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Sit Back, Relax, And Strap It Down – ’17-’18 Blackhawks Player Previews – Brandon Saad

2016–17 Stats

82 GP – 24 G, 29 A, 53 P

54.8 CF%, 57.8 oZS%, 42.2 dZS%

ATOI: 17:02

A Look Back: Like the first open-mouth kiss with a longtime crush, the return of Brandon Saad should be crackling every synapse in every brain of every Blackhawks fan. There simply aren’t many players like Saad in the NHL, let alone on the Blackhawks. Size in the NHL is often akin to truck nuts on a secondhand Subaru, but not with Saad, who backs up his 6’1”, 206, frame with speedy and graceful skating reminiscent of a hockey-hardened Baryshnikov.

Aside from the 2 games he played as a 19-year-old in 2011–12, Saad has never had a negative CF% Rel. Even John Tortorella, a man who undoubtedly and enthusiastically tugs at his scrotum when asked, “What’s the most important trait in a good hockey player,” couldn’t screw up Saad’s usage, try as he may. His career CF% is a throbbing 54.5, a number that hardly swooned while he played for the historically puck-allergic Blue Jackets. Last year with Columbus saw his CF% Rel at a robust 6.4, and at no point did his CF% dip below 50 in Columbus.

In his tryst with America’s astronaut factory, Saad put up consecutive 53-point seasons, peppering his stat line with his first 30-goal season in 15–16. Over the past 3 years, he’s put up seasons of 52, 53, and 53 points; and CF%s of 54, 50.4, and 54.8. He’s scored at least 20 goals each of his past 3 seasons and has missed only 10 regular-season games throughout his entire career.

On top of all the fancy numbers, Brandon Saad is the definition of the power game schmucks like me want to see in the NHL. Saad is power with a purpose, not a wild-eyed underbite. When there’s a puck buried in the corner, Saad can dig it out. When there’s a penalty to kill, Saad is no more out of place there than he is on the power play. He embodies all of the elements the PASS SKATE SHOOT HIT HIM crowds drool over without sacrificing production in advanced stat categories.

In short, Brandon Saad FUCKS.

Before we dive into the logistics of using Saad, a word on how we got him back. I won’t begrudge anyone upset over losing Panarin, who was one of the most exciting players to watch on the ice. But on the whole, Saad is so much more valuable than Panarin, it’s a bit puzzling why there was any vitriol over the trade, let alone the wailing and gnashing of teeth social media is so apt at providing. Coming into this year, the Hawks have a lot of soft spots surrounding the corps of their defensive apple, a captain who looked to be running on fumes at times last year, and a Panarin prototype in Alex DeBrincat. What they didn’t have is a back-checking, defensively responsible power forward who can be slotted anywhere on the ice and excel, after losing Hossa to a debilitating disease. Preventing goals is just as important as scoring them, and Saad can do both, whereas Panarin could do just one.

A Look Ahead: It’s no secret that Saad will slot with Toews and Wiener Anxiety. What that line is going to be expected to do is the interesting part.

If the whispers about a DeBrincat–Schmaltz–Kane line turn into shouts, you’d have to expect to see Saad–Toews–Panik taking on more defensive responsibilities than usual. This would affect where we end up going in terms of defensive pairings, since I can’t imagine putting anyone other than Keith–Murphy behind a DeBrincat–Schmaltz–Kane line.

Having a powerhouse like Saad could serve as a boon for Toews, who will benefit from Saad’s work below the goal line, and Panik, who figures to double as a Byfuglien-esque screener/space clearer and good-not-great defensive RW: Did you know that Panik spent exactly 50% of his time in his own zone last year, or that in his career, he has a 50.8 dZS% and a 49.1 CF%?

But perhaps more importantly, adding the defensively adept Saad to this line could give Q and Ulf Samuelsson’s hairpiece more cushion to experiment with Kempný- and Forsling-led pairings, letting them backstop a defensively responsible line with less pressure to cover for the kinds of mistakes that an eminently dynamic but defensively weak DSK line would be more likely to make.

Though my favorite part about bringing Saad back is that he brings a defensive prowess that we haven’t had since the last time he was here playing with Hossa, it’d be irresponsible to ignore his potential as a scorer. There’s two ways to look at Saad’s offense:

1. It’s consistent but topped out. Check out his point totals in each full year he played:

Year

Games Played

Goals

Assists

Points

Points Per Game*

12–13 (CHI)

46

10

17

27

0.58

13–14 (CHI)

78

19

28

47

0.60

14–15 (CHI)

82

23

29

52

0.63

15–16 (CBJ)

78

31

22

53

0.67

16–17 (CBJ)

82

24

29

53

0.64

* All numbers rounded down

Saad will be 25 in a month. That means if he’s not in his prime, he’s coming up on it. He has one 30-goal season to his credit thus far. While the PPG consistency is good, especially considering how well he does everything else, there is reason to believe that the 50–60 point range is what you’ll get with Saad.

2. Saad’s relative stagnation was a result of playing in Columbus. When asked whether he saw himself as a 30- or 40-goal scorer, Saad responded with a resounding “Yes.” Saad played most of his time in Columbus with Nick Foligno and Alex Wennberg. While the jury may be out on whether Panik is better than Foligno (he’s probably not), Toews is surely better than Wennberg. The idea is that playing with Toews again will continue to boost Saad’s point totals, which were on the uptick each year until he went to Columbus. It’s important to note that in 2015–16, Saad had a shooting percentage (S%) of 13.3, much higher than his career 11.8 S%, which helps explain the irony of him scoring his highest goal total after leaving Toews’s side. But if he and Panik can take some of the pressure off of Toews to retrieve and control the puck, it’s possible that Toews can come out of his slog and create more scoring chances for Saad.

I tend to think that Saad’s more in the consistent but topped out offensive camp. While I can see a 30-30-60 year from him, expecting 70–80 points might be asking a bit much, especially if we do get a DeBrincat–Schmaltz–Kane line, since Saad–Toews–Panik will have to eat up much more time against opponents’ top lines. Still, a defensively talented power forward with strong speed and vision who can also score 55 points is increasingly rare.

In short, Saad is God, Jr. He’s more useful than Panarin. Having him out with Toews could bring about a renaissance for The Captain. His presence should take some of the pressure off of the younger D-men like Kempný and Forsling if/when their pairings back Saad’s line up. His all-around game is a welcome aspect for a team that lost one of the greatest back-checkers of all time, and should help re-establish the Hawks as a strong possession team.

Welcome back, old friend.

Photo Credit Toronto Star

Stats retrieved from hockey-reference.com

Previous Player Previews

Corey Crawford

Anton Forsberg

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Michal Kempný

Brent Seabrook

Gustav Forsling

The 6th D-Man

Artem Anisimov 

Lance Bouma

Laurent Dauphin

Alex DeBrincat

Ryan Hartman

John Hayden

Vinnie Hinostroza

Tanner Kero

Patrick Kane

Richard Panik

 

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