At age 22, with two Stanley Cups to his name, money trumped all else for Brandon Saad. He was seeking to get paid this offseason. He has been hanging out with millionaires and outplaying a lot of them the past three seasons.
Saad wanted his. The Chicago Blackhawks just didn’t have enough for him.
As unexpected as Saad's being dealt Tuesday to the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of a seven-player trade was, it’s something people should have foreseen as a possibility.
The signings of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to extensions diminished the Blackhawks’ cap space, especially when the cap didn’t rise as much as everyone anticipated last summer. Then, Stan Bowman wasn’t able to deal away any contracts at the NHL draft. Bowman might have been saying all the cool and calm things over the weekend, but there might have been some worry he wouldn’t be able to move players. Finally, it’s obvious Saad was asking for more money than Bowman felt he could give him while also assembling a quality team. Bowman was hopeful Saad would give the Blackhawks a hometown discount.
Saad can’t be blamed for this. He had his first chance to make some real money in the league, and it doesn’t always make sense to leave cents on the table. There are no guarantees in the future, including regarding the Blackhawks' ability to pay him down the road. Until the salary cap rises significantly, the Blackhawks will struggle to be a cap-compliant team. In time, they have to pay second contracts to Teuvo Teravainen, Trevor van Riemsdyk and other youngsters and decide whether to re-sign veterans such as Brent Seabrook. There will be cap causalities, and the Blackhawks suffered a massive one Tuesday.
It’s arguable that Bowman put himself in this position. He undoubtedly expected the cap to be higher than it is, and he had to pay Kane and Toews whatever they wanted. That's understandable. But signing Bryan Bickell to a four-year, $16 million contract, taking on $2.2 million of Kris Versteeg’s contract and not dealing a larger salary or two away sooner all put the Blackhawks in a tougher financial spot.
Bowman was wise enough to see how his cards were going to play out. He could either pay Saad as much as he had to and further weaken the overall team, lose Saad to an offer sheet and get little in return, or make a move as quickly as possible and add players who could help the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks are obviously a better team with Saad, but Bowman made the most of the situation and added some pieces, notably 27-year-old center Artem Anisimov and 20-year-old center Marko Dano. Jeremy Morin and Corey Tropp could be role players as well.
One of the Blackhawks’ strengths in the playoffs this past season was their depth at center. They had Toews on the first line, Brad Richards on the second line, Antoine Vermette on the third line and Marcus Kruger on the fourth line. With Richards and Vermette off to free agency, the Hawks can now replace those two with Anisimov and Dano and not lose a lot. Chicago also has Andrew Shaw and Teravainen, who both have center experience.
Now what? The Blackhawks still have work to do.
With a roster of Kane, Toews, Anisimov, Dano, Shaw, van Riemsdyk, Teravainen, Versteeg, Seabrook, Bickell, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Artemi Panarin, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, David Rundblad, Scott Darling and Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks have about $73.5 million committed to 18 players. The salary cap is $71.4 million.
The Blackhawks still need to re-sign Kruger and fill their roster. Some prospects, such as forwards Joakim Nordstrom, Phillip Danault, Mark McNeill and Ryan Hartman and defensemen Stephen Johns and Ville Pokka, could get looks. Morin and Tropp could be in the mix. The Hawks might still bring back forward Andrew Desjardins and sign a cheap veteran defenseman. Bickell, Sharp and Versteeg have been the players most rumored to be involved in trades. Bowman wouldn't say Tuesday whether Sharp could still be traded.
In an educated guess, which includes the Blackhawks' re-signing Kruger, the lines would be something like Sharp-Toews-Hossa, Panarin-Anisimov-Kane, Versteeg/Bickell-Dano-Teravainen and Nordstrom-Kruger-Shaw. Defenseman pairings could be Keith-Seabrook, Hjalmarsson-Johns, van Riemsdyk-Rundblad.
“We’ve got a lot of options we can pursue now,” Bowman said Wednesday of his roster. “We’ve got a few different things. There’s a lot of discussions that will happen over the next few days with free agency, and we’ve got a few different plans. It’s too early to tell what we’re going to do, but I would say everything is a possibility going forward.”
The next few days and weeks should be interesting for the Blackhawks.
Tuesday certainly was.