The Blackhawks have a serious salary cap dilemma on their hands, but one of the pieces that was not expected to be moved was pending restricted free agent Brandon Saad . However, in a stunning turn of events, the Blackhawks traded Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets.Columbus announced the deal Tuesday evening. The Hawks also dealt prospects Michael Paliotta and Alex Broadhurst to Columbus.Headed back to the Hawks are forwards Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin(returning to the Hawks), Corey Tropp and a 2016 fourth-round pick.The stunning move comes on the eve of free agency opening, which would have been the first day Saad would be eligible to sign an offer sheet from an opposing team, that the Blackhawks would either be forced into matching or letting Saad walk with only draft picks as compensation.The Blue Jackets face the same situation now, but would be better-positioned to match offer sheets should any come along due to a more friendly salary cap situation.Saad, at a mere 22 years old, already has his name on the Stanley Cup twice.He had 11 points during the Hawks most recent run to the Stanley Cup, scoring eight goals in 23 games. He also posted a career-best 52 points in 2014-15, his third full NHL season, which included 23 goals. Over 208 games, the former second-round pick has 126 points.
If you’re wondering why the Blackhawks would let a player like that go, Bob McKenzie of TSN has a pretty good answer: CHI traded Saad because he was looking for 6 yrs with AAV of $6.5M. May have been an offer sheet coming tomorrow from a team with those #s.
There’s just no way the Blackhawks could match that, but in this incredibly weak free agent market, it’s not unreasonable to think a team would have thrown that kind of offer at Saad. Saad’s agent later disputed that they asked for six years, however, according to McKenzie.Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said on a conference call that the team and player never got close on a deal. He also admitted that fear of an offer sheet was very real.It’s still a tough pill for the Blackhawks to swallow, considering Saad fell into their laps at 43rd overall in the NHL Draft in 2011 and is coming off of his first contract with the team. His rapid progression playing alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa priced out the cap-strapped team, which now will have to reevaluate their offseason plans.As far as return, the centerpiece of this deal as far as the Hawks are concerned is undoubtedly Marko Dano. The 20-year-old Slovakian was the 27th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He had 21 points in just 35 games last season and showed some tremendous skill in his first NHL stint.He also had 19 points in 39 games with Springfield of the American Hockey League last season. Prior to that, he played two years in the KHL with Slovan Bratislava and was a standout for Slovakia’s national program at various levels over the last five years.He has two years remaining on his entry-level contract and could be on the NHL roster as early as next season in a full-time role, despite his relative youth. At just $925,000 for a cap hit, that’s going to go a long way towards keeping the Hawks cap compliant.Looking at the rest of the deal, Anisimov is 27 and is coming off of a season shortened by injury. His $3.283 million cap hit is not the friendliest addition to the Blackhawks’ current cap situation. The center has showed some offensive promise over his career, but has just one 20-goal season among his six NHL campaigns. Bowman said the team is already close to an extension with the veteran winger, however.Morin is a familiar face as the Blackhawks traded him to Columbus just last season. He has one year left at $800,000 and could be a good depth player on the NHL roster as a guy that spots into the lineup. He’s never quite proven to be an everyday player and had just six points in 43 games last season. The same goes for 25-year-old Corey Tropp, who also has one year left on his deal. He posted only eight points in 61 games with Columbus last season.Overall, this is a tough deal for the Hawks to make, but one that comes with the cold realities of spending to the salary cap. They did end up getting a really promising prospect in Dano to add to their stable of young talents. Losing Saad in the process is going to hurt, though. Not only that, but they still have a lot of salary to move before next season.Assuming Columbus strikes a deal with their new acquisition (and why wouldn’t they at this point?), they’re adding a forward that instantly jumps to the top of their lineup. Saad is going to bolster scoring in a group of forwards that already includes a top-end producer in Ryan Johansen. The Jackets will have to hope Nick Foligno can replicate or get close to the season he just had, while continue to get more out Scott Hartnell, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner and the very promising Alexander Wennberg.