Breaking Down Early Returns on the Brandon Saad Trade

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistDecember 9, 2015

Columbus Blue Jackets' Brandon Saad plays against the Arizona Coyotes during an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

It was obvious that the Chicago Blackhawks were going to be forced to make some unpleasant salary cap-related decisions this summer. What was not at all apparent was that star winger Brandon Saad was going to be a casualty of those moves.

On June 30, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman shocked the hockey world by pulling off a blockbuster trade that sent Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Here are the details, courtesy of NHL.com:

  • Columbus received Saad, defenceman Michael Paliotta and forward Alex Broadhurst.
  • Chicago received forwards Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin and Corey Tropp as well as a fourth-round pick in the 2016 Draft.

Saad has bounced around the Blue Jackets lineup, but his overall numbers have been pretty strong. His 17 points in 28 games project to a full-season scoring total somewhere in the 50-point range, which is what he managed in Chicago. The dynamics of that scoring are a little different—he’s put in more power play goals but has seen a decline in his even-strength numbers. His performance by shot metrics such as Corsi has been right around the team average.

All things considered, he’s delivered more or less as expected. There hasn’t been a big drop-off due to leaving Chicago, but he hasn’t had a breakout performance in his fourth full NHL campaign either.

Michael Paliotta
Michael PaliottaAaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus picked up a couple of prospects in the deal, too. Paliotta is a rookie pro who had a distinguished college career at the University of Vermont. The 6’3” right-shooting rearguard has 10 points in 19 AHL games. That’s a very strong performance for a first-year AHL’er, and he’s a key piece of the future for the Blue Jackets.

Broadhurst’s performance has been less remarkable. He’s in his third AHL season now and is running at about the same 40-point full season pace he managed in his previous two campaigns.  

Columbus is getting what it paid for. Saad is a good, young player and an established 50-point guy, Paliotta is an excellent prospect and Broadhurst provides organizational depth.

Oct 30, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks forward Artem Anisimov (15) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

On the Chicago side of the deal, the most established NHL’er it received was Artem Anisimov, who has been placed in that hard-to-fill No. 2 centre position on the Blackhawks’ roster. That’s placed him between the red-hot duo of Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, which is a nice place to be.

Anisimov’s offensive numbers are higher than normal, but it’s hard to say he’s really cashing in on Kane/Panarin because pretty much all of the bump is due to a sky-high shooting percentage (26.2 percent, more than double his career average). Remove that from the equation, and he’s been the same 35-40 point NHL’er that he’s been for most of his career.

Marko Dano
Marko DanoJeff Roberson/Associated Press

Dano is a key prospect, a first-round pick of the Jackets back in 2013. His AHL numbers improved during a brief stint there, but he hasn’t scored in the NHL the way he did last year. The sustainability of last season’s outburst was always questionable, so regression isn’t a big surprise. His improved AHL performance is probably the most relevant item here.

Both Morin and Tropp have NHL experience but are currently in the minors, Morin with Chicago’s farm team in Rockford and Tropp with the Devils’ affiliate in Albany. Both are recording a point in roughly every other game, putting their production on par with that of Broadhurst, though Broadhurst is a little younger than either of them.

This deal looked a lot like a narrow win for the Blue Jackets when it went down, and the optics haven’t changed much. Anisimov is a good player and fills a positional need for Chicago. When his long-term contract extension kicks in, he’ll be just under $1.5 million cheaper than Saad. The Blackhawks saved some money and added some talent down the middle, but they lost the better, younger player. In most deals, the team that gets the better player wins.

It’s hard to make firm assessments of the less established players involved in the deal, but nothing there seems like a massive win for Chicago. Both Paliotta and Dano are extremely impressive young players. Dano is a little further along, but he’s also a forward, and defencemen typically take more time to establish themselves. Broadhurst, Morin and Tropp all have marginal value. Morin has had more scoring success in the AHL in past years, but Broadhurst has the advantage of youth. A fourth-round pick isn’t decisive either.

Chicago sacrificed talent due to financial necessity, downgrading from Saad to Anisimov. Columbus sent away a slightly richer package of support pieces than it received from the Blackhawks, but the gap wasn’t especially wide in the summer and it isn’t especially wide now. This was a logical deal in a lot of ways for both teams, and as with most such deals, it favoured and still favours the club that was not forced into a move by the salary cap.

Statistics courtesy of NHL.comHockey-Reference.com, behindthenet.ca and war-on-ice.com. Salary information via NHLnumbers.com

Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.