Brandon Saad’s year was an extended cut of Lisa explaining why the electric violinist was better than she seemed. You had to look at the stats Saad WASN’T underwhelming at to appreciate his year. But when the whole point of bringing the guy back was to give Toews more support and even shoot for a 30-goal season, it makes the My Chemical Romance-ian angst over losing Panarin for him more understandable (even though it’s misplaced).
82 GP, 18 Goals, 17 Assists, 35 Points, -10, 14 PIM
56.7 CF% (Evens), 5.7 CF% Rel (Evens), 54.93 SCF% (5v5), 52.15 xGF% (5v5), 3.63 xGF% Rel (5v5)
60.2% oZ Start (Evens)
What We Said: While I can see a 30-30-60 year from him, expecting 70–80 points might be asking a bit much . . . Having him out with Toews could bring about a renaissance for The Captain . . . 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.
What We Got: Saad had a year of unexpected firsts. It was the first time that he finished with a negative goal differential. It was the first time he finished with a shooting percentage under 10%. It was the first time he finished the year with fewer points than the last. By their powers combined, these aspects turned what was supposed to be the rekindling of our love affair with Hossa Jr. into a season of grumbling and disappointment. And as painful as it is to admit, by the metrics that matter most—namely, goals and points—this was a massively disappointing year for Saad.
We can go on about how Saad had his best possession year since 2013–14 (in which he had a 58.5 CF% in 78 games). We can talk about how Saad’s CF% Rel this year was his best ever in a Hawks sweater (trailing only last year’s 6.4 in Columbus). And you know I want to tell you how all of his problems were anomalous, the result of a precipitous and unforeseen drop in his shooting percentage. (If he had shot at his 11.8 S% average he had prior to this year, he would have had 28 goals this year.)
But with Saad coming off three consecutive 50+ point seasons, that all looks like a bunch of excuses for a poor performance or a stubborn justification for trading Panarin, even though it isn’t. All those numbers bolster the “Saad is still a great player” argument, but they don’t explain why his shooting percentage was down so much.
If you go back and watch some of Saad’s scoring opportunities, you’ll notice that there seems to be about a half-second delay between when you’d expect him to shoot and when he actually took his shot. I don’t know whether this hesitation is a matter of confidence, timing, or simply losing a little bit off his fastball, but it was more noticeable this year than ever before. Rather than puckering your sphincter for what you’d assume would be a scorching one-timer, most times Saad had a good scoring chance, you’d find your shoulders slouchier than usual and your gut hanging over your jeans just a little bit more woefully, knowing that if he didn’t launch the puck straight into the goaltender’s chest, it was going to go a little too high or a little too wide.
Not knowing why is the hardest thing to process. As unfulfilling as it is to read what amounts to a shoulder shrug and a “what can you do,” it looks more like a season-long malaise than some underlying problem, given Saad’s body of work over the last five years. Everything else looked as good or better than expected, except, ironically, for his play with Toews.
While the Saad–Toews tandem was by no means bad, bringing Saad back didn’t have the effect we had hoped. In the 750 minutes they played together at 5v5, they were a possession monster, with a 57+ CF% and a 52+ High-Danger Chances For Percentage (HDCF%).
But they also got pummeled in High-Danger Goals For Percentage (HDGF%), to the tune of 42+. Away from Saad, Toews sported a throbbing 61+ HDGF%. Away from Toews, Saad had a flaccid 38.89 HDGF%.
Additionally, both Saad and Toews had better—albeit below their average—on-ice shooting percentages away from each other: Together, they had a 6.41%; Saad without Toews had a 7.39% (7.6% individual on the year); and Toews without Saad had an 8.62% (9.5% individual on the year).
All of this is to say what we’ve been saying all year: The chances were there for Saad, and they just didn’t go in. Unless you buy the idea that Saad peaked at 24 (and if you do, go back to work, Peter Chiarelli), there’s no explanation for it other than sometimes the bear just eats you.
Where We Go From Here: Saad was an offensive disappointment, but he did everything else as good or better than before. And if Crawford stays healthy, maybe we’re sitting here talking about how Saad overcame his scoring demons in the playoffs and laughing about how stupid hockey can be. Instead, after an underwhelming year from both the team and the man, we’re subject to asinine chatter about trading Brandon Saad (for what, who knows?). Anyone who tries to sell you that tripe is probably a good candidate for the ol’ Moe Szyslak fork in the eye, given Saad’s career trajectory to this point.
Saad will be 26 next year, right in his prime. He’s still a possession dynamo with outrageous transition speed for a skater his size. And if he produced at just his career rates, he would have had the best offensive season of his career this year. Saad is still young, still important, and still capable of being everything we hoped he would. He just seemed a little hesitant this year. It could just be that Saad–Toews needs a finisher—whether that’s Kane, DeBrincat, or potentially Vinnie—to complete that line. And I can hear the “DAT SOUNDS LIKE ARTEMI PANARIN IF YOU ASK ME” snark a mile away, but when it comes down to it, I’ll take a younger, more well-rounded Saad at $6 million than an $8–10 million sniper like Panarin, if I have to choose one.
Still, Saad will need to prove, for the first time in his career, that this year was a blip for his offensive output. Bowman said he was good for it, and it’s down there somewhere. Let’s let him take another look.