As we continue our recap of the 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks season, it’s time to move our focus from the blue line up to a group of players who had a much better performance in the last seven months: the forwards. And we’ll start with one of the most hotly-debated players in Chicago from the last few seasons: Brandon Saad.
Saad’s numbers did bounce back — somewhat.
After a dreadful ’17-18 season, Saad rebounded with 23 goals and 24 assists in ’18-19, a 47-point season that was sixth-best on the Hawks. His even-strength numbers didn’t change much: 14 goals and 19 assists this season after 16 goals and 15 assists during ’17-18 season. Saad was boosted by four goals and two assists on the power play after posting just one point with the man advantage in ’17-18, and that came with a significant reduction in Saad’s power play time. He averaged 1:28 of PP ice time in ’18-19, nearly 33 percent lower than his 2:08 figure from ’17-18. And Saad skated nearly half (58:49) of his season-long total of PP ice time (117:55) in the 15 games coached by Joel Quenneville. Once Jeremy Colliton took over, Saad was part of the second PP unit which didn’t see the ice often.
But offense is only a part of Saad’s story.
While his numbers are always compared to Artemi Panarin’s because of the trade, Saad was never going to be the 80- or 90-point player that Panarin is. And, at this point of his career, Saad probably won’t be the 60- or 70-point player he looked capable of being in his first few seasons. Still, the all-around game that Saad plays — that elicited early comparisons to Marian Hossa — remains a crucial part of his value to the Blackhawks. And during the ’18-19 season, he was one of the Blackhawks best defensive forwards — again.
- Saad handled a more defensive role, with his zone-start ratio (ZSR) dropping from 0.59 last season to 0.48 this season
- Despite that, his Corsi For percentage was still on the positive side at 52.49, second best mark among Chicago’s forwards.
- His Expected Goals For percentage dropped from 52.15 to 46.7, but that was still above the team rate and the seventh-best mark on the team, which again isn’t bad for a player with the seventh-lowest ZSR among his fellow forwards
Chicago’s penalty kill was historically terrible last season, but Saad had some of the top numbers on the team:
- Of the seven Blackhawks forwards who skated at least 20 minutes of PK time, Saad was second best on the team with a rate of 57.87 shots against per 60 minutes and 8.29 expected goals against (Artem Anisimov led the team at 57.7 and 6.57, respectively). Saad also had the lowest rate of goals against at 7.93 per 60 minutes (Sidenote: Jonathan Toews was second-worst in the league at 12.47. Yikes!).
And all those defensive numbers create the dilemma involving Brandon Saad.
The Blackhawks clearly need to add NHL-level talent to their blue line and, with a thin free agent class this summer, a trade may be the only avenue to that goal. There are picks and prospects in the Blackhawks system these days, but in terms of NHL-ready players, it’s hard to find another player on Chicago’s roster who bring more value to a trade than Saad.
But trading away Saad would leave a massive hole in the Blackhawks lineup, especially on the penalty kill (and many thanks to SCH user L_B_R for pointing this out repeatedly in our comments). Saad is easily the best defensive winger on the team and is in the discussion for best defensive forward — an argument that gets shorter with Marcus Kruger likely not returning.
Chicago has plenty of sources for offense among its forwards, but two-way players like Saad are in short supply, which only heightens his importance. That’s the crux of the issue: the Blackhawks need to add talent to the blue line, but perhaps the most enticing trade piece they can offer would create another defensive hole.