When general manager Stan Bowman said he wanted Brandon Saad to remain with the Blackhawks earlier this month, it seemed a foregone conclusion.
Bowman was adamant. Saad was, too, as the 22-year-old forward was ready to be part of the Blackhawks for years to come.
But a funny thing happened on the way to signing that anticipated extension: The two sides never got close to a deal. And now, just two weeks later, Saad is no longer part of the Blackhawks present or future.
Saad was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of a seven-player deal on Tuesday afternoon. The Blackhawks acquired Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin and Corey Tropp, as well as a fourth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
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The deal was a shocker, especially given the Blackhawks’ determination, and talk of that desire, to sign Saad to a new contract. According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Saad’s camp was looking for a six-year deal with a cap hit of $6.5 million per season, though Saad's agent, Lewis Gross, later told McKenzie that they were not looking for six years. Bowman wasn’t going to “talk numbers” but said the two sides never got close to an agreement.
“It’s fair to say we both tried hard to make it work. It wasn’t going to in this scenario,” Bowman said via conference call this afternoon. “I don’t think we ever came close on a contract. It wasn’t for lack of effort. I respect their side. It just didn’t work for us, and it obviously didn’t work for them. That’s why we had to move on.”
So the Blackhawks traded Saad to the Blue Jackets. Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, who spoke on a separate conference call, said the Jackets are already working on a deal for Saad.
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Saad not signing here doesn’t mean the Blackhawks are out of the salary-cap woods. Anisimov has one year remaining on his current contract, which has a cap hit of $3.28 million. Dano has two years on his contract with the much-lighter cap hit of $925,000 per season. Still, that means the Blackhawks have about $68 million tied up in 16 players, and the salary cap will be $71.4 million for the 2015-16 season. Bowman said talks are going well with Marcus Kruger, who’s likely to be signed to a new deal soon. Does that mean Patrick Sharp is still traded? Or Bryan Bickell’s on the block?
“We have a few different paths we can pursue,” Bowman said. “A big need for us was center. We lost a few from last year’s team, and I think that’s an important position for us. That’s why we had success. We filled a huge hole there with Anisimov. We have other decisions to make. Obviously this was a big decision, and now that we’ve made this move we can look at a few different things looking into the coming weeks. We have some flexibility. We’re not pressured into doing anything, but we’re open to different things as we prepare for next year.”
Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville have long said, “things change quickly in our business.” The trading, not re-signing, of Saad on Tuesday couldn’t have reinforced that quote any more. The Blackhawks thought they and Saad would be together for quite a while. They won’t be. So now, the Blackhawks will move on.
“Our plan was to sign Brandon. We didn’t know until we started negotiations where they were going to be,” Bowman said. “We did our best. Both sides tried hard, and we couldn’t come to an agreement. You can’t get stuck in a position. You have to keep preparing for next season.”