Blackhawks

Brandon Saad: Playing for Blackhawks was 'huge for my career'

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Brandon Saad: Playing for Blackhawks was 'huge for my career'

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.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

"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.

[MORE: TSN poll: Coaches vote Patrick Kane as NHL's best player]

"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."

[RELATED: Former Blackhawks F John Scott speaks out on NHL, All-Star selection process]

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."

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

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AP

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a Marcus Kruger redirection goal. The next one was the dagger, a beautiful give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 3-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."

Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade

COLUMBUS — The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets blockbuster trade from the 2017 offseason is always a hot topic in Chicago when things aren't going great. It especially is when the two teams square off against each other, like Saturday at Nationwide Arena for the first time this season.

If it wasn't already apparent in Chicago, Artemi Panarin has emerged as a real NHL superstar and is set for a giant payday when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019. He set a Blue Jackets record with 82 points in a single season and has nine points (three goals, six assists) through six games this season.

Brandon Saad, on the other hand, had a challenging first year back with the Blackhawks in 2017-18 after netting only 35 points in 82 games and is off to a slow start this year as well with zero goals and two assists through six games. After a demotion to the fourth line, he was close to being a healthy scratch on Thursday, which only magnifies where things are at as the two get ready to clash.

But Saad was never going to be able to replace Panarin's offensive production. Everybody knows that. Yet, the offensive comparisons will always be there as a barometer and that's something Saad doesn't think about, no matter how much fans talk about it.

"I don't think I do it," he said. "We're different players. He's a great player. Fans are going to do whatever comparisons they want, but at the end of the day you've got to be true to yourself and do what you bring to the table. He's a great player around the league. You can see his highlights and his goals, he's definitely a special player. But at the end of the day I've got confidence in my abilities too. We both bring different attributes, but they're going to make comparisons regardless."

A big reason why the Blackhawks reacquired Saad, other than his ability to play a 200-foot game, is because he carries a $6 million cap hit through 2020-21, which is two years more than Panarin at the same cap hit. (It's also important to note that the Blackhawks hoped they were getting a reliable, young backup goaltender in Anton Forsberg, but the injury to Corey Crawford thrust him into a role he wasn't exactly prepared for.)

It's not all rainbows for Columbus right now regarding where things stand with Panarin, who has made it clear he's not ready to sign a long-term extension. All signs point to the 26-year-old winger hitting the market, putting the Blue Jackets in a tricky situation ahead of the trade deadline. The Blackhawks very well could have found themselves in this position, too, had a deal not been made.

Both sides are dealing with their own challenges of the trade. Saad is still a key piece to the Blackhawks' puzzle and they're hoping to get more out of him, for no other reason than the team's overall success.

"You want to have success regardless of who you're playing for, who you're traded for, things like that," Saad said. "Naturally, just as competitors, you want to bring that excitement and you want to have success with the team and personally."