Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Brandon Saad deal proves NHL is just a business

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Blackhawks: Brandon Saad deal proves NHL is just a business

When the Blackhawks announced they were trading Brandon Saad, there were a lot who were stunned.

Apparently, that included Saad.

“A little shocked,” Saad said via conference call. “It’s my first time going through the process. At the same time it’s a business.”

Saad’s biggest introduction to this business we call the NHL came on Tuesday afternoon, when the Blackhawks traded him to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a seven-player deal. The forward said two weeks ago that he planned to re-sign with the Blackhawks but it didn’t happen. General manager Stan Bowman said the two sides never really got close to getting a deal done.

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“He’s a great young player, great young man. It was a joy to have him on our team and we certainly wish him the best in Columbus,” Bowman said on Tuesday. “From our perspective it’s difficult to make trades sometimes, especially in a case like this. But this is a business and we have a job to do and my job is to prep our team to remain competitive and win again next season.”

Bob McKenzie reported yesterday that Saad’s camp was asking for salary that came with an average cap hit of $6.5 million. Saad wouldn’t comment on what kept he and the Blackhawks apart on a deal, or what contract he could end up getting with the Jackets. A message sent to his agent, Lewis Gross, was not immediately returned.

Saad said he mostly stayed out of the negotiating process.

“As a player, I try to stay out of it as much as possible. You just try to play the game and have fun,” he said. “As for the business part, you try to take the emotion out of it. I let my agent do that and he keeps me informed and talks to me about things that are going on, but for the most part I let him do the work. He knows the business more than I do.”

As for Saad, the Blue Jackets will sign him. Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said on Tuesday that the team was already in discussions with Saad’s agent, Lewis Gross, on the deal. Kekalainen added that he’s not concerned if other teams have offer sheets for Saad.

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“We’re just going to match it,” he said. “We’re not in a vulnerable position with our cap situation where it would benefit anybody to try to offer sheet him. We would just match it.”

Saad may be only 22 years old but he already brings a strong winning pedigree to the Blue Jackets. Saad was a Calder Trophy finalist during his rookie year and claimed his second Stanley Cup in his first three seasons last month. He joins a Blue Jackets squad that’s trying to find some consistent success. Columbus made the playoffs in 2013-14, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. They hoped to build on that success last year but were derailed by a plethora of injuries; they finished 11th in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s definitely going to be a change,” Saad said. “At the same time they’ve had some tight playoff series where they’ve played well. I’m looking forward to going there and helping that team."

Saad’s pedigree will certainly benefit a Jackets team that has high hopes entering this season.

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“A winner. We’ve talked about this internally, with our team and with our management group, we want winners here and he’s a proven winner,” Kekalainen said of Saad. “He’s won two Stanley Cups, he’s 22 years old, he has speed, size, strength and he plays the game hard. He has an excellent work ethic on and off the ice. He brings a proven winner to our group.”

There was plenty of shock to go around when Saad was traded. Saad experienced some of it himself. His path is set and he’ll certainly get rewarded monetarily. Now the Jackets hope Saad can help them find more success moving forward.

“Things are going to happen and most guys don’t play their entire career in the same place,” Saad said. “I’m a little sad to leave because of the relationships that I’ve built with those guys [in Chicago], but this is part of the business and I’m excited about what’s in front of me with the Blue Jackets.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."