Brandon Saad could cash in big for clutch playoffs

Brandon Saad is bringing it again for the playoffs for the Blackhawks. Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- Brandon Saad might as well be a video-game character picking up coins as he skates around the ice for the Chicago Blackhawks.

With every goal, assist, penalty kill and miscellaneous contribution the 22-year-old forward provides, his value to the Blackhawks is further stated, which means the value of his upcoming contract is likely further increased.

Saad is set to become a restricted free agent after the season and will be handsomely paid. How much he’ll get paid is up for debate and will depend on whether he and the Blackhawks can agree on a bridge or a long-term deal, or whether another team puts forward an offer sheet and forces the Blackhawks to spend more than they would want. Either way, Saad will certainly be making more than the $800,000-plus he made this season. One agent thought Saad could get $4 million to $4.5 million on a two-year bridge deal and could give the Blackhawks more of a discount on a slightly longer deal.

As much as extending the contracts of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews was the utmost priority for the Blackhawks, Saad's contract falls just a few notches behind. With his age, three-year progression, two-way game, Marian Hossa getting closer to retirement and the organization’s upcoming salary-cap restraints, locking up Saad is another key piece to the Blackhawks’ future puzzle.

Where Saad’s eventual ceiling is difficult to gauge. He won’t turn 23 until October and his development is still ongoing through 266 career NHL games. The Blackhawks do like where Saad is heading. He has taken a step forward in each of his first three seasons and has accepted more responsibility. As one team source explained, Saad has grown into having a “total comfort being Brandon Saad.”

Saad didn’t start there. He was a healthy scratch to begin the 2013 season and was only given a chance in the Blackhawks’ lineup when Daniel Carcillo suffered a serious injury in the season opener. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville saw the potential in Saad and especially liked how he was defensively reliable at his age. Saad was given the chance to succeed by playing beside Toews and Hossa on the top line. They were Saad’s safety net for the first season. He finished the seasons with 10 goals and 17 assists in 47 games and chipped in with a goal and five assists during the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup run.

Saad’s second season was another adjustment as he went through his first 82-game NHL schedule, was bounced around the lineup, saw more special teams’ time and played various forward roles. Quenneville also stopped treating him like a rookie, and that was apparent when he made Saad a healthy scratch late in the regular season because of inconsistent play. Saad learned his lesson, improved and arguably played his best hockey of the season in the Western Conference finals. He finished the season with a career-best 19 goals and 28 assists in 78 games and had six goals and 10 assists in 19 playoff games.

Saad’s third season has continued that evolution. He has become a fixture on the penalty kill in addition to his role on the second power-play unit. He also has been reunited with Toews and Hossa on the top line. Unlike before, Saad can hold his own now. He can still be inconsistent, but that happens less frequently. He scored 20 goals for the first time in his career and finished the regular season with a career-high 23 goals and 29 assists in 82 games.

“I think your performance usually gets you more quality or quantity ice time,” Quenneville explained Sunday of Saad’s increased role this season.

Saad did the most with that quality and quantity of ice time in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday. (Series is tied 2-2; Game 5 is Monday in Anaheim, 9 p.m. ET.) He used his penalty-killing time to score a breakaway goal. He took advantage of his even-strength time by contributing assists on two goals. He helped the power play compile seven shot on net. He ended the game with three points, was a plus-3 and was only behind Toews, Kane and Hossa among the team’s forwards with 24:34 of ice time. He also had a positive Corsi in five-on-five play for the 12th time in 14 playoff games this season.

Throughout the night, Saad displayed all of the various parts of his game that have attracted admiration from teammates and others around the league.

“Love Saad,” one Western Conference scout said. “Power-forward game, but good at both ends, very strong on the puck down low and good off the rush wide, deceptive speed. Really like his game.”

Saad has often credited Toews and Hossa for assisting in his maturation over the last three years. He’s closely watched and followed their games. They helped teach him how to have an all-around game.

“I think, growing up, it’s something I always wanted to try to be is a two-way player and play both ends of the ice, but coming here and those guys do it so well, it’s obviously something [where] I’m going to learn from them,” Saad said. “It helps with confidence and I learn every day from them.”

Saad has quickly developed a reputation for playing both ends of the ice.

“He's a guy that is a two-way forward,” teammate Bryan Bickell said on Sunday. “That line, three offensive, defensive players, kind of feeds off that. You could see that first goal [Saturday], his power and his speed overcome two defenders to get that goal. You could see the goal from [Brent] Seabrook, working it down low.”

Seabrook, whose goal Saturday came off a primary assist by Saad, also acknowledged Saad’s role in the Blackhawks’ success.

“Saad has been huge,” Seabrook said. “He's been a big part of our team for the last couple years. He's really shown what he can do in these playoffs, scoring that goal last night. It was an unbelievable goal, to see how fast he went up the ice, being able to put that in. He's been a great player for us for a long time here. He's been big in the playoffs.”

Saad decided midway through the season he would wait until after the season to negotiate his new contract. He has said in the past he hopes to work something out with the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks are hopeful, too. Toews could share a line for Saad for years to come. He has already witnessed Saad improve and believes there’s more to come.

“I said this when he was in his first year in the league: He was scoring, he was making big plays, making a difference in games,” Toews recently said. “I think you see that with a young player sometimes. They may have a couple good games and they get excited and may sit back and rest on their laurels, as they say, for a few days. He wasn’t satisfied. He kept building off the good games that he had.

“I just think he continues to do that. You watch him out there with Hoss; they’re two great players to play with. They’re so complete. They’re just amazing skaters. They’re good defensively, good strong bodies. I think Saader knows he’s a complete player that way. I don’t think he’s focusing on one or two specific things. I think he’s working on his entire game. I think that’s a real good thing for him.”