The Chicago Blackhawks are — fortunately — still in the playoffs, on their way to the second round against the Minnesota Wild.
Lest you say I’m jumping the gun here, this is an important time for restricted free agents and free agents. They face the possibility of movement and a solid performance in the postseason can certainly raise the amount of money they could be offered by a competing club, or that they could demand from their current club.
Saad is one of the future Talents with a capital T to come out of the Blackhawks’ system. He took most of his first NHL season to find his stride within the talent-laden group, but over the past year or so has developed into a winger who is just as comfortable using his body as he is slipping the puck around for a sly drop pass. He’s often gleefully compared to Marian Hossa, being named Hossa’s heir apparent by the Blackhawks fanbase for the similarities that have developed in his play.
While this is not terribly surprising, especially for linemates, as Hossa and Saad often are, the comparison is flattering. Hossa’s consistently impressive play over his career spans almost two decades and it doesn’t look like it will be ending soon. If Saad is able to follow the same trajectory as Hossa, any team will be lucky to have him.
While I personally hope the Blackhawks step up and retain him this summer, cap concerns may force them to let him go to a team that has deeper pockets and a shallower talent pool.
Offer sheets, if anyone doesn’t know, are contracts offered to restricted free agents by any team other than his current club. RFAs then must present their current club with the offer and give them a week (seven days) to match the offer or exercise their right of first refusal. If their current club does not act within the time frame given, that offer sheet is considered binding and irrevocable.
Essentially, offer sheets are a great way to snag young players who’ve been through some development with a salary cap team, who might be too close to the cap ceiling to make an aggressive counter-offer.
Who would benefit from a winger like Brandon Saad?
The St. Louis Blues
Like them or not, this club is going to go through a lot of changes this summer, and Saad could have the opportunity to be one of the building blocks of an entirely new team. Oshie will most likely be saying goodbye to the club that is uninterested in carrying his $5 million cap hit all season only for him to disappear come playoffs time and that opens up a spot on the first line that Saad could certainly fill, despite his experience mainly being on the left.
Regardless of how the Blues end up juggling their lines, Saad could be a relatively cheap get for a player who will have a massive amount of longevity in the league, and who is continuing to improve, three years into his first contract. He’s a first-line winger on the Blackhawks, a team that has wings the like of Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Patrick Kane to contend with. Essentially, he’s worth an attempt at.
Speaking to the longevity: Saad is currently 22, and as such, still hasn’t yet hit the age where developed skills take over for reflexes slowing down. With forwards peaking between ages 27 and 28, he has a good five to six years left before he can no longer be relied upon to net approximately 50 points per season, as he has the past two. This is something the St. Louis Blues need desperately.
Their most consistent goal-scorer has been league standout, Vladimir Tarasenko, who himself enters restricted free agency this summer. Should Tarasenko slip away, St. Louis will be in dire straights with regards to offensive momentum and points, period. Saad would not be the answer to their troubles then, though he’d still be a valuable get.
Stillman: “We should take a careful, deliberate look at what happened…and then figure out how we make sure we don’t do that again.”
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) April 27, 2015
Should they keep Tarasenko, however, Saad could push the Blues’ points totals even further during the regular season. And, let’s not forget, he’s never disappeared during the postseason.
The only trouble here could be the Blues’ position as a cap team, only slightly more fiscally responsible than the Chicago Blackhawks. Their failing out of the post for a third year in a row, however, combined with their inability to win a Cup indicates that a number of high-cost players will be moved this offseason, opening up their coffers.
The Calgary Flames
The Flames were a believer’s fever dream this year. A team that, statistically, shouldn’t have done anywhere near as well as it did and yet somehow its players came through, time and again. It certainly didn’t hurt adding Johnny Hockey to the mix.
And Saad could end up playing alongside another Johnny.
The Flames are one of the best teams in the league if Saad is looking for a big payday. According to NHL Numbers they carried $13 million in cap space this year and have seven players coming up on restricted free agency at the end of the season. That gives them a tidy chunk of change to deal with Saad and would give their offense a significant boost, considering what we’ve seen out of Saad over the past handful of years.
This year, the Flames made the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season and will be looking to repeat the following year. As Bill Schoeninger covers in his piece for THW on players and teams likely to regress during the upcoming season, the Flames had the third worst Corsi-For percentage in the league at 44.3, indicating that they had the third-lowest possession in the NHL this season, possession the puck less than 45% of the time. Their PDO, however, a measure of whether or not the bounces are going their way, was the fourth-highest in the league at 101.4 and his been pointed to repeatedly as the reason behind their postseason berth.
PDO generally averages out over a season to 100, so that the Flames had such a high PDO is a strong indicator that they will snap back in the other direction over the upcoming season. Essentially, they will need to shore up their top-two lines and their blue line over the summer if they want to make a serious bid for the Cup over the next handful of years.
The Flames might not have great possession numbers, but they registered four players in the top 35 players re: shooting percentage throughout the league. Saad’s 50 points would fit in with the Flames’ top five points-scorers and he’d make a deadly second-line left wing behind Johnny Gaudreau.
New Jersey Devils
As the oldest team in the league, literally, with an average age of 30.038 according to NHL Numbers, the Devils management would likely bend over backwards to land a young, talented player like Brandon Saad on the New Jersey bench. They also came in 28th in the league (yes, as in third-to-last) in goals-for per game, averaging only 2.16 over 82 games. Only Arizona and Buffalo performed worse than the Devils this season.
I may be harping on Saad’s points production, but he’d be a welcome shot to the arm of the fiscally mismanaged franchise.
The stumbling block here would be the mismanagement of both players and the cap. The Devils committed over $40 million to their forwards during the 2014-15 season, but luckily for them a large number of players they have cap money committed to are coming up on unrestricted free agency — 13, in fact, nine of whom are actually active in the Devils organization — including Jagr, for whom the Devils agreed to cover his $2 million bonus for games played. If all nine players go unsigned (unlikely, I know, but bear with me) that frees up slightly over eleven million in cap money for the Devils to play around with.
There is, of course, the factor of soon-to-be-UFA Bryce Salvador being on LTIR, which means approximately $3 million is already available, but that’s an entirely different carton of eggs.
Although the Devils could benefit tremendously by adding a player of Saad’s depth and talent, with the projected rise in the cap going from $71 million to only $71.5 million, New Jersey would have to cut costs elsewhere if they want to afford Brandon Saad.
The Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins had a disastrous season, with far too many players falling to injury to maintain the depth they had stacked up against the salary cap at the beginning of the season. They made a number of moves over the summer last year to free up cap space, and with the way the season ended for the Pens there’s no doubt they’ll do so again.
They will have to maneuver carefully because of Crosby and Malkin’s excruciating cap hits at $8.7 million and $9.5 million respectively (though Crosby’s actual salary came in at $12 million). However, after the addition of David Perron to Crosby’s wing didn’t go as planned, they may very well be hunting for a well-rounded wing who can rack up scores and assists.
Saad, by the way, outstripped Perron across almost all categories, from goals to assists to save percentage to who-spent-less-time-in-the-penalty-box. The only category Perron came in higher was on power play goals. Oh, and salary.
Perron’s cap hit runs the Penguins a cool $4.5 million a year. Saad’s current cap hit is only $894,000 a season. The Blackhawks lucked out with him.
But Saad will likely pick up somewhere in the range of $4-6 million a season, an eminently affordable price for his 50+ points a season, unless the Blackhawks manage to lock him up with a bridge deal for a hometown discount.
Saad might be inclined to take a true hometown discount for the Penguins, however, as he is a Pittsburgh native and even played on the amateur Penguins team as a child. In the interview embedded below (or here at the link) Saad, a prospective draft pick at the time, talks with Pens TV about his experience growing up in Pittsburgh. Could we see him in the white, black and gold next season? It’s certainly a possibility if the Penguins come after him aggressively enough.
The long and the short of it is that Saad will likely have a number of offer sheets sent to him this offseason, and if the Blackhawks want to retain him they’ll have to come up with a pretty convincing package.
After all, while he may have grown up on the Chicago team, he only has so many years in the pro league, even if he stays completely healthy while playing. Money will certainly be a deciding factor come deal time, and clubs around the league know it.