Blackhawks

Blackhawks 2019-20 season in review: Brandon Saad

Blackhawks 2019-20 season in review: Brandon Saad

The NHL put its 2019-20 season on pause March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but remains hopeful to award the Stanley Cup at some point. Although it's unclear if or when it could return, NBC Sports Chicago will recap the season of each Blackhawks player to date in our "season in review" series. Next up is Brandon Saad.

Brandon Saad's second go-around with the Blackhawks wasn't as smooth of a transition as both parties hoped it would be. And it didn't help that the trade to send Artemi Panarin to Columbus was controversial in itself.

To put it simply, Saad had an off season in Year 1 even though his possession numbers were among the NHL's best, recording only 18 goals and 35 points in 82 games. But you knew he was due for a bounce-back season after he finished with a career-low shooting percentage of 7.6 and had an expected goals rate of 26.3, according to Money Puck.

And that's exactly what happened.

In Year 2, Saad compiled 23 goals and 24 assists for 47 points, falling six points shy of matching his career-high mark of 53, which he did twice in Columbus. His 23 goals also tied a personal best during his Blackhawks tenure.

Year 3 has easily been Saad's best since returning to Chicago. He has 21 goals and 12 assists for 33 points through 58 games and a career-high 15.0 shooting percentage. He was on pace to score 30 goals for the second time in his NHL career, but missed one month because of an ankle injury that threw a wrench into things.

"He's been so good for us all year," head coach Jeremy Colliton said in December. "Sometimes he can be snake bit. He's just that type of player. He gets a lot of chances and it can be streaky for him. But regardless of him scoring, he's important for the team."

On a per-60-minute basis at even strength this season, Saad ranks No. 1 on the Blackhawks in expected goals for (3.08), scoring chances for (33.1) and high-danger chances for (13.1), according to Natural Stat Trick. He was arguably their best forward before he got injured in December and Saad felt this was the best version of himself, too.

"I try to improve every year and coming into this year I felt pretty confident," Saad said. "But I think on a consistent basis, this is some of the best hockey I've ever played."

Saad’s name was being thrown around ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline, but it was difficult to see the Blackhawks moving him unless they were blown away by an offer. He has one year left on his contract after this season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career next summer.

The COVID-19 pandemic will have a significant impact on the NHL’s salary cap for years to come, which will certainly affect pending UFAs both this year and next, most notably. Saad falls into that category, so you wonder what his future could hold beyond this season.

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Report: Blackhawks will head to Edmonton in NHL's Return to Play plan

Report: Blackhawks will head to Edmonton in NHL's Return to Play plan

The NHL and NHL Players' Association worked diligently into the late hours on Tuesday and reportedly made significant progress as the two sides look to come to an overall agreement on the protocols and safety measures for Phase 3 and 4, transition rules and a Collective Bargaining Agreement extension. 

Nothing is official until the entire deal is ratified — the voting could take place Friday or Saturday — but, barring any last-minute breakdowns, Edmonton and Toronto are expected to be named the two hub cities for the league's 24-team Return to Play plan, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie. Chicago was among the four finalists from a field that started with 10 candidates.

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Vegas was a clear frontrunner from the beginning because of its appealing and tight bubble environment, but the NHL and NHLPA were forced to shift its attention elsewhere after an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases.

It was originally believed that the league would put each conference in opposite regions to eliminate any sort of competitive advantage, but that no longer appears to be the case. The Western Conference is expected to play in Edmonton while the Eastern Conference will go to Toronto, which means the Blackhawks will head to Edmonton if or when hockey officially returns.

Both hub cities will host exhibition games, the qualifying round and Rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs, but only one of them will host the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final. It's unclear which city will host the latter.

Report: Blackhawks' Ian Mitchell not expected to play in NHL's 24-team playoff

Report: Blackhawks' Ian Mitchell not expected to play in NHL's 24-team playoff

When the NHL's Return To Play plan and 24-team playoff format were originally being hashed out, there was some hope that the Blackhawks could receive some much-needed defensive depth from Ian Mitchell. But that may not be the case.

Chicago could use all the help they can get in their potential best-of-5 play-in series against the Oilers under the league's format.

Mitchell, 21, was drafted by the Hawks in the second round (No. 57 overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft. He spent the past three seasons at the University of Denver, captaining the Pioneers this past year and setting a career high in goals (10) and points (32) through 36 games.

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The promising defenseman signed a three-year entry-level contract with Chicago in April after the NHL paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11.

Wednesday morning, TSN's Bob McKenzie reported players in a similar boat to Mitchell who signed during the pause, as well as unsigned draft picks, are not expected to be eligible if and when the NHL resumes to finish the 2019-20 season.