Revisiting the Brandon Saad Trade: Stop-Loss, or Siberian Vacation

Insanity or Best Laid Plans

On June 30th, the Blackhawks fan base had a panic attack. Brandon Saad was jettisoned to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and no one cared what they were getting in return. Eventually, clearer heads prevailed, and everyone began to look at all the moving parts in the deal. A few were nothing to get excited about, with Jeremy Morin bringing on a sense of deja vu; However, further analysis of Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano proved yet again, that Stan Bowman just might be a few steps ahead of the Hawks loyal fan base.

For a couple of years, Hawks fans watched Brandon Saad make highlight reel worthy plays, and I would expect to see many more from him, no matter where he plays. However, there were not nearly as many for Artem Anisimov.

My, how the tables have turned, as Artem Anisimov is flourishing within the Blackhawks’ system.

It’s been just over four months, and the fan base has had a chance to see a little cross-section of the future that Stan Bowman clearly envisioned, as he pulled the trigger on one of the biggest blockbuster trades of the summer. So, let’s take a look at how the trade has panned out for the Blackhawks at this early stage of the season.

Stop-Loss Order

Brandon Saad, his agent, and perhaps his father had simply out-priced the market, seeking a payday that the Blackhawks were never going to be able to meet. The demand forced Stan Bowman to put a cap on his value and trade the young stars’ rising stock away, to another team. Given the bounty of the return, it would seem that Columbus was simply the best match regarding the return that Bowman was looking for. Though, on second glance, it appears there might have been some unintended kick-backs for Bowman, that has delivered a manner of retribution for a deal that went sour.

On paper, this deal appeared to be somewhat one-sided. Columbus was getting one of the biggest rising stars the league had to offer, and he came with two Stanley Cup Championships on his resume. Certainly, Saad would be enough to push their young team to the next level and help propel them to the playoffs, right? After all, they had given up a couple of AHL players, a center with a history of injuries, and another young player who had a lot of potential, but Saad was ready now. He was the plug-and-play forward they were looking for, and it seemed that Columbus was certain he was all that they needed, as the Jackets were relatively quiet on the personnel moves for the remainder of the summer.

The question remains, was this simply a stop-loss order on the part of Stan Bowman, or did he foresee the challenges ahead for the Blue Jackets, and let someone else play into Saad’s (Father and/or Agent) apparent ‘Show Me The Money’ moment?

Everyone Wins…Sort of

For Columbus, in the long-term, the Saad trade will undoubtedly be a win. Right now, it isn’t the main focus as the team has faltered badly out of the starting gates.

The player we saw in Chicago is far too talented to flame out just because he’s in a smaller market, without Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews. However, it would appear that the adjustment may just take a bit longer for Saad between the new line mates, the adjustment from role player to a team leader, and now the coaching change. Saad has shown glimmers of the player that Chicago adored, and he will undoubtedly continue to shine once he has time to learn the system, and build some chemistry with his new teammates and coaching staff. It is easy to forget, Saad is just twenty-three years old, and he has never had to adjust to a new team or new coaches in his NHL career. Let alone, a new team and two new coaches, in a matter of weeks.

Saad’s numbers will improve, as will the Columbus Blue Jackets, but there will not be a Cup run on the menu this year.  Probably not next year either.

In Chicago, the transition has been a little smoother, especially for Artem Anisimov. The big center has already been on the other side of trades, so this was nothing new to him. The most significant transition for Anisimov was learning to play alongside two of the most dynamic forwards the game has to offer, in Patrick Kane and his Russian clone, Artemi Panarin. A ‘hardship’ that no center would be likely to lose sleep over. For as long as Kane has been in the league, he has been searching for a center that can compliment his style of play. A two-way center that could keep up with Kane, and play the two steps ahead style of hockey, where Kane excels.

It requires a high hockey IQ, and the ability to see all the open spaces on the ice ahead, often before they are open. Patrick Kane is part hockey savant, and part fortune-teller it would appear, because he seems to know where the puck is going before it even lands on tape of a potential passers stick. After a couple of months together, it is safe to say that Anisimov is that player and he does, in fact, possess the kind of vision that players like Kane and Panarin thrive on. Just as Stan Bowman thought he would.

On Monday, Anisimov got a shot at playing with another young phenom in Teuvo Teravainen, and the experiment went quite well in their first outing. Each player had at a goal against the Los Angeles Kings, as the Hawks snapped their seven game win streak. Anisimov also registered an assist on Teuvo’s tally.

The Center of the Debate

Anisimov is averaging about a minute more time on the ice (TOI), and he has already scored five goals in twelve games, as opposed to the seven he scored in fifty-two games last season. All of this is impressive, by itself. What is even more impressive, is that Anisimov has been able to accomplish all of this while taking on the expanded role that is demanded of all the centers who play on a team with Joel Quenneville at the helm. Quenneville requires a complex two-way game that puts a lot of added responsibility on the shoulders of his centers. Responsibility, that many coaches do not emphasize quite as much.  For Q, it is always defense first, no matter the position.

It is a style that Toews has excelled at, but predecessors Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette struggled to find balance at times. Both Vermette and Richards had their moments, but the learning curve was steep for each of them. Anisimov seemed to have grasped the system right out of the gates, as he tallied a goal and an assist in his first regular season game. He currently leads the team (and is tied for the league lead) with two short-handed goals this season, as well.

Anisimov has seen his role expand, as his comfort level has grown with time spent on special teams as well. Filling a void left by both Saad and Johnny Oduya, who each spent a good amount of time on the penalty kill, and the power play units before him.

Book’em Dano

The second part of the equation for the Blackhawks is Marko Dano. A prospect that has shown all kinds of potential. However, there is going to have to be some level of patience with the twenty year old, as he has just one game at the NHL level with the Blackhawks thus far. While his first run was a bit underwhelming, Dano is sure to make his presence known as he gains confidence and begins to build some chemistry with new line mates. In his second outing, he found the back of the net and laid out a couple of solid hits against a much bigger Scottie Upshall.

His time with the Columbus Blue Jackets (35 games with 8G, 13A) last season, certainly showed that he is capable of providing net front presence, and splitting defenders for scoring opportunities.  This system is likely to be an adjustment, but Dano possesses the skill level to succeed in Chicago, as well. For Marko Dano, it is likely a matter of finding some consistency with a line and working on his two-way game, the rest will come.

Currently, he is on a line with Tanner Kero and Ryan Hartman, but it is likely that he will be given an opportunity to play on a couple of lines before Q decides what the best fit is for the young forward. Or simply employs the Coach Q line blender.  Certainly, he showed some early chemistry with Marian Hossa (currently out with a lower body injury) and Jonathan Toews, and that combination is likely to be revisited at some point in the near future.

One thing is clear with Marko Dano, the quality, and experience level of potential line mates has increased over last season, and that is only going to help his growth as a player. Dano will be one to watch, and given his success last season, there are plenty of reasons to get excited over his potential.

His attitude is certainly a positive attribute as well.

And the Winner is…

At the end of the day, the edge has to go to the Hawks, but there truly isn’t a loser in this trade from a team perspective. Both sides received a player(s) that they were in need of, who will undoubtedly serve a greater purpose for the team, over time. Clearly, Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano have earned the better end, as players, coming from a team with little chance to advance deep into the playoffs; Moving to a team with the potential to make a deep run, nearly every season.

For Saad, at the moment the pay off is more literal. He got his top dollar contract, but it came with an unforeseen price of its own. The Blue Jackets are currently struggling at the bottom of the league, and Saad is learning that winning isn’t everything, but losing isn’t fun. He is no longer a part of the supporting cast, as his play in Chicago earned him top billing in Columbus, so each loss is bound to fall heavier on his shoulders than ever before.

As the season goes along, this topic is bound to be revisited from time to time, and it is likely that there will be valid arguments for each side in terms of who may have gotten the better end of the deal; However, today that team is the Chicago Blackhawks.