It wasn’t long ago that Brandon Saad appeared to be one of the few immovable pieces of the Chicago Blackhawks’ elite core. Now, just weeks removed from a Stanley Cup championship, Saad surprisingly finds himself as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that shocked the league when they sent a package centered around Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano to Chicago for Saad, Michael Paliotta, and Alex Broadhurst. Many Hawks fans came away from the deal feeling betrayed by GM Stan Bowman and wondering if the team received a fair return for their burgeoning young power forward. While it will be impossible to fairly judge the deal for years, I decided to analyze the return Bowman was able to land, and determined that it may not be as underwhelming as most initially assumed.
The sole catalyst for this trade was Saad’s gaudy contract demands entering restricted free agency. There is no doubt that the entire Hawks organization would have loved to see Saad return to the team long-term, but only if the price was right. His reported demands of a 6-year contract with a $6.5 million average annual value blow all other comparisons for a player of his stature out of the water. The chart below is a great indicator of just how ridiculous Saad’s demands seem in comparison to his peers in the league.
All five players were coming off of good, although not elite, seasons before reaching restricted free agency. Four of those five players elected to sign short-term “bridge” deals that gave their teams the chance to gauge their development before offering them long-term security and tens of millions of dollars. Saad is the exception to that group. Despite having arguably the least productive season of any of those five, Saad demanded twice the term and three times the money of the next biggest contract signed. This clearly placed him outside Chicago’s price range and forced Bowman to either trade him, or risk losing him to an offer sheet from another team. Saad’s demands for a longer term and more money will undoubtedly set a precedent for future RFA’s looking to cash in, but he’s definitely an outlier in the NHL today.
Aside from Saad’s huge contract demands, Bowman did a job good of finding a reasonable return in the trade. This becomes even more apparent when analytics are used to analyze each major player involved. To start with, Anisimov was slowed by injuries and a career-low shooting percentage last season, but he still managed to display good puck control skills en route a +3.3 CF% RelTM at 5v5. Additionally, the big center’s PDO of 97.8 suggest that his poor plus minus and goal totals were more the result of bad luck than a drop-off in play. He also took 37.2% of his 5v5 face-offs in his own defensive zone. Playing on a more explosive Chicago team that likes to gain the offensive zone with high frequency should help turn that number around and give Anisimov more chances to score without having to carry the puck into the zone. Plus, he wasn’t playing with the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa either. All of these factors suggest that Anisimov is in for a major bounce-back season where hitting the 20 goal and 50 point plateaus should be expected. As if all that wasn’t enough to display value to the Hawks, Bowman was also able to resign Anisimov to a 5 year $22.75 million extension shortly after acquiring him. His $4.55 million cap hit will be less than that of the recently signed Carl Soderberg and Mikhail Grabovski once the deal starts next season, despite Anisimov being a better player than either of those two veterans.
The next major piece in the Saad blockbuster was prospect Marko Dano. The 20-year-old winger was taken in the first round of the draft by Columbus back in 2013 and was expected to be a major part of the franchise’s current retooling process. Dano played 35 games, scored 21 points, and was a +12 in his first season with Columbus and should only get better with time. Many question Dano’s offensive abilities given that he scored only 19 points in 39 games with Springfield of the AHL, but analytics paint a different picture of the maturing Slovakian. Dano played a strong puck possession game and recorded an impressive +7.2 CF% RelTM in 446 minutes of 5v5 play as a pro while adding 8 goals. Even more impressive is that he scored 20 of his 21 points while playing 5v5 last season while only starting in the offensive zone 28.2% of the time. Those numbers indicate that Dano’s solid stat line wasn’t inflated due to extra power play time or being shielded from difficult zone matchups. This is a unique situation for a rookie, and his impressive performance in tough situations means Joel Quenneville may allow him more ice time in the fall. It may be unrealistic to expect him to replicate his previous pace (which would put him at 49 points in 82 games), but if he continues to improve and play a strong two-way game, Dano should find himself in an important top-9 role with Chicago.
Statistical indicators like the ones referenced above seem to paint a promising picture of the return Stan Bowman was able to land for winger Brandon Saad. Losing a player of Saad’s caliber and potential is never an easy thing for teams to overcome, but Blackhawks fans should be more than happy with the additions the team was able to make as a result of his departure. All told, Saad’s contract demands, the play of Anisimov, and potential of Dano make this trade a win for the Blackhawks. Once players and fans are able to overcome the shock of losing such a valuable hockey player, it wouldn’t be surprising if this goes down as yet another savvy move from Bowman and his staff.
All statistics per puckalytics.com