The NHL season is coming to an end and for the first time in nearly a decade, the Chicago Blackhawks will not be taking part in the postseason. It’s going to be a weird time in Chicago with no playoff hockey in the months of April, May, and June. No one saw this drop off coming, especially not general manager Stan Bowman.
Bowman made a couple bold moves this offseason in order to shake up his roster. The first move was trading reliable defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes. That move was understandable given Hjalmarsson’s age. The second move was the biggest of the two. The Hawks sent Artemi Panarin to the Colombus Blue Jackets in exchange for Brandon Saad. Saad was apart of two championship teams in Chicago–the move made sense for many different reasons.
Here were my thoughts on the deal shortly after the deal was made.
When the Blackhawks traded Brandon Saad two years ago, most fans like myself were heartbroken. He did it all on the ice and already had won two cups at the age of 22. Saad is a complete player. People used to call him “mini-Hossa.” The Blackhawks are now better because of this trade.
Saad will be able to play on the top line with Jonathan Toews and be a difference maker on the penalty kill. This move helps deal with the loss of Hossa. No doubt this was a ballsy move by Bowman, but it could pay off when it matters most: the playoffs, where Saad has already proven himself.
Silly me, I forgot you had to actually be good in the regular season to make the playoffs. That was the one and only knock on Panarin during his time with the Hawks. His skill-set and game didn’t seem to translate well to playoff hockey. In 11 playoff games, Panarin had two goals, six assists for a grand total of eight points.
His statistics, while not very good, don’t tell the full story. Much like Patrick Kane, playoff hockey can be frustrating for highly skilled players, like Panarin. The size of the rink shrinks and there is less room to skate, which makes it very tough for players that need the puck on their stick to be at their best.
Being shut down in the playoffs wasn’t the only reason Panarin was moved. He was also in line to get a huge contract extension that the Hawks simply could not have afforded. However, there are those out there who believe Panarin would have taken a pay cut to stay in Chicago. Instead of rolling the dice, Bowman took a chance by bringing in a familiar face with past playoff succsess–Saad.
Saad is actually younger than Panarin and has proved to be a valuable piece when it matters most in the postseason. In 67 career playoff games with the Hawks, Saad recorded 15 goals, 19 assists, and 34 points. Back then, Saad was a two-way forward who would do whatever it took to win. Whether it was crashing the net or logging valuable minutes on the penalty kill.
Part of the reason the Jackets were willing to part ways with Saad was because of his lackluster play in Columbus. He just wasn’t that same player with the Jackets. It appeared that Saad was trying to be a finesse winger instead of doing what he did in Chicago. Of course, the thought was Joel Quenneville and his staff would be able to get Saad back to his old self. So far that experiment has failed, miserably.
After a hot start, Saad has had a rough three-month stretch. Saad is still durable as he has played in 79 games this season. Yet, his statistics are underwhelming, to say the least. In those 79 games, Saad has 18 goals, 17 assists, and just 35 points. This is a guy who put up 47 and 52 points respectively during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Hell, Saad had back-to-back 53 point seasons with the Blue Jackets.
This season could just be a down year for Saad, but it is concerning nonetheless. This is where things get ugly.
In 80 games this season, Panarin has 80 points (the most in the history of the Blue Jackets). Those who thought Panarin’s production would drop without Kane were dead wrong. In fact, one could argue his production has gone up considering the most amount of points Panarin scored in a single season with the Hawks was 77.
Many people, including myself, would argue that the Hawks would have also been a better team this season with Panarin on the roster instead of Saad. Of course, the Hawks could have used a lot more help this season, especially after the injury to goalie Corey Crawford.
Here we are nine months later and this trade is starting to look like a huge mistake by the Hawks. Even if Parnin didn’t sign a huge extension, he would have helped the Hawks, at the very least, reach the playoffs. That is something Saad has failed to do this season.
There is still hope for Saad. After all, he is just 25-years-old. Still, there are a lot of questions around the Hawks organization right now, including what their general manager Stan Bowman is doing. If things continue in this direction, the Saad–Panarin trade may go down as one of the worst in Chicago Blackhawks history.
It’s a move that could also, eventually, cost Bowman his job.