It was no secret that the Blackhawks would be forced to make some tough decisions last offseason following their third Stanley Cup victory in six years.
As first witnessed by Chicago in 2010, the salary cap simply makes it close to impossible for teams to bring back the same roster as the previous season.
Brandon Saad became part of that salary cap casualty in 2015, which was surprising for everyone, after being shipped to Columbus in a package that included Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano. It was an especially emotional time for the former Blackhawks winger, who was still just 22 years old at the time of the trade.
He went from enjoying the top of the mountain for the second time in his young career to moving conferences, and now finds himself trying to lift the Blue Jackets from out of the basement. But he credits his time with the Blackhawks to have the ability to overcome different levels of adversity such as this.
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"It's meant a lot," Saad said of his time in Chicago during the All-Star Game Media Day on Friday. "To go there and play for an organization like that with (Jonathan Toews) and (Marian Hossa) there, and not just being around them, but getting to play on their same line and learn from them every day with guys that have done it all, it's pretty special. It's been huge for my career.
"Obviously the winning helps, but to be a young guy and be around those type of players that teach you the right habits and how to conduct yourself on and off the ice, it's been huge for my career and something I'm still learning, but those are two special guys there."
Like any teammate who shared special memories with a certain group of players, Saad has kept an eye on the Blackhawks' success this season, including their franchise-record 12-game winning streak and the historic season being turned in by Hart Trophy front-runner Patrick Kane.
"It's impressive," Saad said. "They've got a great team. (Kane's) surrounded by great players, and he leads the way there. He's a special player and to see the things he's done, it's really not too surprising because, being around him for a few years, you see his habits and his skill, it was only a matter of time (before) he was going to break through. He's a world-class player. He's fun to watch even being on the other side now. I wish nothing but the best for him.
"It's something that you follow a little bit. It's a busy schedule, but any time you're playing against them or you go the night before, you grab dinner, and things like that. I've been following them, they're having great years and I look forward to seeing them."
For a large portion of the first half of the season, the Blackhawks felt the absence of Saad as they struggled to fill the void at left wing on the top line. They tried several options before Andrew Shaw seized the opportunity and hasn't looked back since.
Still, Kane, who hadn't seen Saad since the trade before this weekend at the All-Star festivities, knows it's not easy to replace what Saad brings to the table on and off the ice.
"Absolutely we miss him," Kane said. "Saader is a great guy. He's someone that brought some comedy to the room and he was also a great hockey player too, so of course you're going to miss him. You realize it's a part of the business and you have to, I guess, move on with certain roster changes, but I think you look at the chemistry (Toews) had with Hossa and Saader, maybe for a while there we were looking for that guy. It looks like (Shaw) is that guy now and he's done a good job of filling in for that spot lately, so hopefully that will continue too."
Saad is on pace to set career highs in multiple scoring categories, and is just four goals away from tying his personal best 23 goals, set last season with, 32 games remaining. He's been the leader Columbus has needed through trying times, and is producing on the ice as well with 35 points in 50 games, a main reason why he's earned his first All-Star selection this season.
And while his role is different than it was with the Blackhawks, Saad is taking advantage of his new leadership position.
"In Chicago, with the superstars they have there you can kind of fall behind them and do your own thing," he said. "In Columbus, you're going to be a leader and take that role and get more minutes. The biggest thing is bringing that consistency and trying to lead by example for the younger guys because even though I'm young we have a lot of younger guys than me."