Blackhawks

Breaking down Brandon Saad's struggles and why he's due for a big bounce-back season with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Breaking down Brandon Saad's struggles and why he's due for a big bounce-back season with Blackhawks

Brandon Saad's homecoming didn't exactly go as planned.

He compiled 35 points, his fewest since totaling 27 during his rookie campaign in 2012-13, tallied only 15 goals in 81 games following a hat trick on Opening Night and finished with a career-low 7.6 shooting percentage

What happened?

"It's something where maybe I was gripping the stick too tight, thinking about it too much," Saad admitted at the end of the season. "Other games maybe just puck luck. I think there are still some positives you can take out of the season and some things I did well. Just fine-tuning a couple things and a few details should be back on track to go."

It's especially hard to swallow for Chicago fans when you look at the season Artemi Panarin had in Columbus, where he set a Blue Jackets record for most points in a single season (82).

But Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman reiterated that that trade specifically was made with the bigger picture in mind, considering Saad had four years left on his deal when the trade was completed compared to Panarin, who had two and is due for a hefty pay raise next summer the Blackhawks simply couldn't afford.

"It's hard to judge a trade just on one year," Bowman said. "I think that's a little bit unfair to Brandon to say that. Obviously his numbers were down this year in terms of number of points he had. But we were never trying to replace Artemi's points with Brandon's points. They're different players.

"Brandon actually did a lot of good things on the ice. He really did have a strong season in a lot of ways that don't show up on the scoresheet, but there's no question that his production was down. We're looking for that to rebound. But I think he did a lot of underlying things which were really good."

That's accurate. Saad was among the NHL's best in just about every advanced statistical category.

When he was on the ice at 5-on-5, the Blackhawks controlled 56.04 percent of the shot attempts. That percentage ranked 16th among forwards who logged at least 200 minutes, according to naturalstattrick.com.

And of the 15 skaters ahead of him, only one of them was on the ice for more scoring chances for and that's Panarin. It certainly helped that each of them had the most offensive zone starts among those players, with Saad at 426 and Panarin at 492.

But Saad's shooting percentage at 5-on-5 came in at 6.68, by far a career low after averaging 8.93 going into the season. It'd be surprising if there wasn't a market correction there next season.

"When he was on the ice, our team had a lot of chances," Bowman said. "His conversion rate was just really low this year. We look at that as more of an anomoly. We think he's going to get back to his normal production."

It also didn't help that Saad had a PDO of 97.7, a metric that combines on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage. Sea level is usually at 100, and his on-ice save percentage at 5-on-5 was 91.02, which suggests he wasn't geting many breaks on the defensive side of things, either.

Still, there's no excusing the fact that Saad's numbers must improve next season for the Blackhawks to get back on track.

"As individuals he's one guy that we're going to need more from him going forward," Joel Quenneville said. "We think he adds that element where he can make a difference on a line on a game-to-game basis where that line would be dangerous and absorb the other team's attention. His production should be up."

Marian Hossa scored just 13 goals in 64 games in 2015-16 and had a career-low shooting percentage of 6.8. A year later at age 38, he doubled his goal total (26) in 73 games and converted on 15.6 percent of his shots.

There's no reason to not expect a similar bounce-back from Saad.

"Obviously this isn't the year that we wanted," Saad said. "But it's not like I'm lacking confidence going into next year. I think I'm very capable of being a leader this team and helping us get back in the playoffs."

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery was identified as the victim in an early morning drowning on Sunday at the Hamilton Harbour, Hamilton Police confirmed. He was 35.

According to the Hamilton Spectator, Emery and his friends jumped in the water around 6:30 a.m., but Emery never resurfaced. His body was recovered later in the afternoon.

Emery played in the NHL for 11 seasons, two of which came with the Blackhawks from 2011-13, where he served as a backup goaltender to Corey Crawford.

In 2013, he teammated up with Crawford to win the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goaltender(s) with the fewest goals against in a single season, before going on to capture his first Stanley Cup. During that season, Emery went 17-1-0 with a 1.94 goals against average, .922 save percentage and three shutouts.

The Blackhawks issued this statement following the confirmation:

The Chicago Blackhawks organization was deeply saddened to hear of Ray Emery’s passing. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. The Blackhawks will fondly remember Ray as a fierce competitor, a good teammate and a Stanley Cup champion.

The hockey community took to Twitter to offer their condolences when news began to spread:

Thank you, Marian Hossa: An ode to one of the best Blackhawks ever

Thank you, Marian Hossa: An ode to one of the best Blackhawks ever

When the Blackhawks drafted Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006 and Patrick Kane with the No. 1 pick the following year, it was a sign that the dark skies were clearing in Chicago. Things really started to change when Rocky Wirtz took over as chairman following the death of his father Bill in September of 2007, and one of the first decisions he made was to televise all 82 games.

The fans were coming back.

For only the second time in 11 years, the Blackhawks finished above .500 in 2007-08 but missed the playoffs by three points, a season in which Kane won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.

The following year Joel Quenneville took over as head coach after only three games to provide some coaching experience behind the bench for a young team on the rise. It resulted in a 104-point season and ended in a Conference Finals berth at the hands of the arch-rival Detroit Red Wings in five games.

The Blackhawks were ready to make that step into championship contenders. They just needed someone to put them over the edge.

Enter Marian Hossa.

On July 1 of 2009, he committed to the Blackhawks for 12 years worth $62.8 million. He bought into the long-term vision and wanted to be a part of something special for many years to come.

Was he ever.

In his first game as a member of the Blackhawks, Hossa scored two goals in a 7-2 road victory against San Jose after missing the first month and a half of the season with a shoulder injury. It was at that moment where you saw what kind of powerhouse the Blackhawks could be and would become with a full lineup and future Hall of Fame winger added to a mixture of franchise-changing players scratching the surface.

Fast forward to Game 5 of the 2010 quarterfinals. You know how it goes. Series is tied 2-2. The Blackhawks trail 4-3 late in the third period. Extra attacker is on. How many times have we seen this? The Blackhawks were surely going to find a way to tie it up ... and then Hossa is sent to the box with 1:03 to play in regulation. A five-minute major boarding penalty.

Dagger...

Not so fast. 

Patrick Kane went on to score arguably the biggest goal in Blackhawks history, a shorthanded one that evened it up with 13.6 seconds to go. United Center is up for grabs. But there are still four minutes left to kill off on the penalty once overtime starts, which Hossa once called "the longest four minutes of my life." 

In a span of nine seconds following the penalty kill, Hossa jumped on the ice from the box, darted straight for the net and buried home what was the second-biggest goal in franchise history to put the Blackhawks up 3-2 in the series. Two nights later Hossa assisted on three goals and the Blackhawks eliminated the Nashville Predators in their barn.

The rest is history.

Who knows if the Blackhawks rally to win that series if they don't tie it up or win it in overtime. Who knows if they break through the next year. Who knows if that core group even remains together. The course of the franchise could've changed that night.

Instead, Hossa was handed the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career on June 9, 2010 from Jonathan Toews, who couldn't give it to him fast enough after he came up on the losing end in consecutive appearances with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings in 2008 and 2009.

Hossa would add two more titles to his résumé with the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015, which almost certainly locked up his legacy as one of the all-time greats and his eventual next stop: The Hockey Hall of Fame. The wait was worth it.

"I was hoping to get one coming to Chicago and now I’ve got three," Hossa said following the 2015 Stanley Cup win. "What a feeling." 

The Blackhawks don't win three Stanley Cups without Hossa, who will go down as arguably the greatest free-agent signing in Chicago sports history.

On behalf of the city of Chicago: Thank you, 81.