Blackhawks deal Saad to Columbus

10-171460575-smallIn a completely unexpected and stunning move, the Blackhawks have traded Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for four players and a 2016 fourth round draft pick. Stan Bowman had stated on more than one occasion leading up to this summer that his number one priority was to re-sign Saad this offseason and that he was confident he could do so. Unfortunately, it is now clear that the two sides could not come to an agreement on a contract, thus leading to the trade.

Obviously this one hurts, a lot, but let’s break it down here and really take a look at what this trade means.

First off, it is being reported that Saad was looking for a deal worth about $6.5 million per year for 6 years. If that is in fact true, then there’s no way the Blackhawks could have signed him to that deal without having to dismantle their roster. With the Hawks as tight against the salary cap as they are, two million dollars is a lot of money. If Saad was looking for four million per year, then he doesn’t get traded. This isn’t like the MLB where a team can sign players to huge deals left and right. In this case, what seems to be not a huge sum of money (two million), is in fact just that.

Secondly, with Saad reportedly looking for that type of contract and the Hawks not in a position to agree on that, they had to deal him away before he became a restricted free agent at midnight tonight. If he were still on the Hawks’ roster at 12:00am tonight, any team in the league could then contact Saad and sign him to an offer sheet, which would likely have been $6.5 million for 6 years. If that had happened, the Blackhawks would have been left with two options:

  1. Match whatever offer sheet Saad signed, thus forcing them to make possibly even more trades than we were all expecting and putting them in an unfavorable position for the near future.
  2. Don’t match the offer sheet and receive a handful of draft picks in return that may or may not pan out to be good NHL players.

Given that situation, Stan Bowman and the Hawks chose to trade Saad now before he became an RFA.

Here’s what they got in return:

  • Artem Anisimov: Anisimov (27 years old) is a solid two-way player who can be placed at center or on the wing, making him a valuable asset to the lineup. He registered 27 points (7 goals, 20 assists) last season with Columbus, but my immediate thought is that those numbers will quickly rise now that he’s in a star-studded lineup with the Hawks. His ability to play center and win faceoffs makes losing Richards and/or Vermette easier to handle.
  • Marko Dano: This guy is just 20 years old and is viewed as one of the better prospects in the game. He has some tremendous upside and could very well end up being a big player on the Hawks for many years. As a winger, he could find himself on the Hawks’ third line next year.
  • Jeremy Morin: No, that is not a misprint. Morin is back with the Hawks after being traded away to Columbus this past December. If you’ve forgotten, Morin is a hard nosed winger who isn’t afraid of battling along the boards or standing in front of the net. He has shown some good potential at the NHL level, but hasn’t been able to put it all together yet. Whether or not he starts in NHL or AHL next year remains to be seen. That’s if he doesn’t get traded again before the season starts.
  • Corey Tropp: Tropp is a 25 year old right winger who tallied just 8 points with the Blue Jackets in 61 games last year. And to be honest, that’s all I really know about him.

In addition to those four players, the Blackhawks also received a 2016 fourth round pick from Columbus.

When you look at the return for Brandon Saad in this deal, there’s reason for optimism. Artem Anisimov is without question a nice pickup and could be quite valuable for the Hawks immediately. He ensures that the Hawks will have some nice depth at center for next season, as they already have Toews, Teravainen, Kruger (assuming he gets re-signed), and Phillip Danault, who is expected to see more NHL time. This also means that we may not see Brad Richards or Vermette back. It wasn’t likely that Vermette would have been back anyway, but Richards seemed to be a real possibility. Him coming back is still not out of the question though.

Marko Dano, as I mentioned, figures to be part of the Hawks’ future for sure. He has some real goal scoring talent and is just 20 years old. When you add in the fact that they already have an incredible talent in Teuvo Teravainen, who is also just 20, the Hawks up and coming players could make them quite scary again, and soon.

Now here’s another angle.

It’s possible that the Hawks turn around and trade Morin, Tropp, or even Dano (not likely) along with Bickell or Sharp to get a bigger return. I personally can’t see Morin playing another game for Joel Quenneville, who clearly doesn’t like what Morin brings on the ice, so maybe he’s the best bet of the three to get traded again. Whether this theory holds true, who know? It’s just a theory.

What’s not a theory is that the Hawks do still have to trade Sharp and/or Bickell to open up more cap space. If they can trade both, which would be ideal, they could afford to go after some free agents that they probably couldn’t have before trading Saad. They could also seriously look at bringing back Oduya and Richards.

So while none of us are happy to see Saad go, and I’m still stunned by it, the more you look into to it, the more it appears that this was a move that needed to be made. And if Bowman can deal Sharp and Bickell, that would allow the Hawks to makes some moves to help them in the long run.

While it’s easy to be pessimistic right now, there is still a lot of reason for optimism when you look at who the Hawks just acquired and what they could still potentially do this summer.

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Thoughts on the Blackhawks after 3 games

940-couture-loganThree games are already in the books for the Hawks as they find themselves sitting at 2-0-1. Even after just three games, there are already some things sticking out at me about this team, both good and bad. Starting the year with three straight games without a regulation loss is obviously a good thing, but the Hawks play in the NHL’s toughest division and will need to continue earning points on nearly a nightly basis. With that, here’s what I’ve noticed through three games:

  • First of all, don’t get too upset over the loss to the Flames in OT the other night. The Hawks outshot Calgary 50-18 and dominated the game from start to finish. This was one of those fluke occurrences much like we saw two years ago between these same two teams in Calgary. Only that time, it was Ray Emery and the Blackhawks stealing the victory and not Jonas Hiller and the Flames.
  • The third line needs to wake up. The coaching staff moved Brad Richards from the second line to the third line shortly before the season began, and it has not worked out very well thus far to say the least. That line of Bickell, Richards and Smith has done very little in terms of generating momentum and scoring chances.
  • Speaking of Richards, he has been pretty awful through three games. He looks slow, he’s made a few horrible turnovers at the blue line on the powerplay, and he isn’t doing anything to make his line better. The best he’s looked so far has been on the back-check after turning the puck over. Not the kinds of things we were hoping to see from him. Hopefully he just needs a few games to finally get it going.
  • Special teams. The Hawks have been decent on the penalty kill, having killed 10 of the 11 penalties they’ve taken. It’s the powerplay that has not done much to impress. The Blackhawks are 3 for 16 with the man advantage, which may not look so bad on paper, but the fact that they were just 1 for 7 the other night against Calgary is not good. Had they converted just one more time in that game, they would have won. They need to quit trying to make the extra, cute passes and just shoot the damn thing. It’s that simple.
  • Why is Jeremy Morin still not getting playing time? He played a team low 5:48 against the Flames, one of the worst teams in the league. While guys like Carcillo have been playing pretty well here early on, there’s still no excuse to give Morin less than 6 minutes of ice time. Quenneville needs to get this idea out of his head that Morin is more of a liability than anything else. The guy goes 110% every time he’s on the ice, which creates scoring chances and momentum. Plus, if Q would give Morin the chance to prove he deserves more minutes (instead of providing Carcillo with ample opportunities), he’d probably show that he does deserve more ice time.

Okay now the positive stuff.

  • Corey Crawford continues to look great in net. Sure he only saw 18 shots against the Flames and still lost, but you can’t really pin either of those goals on him. The first was a crazy deflection that no one could have stopped, and the second was just a great wrist shot that beat him. He has made big save after big save so far, including multiple saves on breakaways.
  • The Saad-Shaw-Kane line has been unstoppable the past two games. There’s not much more to say about them than that. The chemistry that this line is showing will make it tough for Quenneville and the coaching staff to break them up, meaning Brad Richards might get demoted to the fourth line before he gets promoted to the second line where we all thought he’d be… Shows you how much us fans know.
  • 940-couture-loganTrevor van Riemsdyk looks to have solidified a spot on the team after the Hawks sent Kyle Cumiskey down to Rockford yesterday. When Rozsival comes back from injury, the d-pairings should look something like Keith-Seabrook, Hjalmarsson-Oduya, and Rozsival-van Riemsdyk with David Rundblad as the seventh defenseman (if it were up to me, I’d have sent him down instead of Cumiskey). TVR has shown a lot of poise, confidence, and awareness through his first three games as a pro. If he continues to improve, the Hawks may have hit the lottery with this kid.
  • Another decent surprise so far has been Dan Carcillo. I’ll be the first to admit that I did not agree with the Hawks when they signed him right before the season started. Now, it’s starting to like like somewhat of a decent move. Carcillo looks like a completely different player than the one who left town after the 2013 Stanley Cup parade. He’s added some physicality and skill (something Brandon Bollig didn’t have) to the fourth line this year, which has made that line quite effective up to this point. When Kris Versteeg comes back, the Hawks will most likely rotate Carcillo and Morin in and out of the lineup of the fourth line. Already I’m noticing more depth on this team than last year’s team, and we all know depth is a huge factor in winning the Cup.

Coming up, the Blackhawks host the Predators and Flyers before heading to Nashville and St. Louis. They really need to get two points in each of these last two home games to keep themselves in a good spot in the Central.

Blackhawks’ future cap problems

139990-330-0Now that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have signed identical 8-year, $84 million contracts that go into effect for the 2015-16 season, Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks can focus on continuing to build a strong roster around those two guys. The problem is, with Kane and Toews each due to make $10.5 million per year starting in 2015, the Blackhawks won’t have a whole lot of cap space to sign and re-sign certain players. This is a topic that has come up a ton over the last week and a half since both 88 and 19 signed their extensions.

As of right now, with both Kane and Toews still on their previous contracts of $6.3 million per year, the Blackhawks are just over $2 million over the salary cap. That means that between now and the beginning of this upcoming season, someone on the team has to go via a trade. All signs indicate it will be Oduya, Leddy, or Rozsival. That will take care of this year’s cap problem. Let’s move ahead to next year (2015-16).

Beginning with the ’15-’16 season, Kane and Toews will each see a $4.2 million increase in their salaries as previously mentioned. Granted, the NHL salary cap is expected to rise between now and then to possibly a bit over $70 million, but the Blackhawks will also be paying Kane and Toews roughly $8 million more (combined) than they are now. They will also have a number of players becoming either restricted or unrestricted free agents after this upcoming season. Richards, Kruger, Saad, Regin, Oduya, Leddy, Rozsival, and Rundblad will all need new contracts after this year. Count on one of Oduya, Leddy, or Rozsival to be traded soon here, shortening that list by one.

Odds are that the Blackhawks will only aggressively pursue Saad, Kruger, Oduya, and Leddy, assuming both Leddy and/or Oduya are still around at that point in time which may not be the case. Brandon Saad is going to see a big pay raise, as he should. The Blackhawks have also made it clear that he is not going anywhere, basically solidifying the fact that they’ll be giving Saad a new deal once he becomes an RFA after this season. Marcus Kruger, who will also be an RFA after the 2014-15 season, will most likely see a pay raise as well.

7327531Since the Hawks will have a very limited amount of money to spend next off-season, I would expect a “bridge-deal” for Brandon Saad, meaning they may give him a two-year extension worth $4 million per year instead of a six-year, $25 million extension. Maybe we see the same with Kruger, but I’d expect something more along the lines of a three to four year extension worth $2.5 million per year. So why give Saad a bridge-deal? Here’s the answer.

Following the 2016-17 season, both Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell become unrestricted free agents. Neither should see an increase in pay at that point, and maybe one doesn’t even return to the Hawks (assuming neither is traded between now and then). Between the two of them, they will be making $9.9 million/year for the next three seasons, which means once their contracts are up, the Hawks will have that much more money to give guys like Saad a much bigger contract.

As for the other players I listed earlier like Richards, Regin, and Rundblad, they probably won’t be Blackhawks at this time next year. Expect some of the Hawks’ prospects to fill the holes left by those guys. Players like Phillip Danault, Stephen Johns, Adam Clendening, and a few others will be making the jump to the NHL and can fill some of the vacancies left by departing Blackhawks. For what it’s worth, there is an extremely good chance we will see Clendening and/or Johns in the NHL this season.

So as you can see, the new contracts for Kane and Toews will create some cap problems for Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks. That does NOT mean that the new contracts for those two players are bad. They are two of the most elite players in the NHL and deserve every penny they are getting paid. If they had opted for free agency, they’d be getting even more money. Most teams would kill to have either Kane or Toews on their team, and the Hawks have both.

While trying to come up with a Stanley Cup-caliber roster with limited money to do so won’t be easy, you can count on the Blackhawks always being a contender for as long as Kane and Toews remain on the team. They are that good and make everyone around them that much better. I also trust that Stan Bowman and his staff will continue to put the Hawks in position to win the Cup on a yearly basis. It won’t be easy, but if any team can find a way to work and be successful around the cap numbers, it’s the Blackhawks.

That’s more like it

1306350614After suffering disappointing and bad losses to the Lightning and Wild in consecutive games, the Blackhawks got back on track last night with a 5-1 victory in Minnesota over the Wild. It took the Hawks a couple periods to really get going, but the end result was very satisfying. After two periods the Blackhawks led by a score of 3-1, and everyone was anxious to see if they could finally pull away from their opponent and seal the deal in the third period. Well, they did, and they did it with an exclamation point.

Sharp, Brookbank, and Leddy accounted for the Hawks’ first three goals last night, with Leddy’s coming on the powerplay. Then just under three minutes into the third, Brandon Saad pulled of a beautiful spin-o-rama, behind the back pass to Patrick Kane that resulted in a tap in goal for Kane. Easily the prettiest goal of the year up to this point for the Blackhawks. About six minutes after that, it was Brandon Saad again, this time scoring his own highlight reel goal after receiving a perfect pass from Duncan Keith. This put the Hawks up 5-1, and it remained that way for the rest of the game.

So here are my observations from last night’s game:

  • Brandon Saad is without a doubt a top six forward on this team. He’s got all kinds of skill, he’s smart, and he is responsible defensively. Looks like he and Kane have developed some chemistry together as well, which never hurts. 
  • Brandon Pirri finally got his first crack at centering the second line with Michal Handzus scratched for the game. I’ve been calling on Quenneville to make this move for a while now, and finally it happened. Pirri finished the game with two assists (all three players on that line had two points in the game), and now has 5 points in 7 games since being brought up to the NHL.
  • Sheldon Brookbank is making a strong case to be the Blackhawks’ number six defenseman. This is three games in a row now that he has played really, really well. His goal last night didn’t hurt either.
  • Corey Crawford had a nice bounce back game after giving up 5 goals to the Wild on Saturday night. He really made some big stops through the first two periods to keep the game close.
  • The powerplay scored again. I believe that’s five straight games now with a powerplay goal. Compare that to last season, and I’ll take it. There are still times when they don’t shoot enough, but last night was better.
  • Banner-Raising-2013-1600Sharp finally scored. He’s got just two goals on the year now, but maybe last night’s goal will get him going. He seems to be a streaky scorer based on his past.

If the Hawks can figure out how to play every game like they did last night, then they should be just fine moving forward.

Getting back to Brandon Pirri, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that as soon as he joined the second line, all three forwards had a great game and totaled six points combined. Michal Handzus, love him or hate him, is not a second line center, especially on this team. He is way too old and slow and doesn’t have the skill. He is good for winning faceoffs and that’s pretty much it. I honestly don’t see a place for him on this team on a nightly basis. He might be okay as a “plug-in” player who might play every 4 games or so, but he’s not good enough to play every game as the Hawks had hoped coming into this season. Guys like Pirri, Smith, and Morin should not be taken out of the lineup to make room for ‘Zus.

Speaking of Jeremy Morin, he has looked really good since being recalled prior to Saturday night’s game. He has really improved his game since last season and looks like he’s here to stay. Brad Mills has also looked good in his first two games with the Hawks. Looks like he may have found a home on the PK with Marcus Kruger.

Tonight, the Blackhawks take on the Senators at the UC. Ottawa is 3-5-2 in their last ten games and has struggled here in the early part of the season. I’m expecting a Hawks’ victory tonight.

That’s all for now.

Brandon Saad in for the Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks’ 19-year-old rookie forward, Brandon Saad, was placed on the Blackhawks’ active roster following Tuesday night’s Game 3. He was called up from the OHL to take the place of Marian Hossa in the lineup.

The end of Saad’s OHL season could not have come at a better time. His team’s playoff run came to an end this past week, thus allowing the Blackhawks to bring Saad up to join the NHL team for the remainder of the playoffs. Most were not expecting Saad to get any playing time, but rather to simply be around the NHL guys and get some playoff atmosphere experience. However, most people were also not expecting Raffi Torres’ hit on Marian Hossa.

Due to the injury(s) that Hossa suffered from the hit by Torres, he has been forced out of the Blackhawks’ lineup. This left one spot open for the Hawks to fill. Rather than going with Jimmy Hayes, who has played a handful of games this year in the NHL for the Hawks, they have decided to dress Brandon Saad. Their reasoning? Well, Saad is more of a skilled player and a scorer.

In just 44 regular season games in the OHL this year, Saad recorded 76 points (34G, 42A). In the OHL playoffs, he recorded 8 goals and 9 assists in 12 games. Those are some staggering offensive numbers, especially for a 19-year-old.

The hope is that Saad will bring some much-needed offense to the lineup that was lost when Hossa left Game 3 with what appeared to be a head injury. Blackhawks’ coach Joel Quenneville has not disclosed his lines for tonight’s Game 4, but odds are that Saad will be placed on one of the top 2 lines for the Hawks. His style of play fits the play of those 2 lines better than it does on either the third or fourth line. My guess is that Saad will be on the first line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. By placing him with the two most talented players in the lineup, Saad is bound to find himself with some scoring opportunities. Also, with the way that Sharp, Kruger, and Stalberg finished up the season together, it would be hard to imagine Quenneville splitting up that line. I am very excited to see what Saad will bring to the table for tonight’s game.

The Blackhawks are going to need their top 2 lines to produce points on a consistent basis from here on out with Hossa being out of the lineup. Even though he hadn’t been scoring many goals of late (0 in his last 10 games), Hossa is still one of the most dangerous players in the NHL, not to mention his skill on defense as well.

Tonight is a must-win game for the Blackhawks. They do not want to go back to Phoenix down 3-1 in the series.