match it or let Saad go and receive compensatory draft picks. Bowman didn’t let it get that far.
“It’s hard to know whether there would have been an offer sheet,” Bowman said. “Certainly, it’s a possibility. I try not to really put much thought into that because we’ve moved on to the next chapter here and we’re excited about the players we have.”
Those now include two, Anisimov and Dano, who immediately will be added to the Hawks’ forwards mix.
Bowman is particularly high on Anisimov, who had seven goals and 20 assists in 52 games for the Blue Jackets last season and could slide into the Hawks’ No. 2 center spot.
“I’ve talked a long time about our desire to find a big center,” Bowman said. “There are very few of them in the NHL. To be able to get a guy in the prime of his career at 6-foot-4 who can do a little bit of everything … it’s someone we’ve been chasing for a long time. He has done a little bit of everything in his career and for our needs, to know we have (Jonathan) Toews and Anisimov for years to come, that was a very big part of this.”
Anisimov, 27, is entering the final year of a contract that carries a cap hit of $3.3 million, but Bowman said the Hawks are “close to completing an extension for him.”
The 20-year-old Dano had eight goals and 13 assists in 35 games for the Jackets and 11 goals and eight assists in 39 contests with Springfield of the AHL last season.
“We think (he) has a very bright future,” Bowman said. “He came onto the scene this year without a lot of fanfare. He opened a lot of peoples’ eyes with his ability.”
When the dust settled after Tuesday’s stunning trade, the Hawks’ salary-cap issues remained on the eve of the opening of free agency as they have 16 players (excluding Morin and Tropp) signed for approximately $68.5 million in cap hits. Bowman said the Hawks are close to securing a deal with restricted free agent Marcus Kruger, which would put the team close to the $71.4 million cap limit and not enough players to fill the roster.
That likely means more trades to come, with sources saying veteran wingers Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell are still in play.
“We have some other decisions to make,” Bowman said. “Obviously, this was a big decision and now that we’ve made this move, we can look at a few different things leading into the coming week. We have some flexibility. We’re not pressured into doing anything but we’re open to some different things.”
As for the Jackets, they are thrilled to have landed a potential star in Saad.
“We want winners here and he’s a proven winner,” said Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen, who added that he’s working on a new contract with Saad and would match any offer sheets for the winger. “He has won two Stanley Cups and he’s 22 years old. He has all the right tools (speed, size, strength), he plays the game hard and he has got an excellent work ethic.”
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