No one, and I mean no one, was happier to hear about the Brandon Saad for Artemi Panarin trade last year than me. In fact, I distinctly remember writing something to the effect of “Is there really anyone out there who would rather watch Panarin than Saad on the ice?” in the early stages of the season. Call it a proto-Fels Motherfuck, because the answer to that question was a resounding “Yes, we all would.” And yet, this is the hill I will die a bloody death on, because Brandon Saad, regardless of performance last year, fucks. And this year, he will fuck again.
82 GP – 18 G, 17 A
56.7 CF%, 60.2 oZS%
Avg. TOI 17:30
A Brief History: By pretty much all measures, the Panarin–Tyler Motte (lol) for Saad–Anton Forsberg trade was a loss for the Hawks in 2017–18. Whereas Saad went on to post his lowest point total since his rookie year during the season-in-a-can, Pantera built off his first two outstanding seasons, with 82 points (27 goals) last year away from Patrick Kane.
We went over Saad’s struggles multiple times last year. I wrote a fucking doctoral thesis on how last year was one of Saad’s best years of his career by all metrics other than points. His even-strength CF% and CF% Rel were both second highest of his career. Only Jonathan Toews had a better CF%, and no one had a better CF% Rel than Saad. Other than Tommy Wingels, no Blackhawk had a larger discrepancy between xGF% (51.62) and GF% (45.1) than Saad. Saad also logged his lowest PDO of his career BY FAR, with a withering 97.5 versus a career average of 100.4. Combined with his far-below-average shooting percentage (7.6% vs. a career 11.8% prior to last year) and the fact that no one he played with regularly scored, there were plenty of people ready to declare Brandon Saad dead.
Brandon Saad isn’t far from being the Hossa Lite we all expect and need him to be. It really is as simple as him having a bit more luck on his shooting. It never looked like Saad had lost a step or was dogging it out there. Outside of maybe lowered confidence from shooting a full 4% lower than his career average, Saad looked just as good as he always did, and all the numbers—besides points—show that. If Saad had shot at just his career average, he’d have had 28 goals on the season, which would have been second most of his career.
But no one wants to listen to the notes he’s not playing. Fortunately, we won’t have to this year.
It Was the Best of Times: This is easy. Saad is going to be just 26 this year, and I don’t think we’ve even seen his final form yet. Playing on a line with Schmaltz and Kane, Saad takes every “trade Saad” proclamation ever uttered personally and tosses a 15% shooting percentage on 240 shots, good for 36 goals. He also contributes 55 assists, turning himself into the 90-point monster some people thought he might have been last year. He continues to be a possession behemoth, which makes Schmaltz and Kane even more dangerous than they were last year. He single-handedly keeps that line well above water on the possession ledger and even contributes on the second PP unit.
It Was the BLURST of Times: The worst thing that can happen to Saad is an extended injury, something that keeps him out for weeks like our woebegone Irish Son Connor Murphy. Unless he’s hurt, last year is probably as bad as it gets for Saad. It’s still possible, yet highly unlikely, that he’s now an 8% shooter, but there’s absolutely nothing to suggest that last year’s piss fest was anything other than an outlier. It’s also unlikely that he’ll be traded—which was one of our fears this summer—and after StanBo told Tom “Team Grit” Dundon that a Faulk-for-Saad trade was a non-starter, I don’t think there’ll be much worry about losing our Syrian Savior to trade anytime soon.
Prediction: I’m going all in on Saad this year. 30 goals, 40 assists, leads the team in CF% Rel. Helps Kane get to 95 points, helps Schmaltz break 50 for the first time. Is a complete nightmare for opponents on the PK. Chips in a few goals in the second PP unit (which, if you’re scoring at home, will be comprised of Gustafsson, Ejdsell, and Saad by my count. Throw in Schmaltz and Wide Dick, and there’s what I think the second-unit PP should be).
Everything else might go wrong for the Hawks this year. But Brandon Saad will not be one of them. Like a phoenix rising from Arizona, Brandon Saad will show us all why trading Panarin for him wasn’t for naught.
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