Pittsburgh has been eliminated from the playoffs and the New York Rangers exposed the injury riddled Penguins.
Even though the Stanley Cup playoffs continue, the Penguins are already in their offseason. This includes evaluating their players, both pending free agents and under contract players, examining the free agent market and re-visiting prospect evaluation.
General manager Jim Rutherford has already acknowledged that this upcoming free agent class will be a weak one. And that’s terrible news because the Penguins need to obtain top-six wings and scoring depth by any means possible.
Their forwards simply were not good enough to win the Cup, even when everyone was healthy.
RFA Brandon Saad is an intriguing option
While Brandon Saad is a restricted free agent, he’s still open to contract offers. The Penguins would be wise to try and sign the Pittsburgh native to a short contract.
The current system of restricted free agency is tiered by salary and the more money you offer a RFA, the more compensation you have to give their current team.
Brandon Saad is coming off of an entry level contract that paid him $2.775 million over the last three years.
In that time his regular season production has increased every year and in the 2014-2015 season he produced 23 goals and 29 assists (52 points) in 82 games played and was a +7 skater.
The Chicago Blackhawk fanbase has compared Saad to Marian Hossa and some have considered him Hossa’s heir apparent.
However, there’s a huge problem for the Blackhawks, they’re running out of money.
Chicago’s cap crunch
Entering the 2015-2016 season the Chicago Blackhawks have 8 forwards, 3 defensemen and 3 goalies under contract. Now this is completely normal for most NHL teams, but the issue is that they are projected to only have $5-8 million in cap space (depending on what the salary cap ends up being).
They have expensive players like Jonathan Toews ($10.5 million), Patrick Kane ($10.5 million), Patrick Sharp ($5.9 million), Marian Hossa ($5.275 million), Duncan Keith ($5.538 million), Brent Seabrook ($5.8 million) and Corey Crawford ($6 million) all under contract.
Frankly, it’s unlikely the Blackhawks would be able to match an offer for Saad and still fill out their lineup, barring a major salary dump at the NHL draft.
Brandon Saad’s playoff performance
Currently Saad is still playing with the Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals and from a numerical standpoint, his play has not been impressive. He’s played in 15 games, scored 4 goals and assisted on 2 more.
This lack of production should help to keep Saad’s price down during the upcoming free agency period.
However, if you watch the Blackhawks-Ducks contests, Saad is playing much better than the numbers would indicate and it is shown by his 36 shots taken.
He is going to be a star wing in the NHL and that day is coming very soon.
Pittsburgh should attempt to sign Saad
So why should the Penguins try and sign Brandon Saad?
Many have pointed out, and complained, that the Penguins have failed to give Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin star wings that match their talent level. They say how there has not been a star wing in Pittsburgh since Marian Hossa’s brief time with the Pens. So wouldn’t signing the “heir apparent” to Hossa be the next best thing?
Saad’s an outstanding forward who does everything well, just like Hossa. He can work the powerplay, kill penalties and is versatile enough to play in just about every situation and his best years are yet to come.
The 22 year-old has a great future and there’s no doubting that he would not be opposed to coming home to Pittsburgh and playing for the Penguins that he adored growing up.
The only hurdle in this process would be the compensation that Pittsburgh might have to give up.
A perfect situation would have the Penguins sign Saad to a 1 year/$2 million dollar contract and send Chicago a second-round pick. Anything above $2 million, Pittsburgh would have to send a first-round pick and more away to sign him. Saad is probably worth more than $2 million, but Rutherford should try to acquire him for the least amount of draft picks required and handsomely pay him the year after.
Given the Penguins trading history, they would most likely have to send a first and third round selections to Chicago to acquire Saad. The contract would land in the range of $2-$3 million for the first year.
Would Saad be worth sending more compensation to the Blackhawks? In theory it could cost the Penguins up to two first, a second and third round picks to obtain the Pittsburgh native.
Even if the Penguins have to send more than a first-round draft pick to Chicago, it might be worth it. Pittsburgh has had a history of trading away draft picks at the trade deadline, but this is an entirely different situation.
They would not acquire another rental player like Daniel Winnik, but an up and coming star, who would most likely take a hometown discount.
Brandon Saad even played on the Penguins amateur team as a child. It’s entirely possible that we see Saad in a Penguins sweater next season if they decide to go after him aggressively.