To say that the Chicago Blackhawks have had a rough start to the 2019-20 season is an understatement. After two seasons without making the playoffs, fans were delighted to see a promising roster, and their hopes were immediately dashed. Although it’s very early in the season and there is plenty of time for the Blackhawks to improve, there has been very one positive change amongst the team. Brandon Saad is having a strong start to the season.
Two-time Stanley Cup Champion
Saad spent the first three years of his NHL career in a Blackhawks sweater. He tallied a total of 52 goals and 74 assists in 208 games. At 22 years old, he was on top of the world and a two-time Stanley Cup champion, earning his first after his rookie year. The celebration didn’t last long, for he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets due to the salary cap.
He spent two seasons with the Blue Jackets and excelled, tallying 55 goals and 51 assists in 160 games. All hockey fans were shocked when the Blackhawks traded Calder Trophy winner Artemi Panarin for Saad in 2017 after they were swept by the Nashville Predators in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Back with the Blackhawks
Saad was welcomed to Chicago with open arms after he scored a hat trick in his first game back with the Blackhawks. Things turned bitter after he went downhill for the rest of the season, ending it with 18 goals and 17 assists in 82 games. Panarin tallied 27 goals and 55 assists in 81 games that same season, leaving Blackhawks fans wondering if the trade was a huge mistake.
It was important for Saad to make a comeback during the 2018-19 season. He wasn’t his best, but resembled more of his former self and ended the season with 23 goals and 24 assists in 80 games. He entered the offseason determined to return as his best self.
A Strong Start
Saad’s life changed in the summer of 2019 when his wife, Alyssa, gave birth to their first child in August. His son, Teo, seems to have lit a fire under him to succeed this season. Like many of his teammates, Saad stayed in Chicago over the summer to train with strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman, but it seems to have had a stronger effect this season.
He’s tallied a total of three goals and two assists in ten games so far this season. It doesn’t sound like much, but he is tied with Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and Drake Caggiula for the most goals.
His performance has earned praise from teammates and head coach Jeremy Colliton, who told the Chicago Tribune, “The thing for me is he’s really managing the puck well. He’s able to take the puck from (the defensive) zone through the neutral zone, someone’s hanging on him, and he can create offense off the rush that way. Sometimes — not this year, maybe last year — the puck management would haunt him a little bit. This year he’s been almost perfect in that area.” (from ‘Brandon Saad’s ice-time is down from last season, but he has been the Blackhawks’ best all-around player through 4 games’ – Chicago Tribune – 10/17/19).
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has always praised Saad, as he told the Daily Herald, “We went through some power-play woes the last few years and this look (on the first unit) we have has been clicking. It’s just sometimes it’s hard. ‘Saader’ always stays positive, even though he knows in a lot of cases he should be getting more opportunities.” (from ‘Saad deserves a bigger role with Chicago Blackhawks’ – Daily Herald – 10/13/19).
Members of the media have also praised Saad. Pat Boyle of NBC Sports Chicago said he was impressed by his performance in the first four games of the season on the Blackhawks Talk podcast, “The effort I’ve seen from Brandon Saad has been, to me, very noticeable. Since he has come back to Chicago, that consistency hasn’t always been there. I know, deep down, he’s probably not thrilled to be in a third-line role and getting third-line minutes, but obviously, that’s one of Colliton’s favorite lines. It’s the only line that’s been together since training camp. Saad, Kampf, and Kubalik. I think Saad has done a lot of the north-south game they have expected to see from him. I thought, defensively, he’s made some good plays as well. Saad is off to a really good start, and to me, it’s something he can build upon. He can show this franchise why he’s a part of two Stanley Cups.”
Boyle’s analysis hits it right on the nail. Ever since Saad has been back with the Blackhawks, he’s been under pressure to prove that he deserves to be on the Blackhawks’ roster. He’s more than the product of the Artemi Panarin trade and there is a reason why he has two Stanley Cups under his belt. He doesn’t have the strongest numbers, but to be fair, nobody on the Blackhawks roster does.
Saad’s improvement has been the light at the end of the tunnel to a rather depressing start to the season for Blackhawks fans. If he continues his current momentum, he could possibly have the best season of his career. This will not only help the Blackhawks get back to the playoffs, but it will also cement himself as a member of the Blackhawks’ offensive core.
There is a case to be made that he deserves “a bigger role” within the organization. If he continues to improve, he deserves more recognition. More importantly, he could play an instrumental role in bringing the Blackhawks back to the playoffs as well as remind fans why he holds two Stanley Cup rings.
All stats obtained from NHL.com