Player Outlook: Brandon Saad’s return to Chicago didn’t exactly go as planned. This entire season, outside of the first game of the season (in which he had a hat trick), Saad’s season was just wrapped in bad luck. Adding to the pressure was the fact that Saad was immediately tasked with returning captain Jonathan Toews to the star player he was during the Blackhawks first three championships. Instead, Saad suffered through the worst season of his career. Of course, it wouldn’t have been that bad if Artemi Panarin, the player given up in the Saad trade, didn’t have the best season of his career. It’s been well-documented that Saad and Panarin are two completely different players. However, fans are going to note how the “Bread Man” topped 80 points and Saad didn’t even top 40. Of course, Saad brings more to the table than just pure offense.
He’s a two-way player that will play more defense than Panarin and charges the net as opposed to Panarin’s unbelievable slap shot from the left face-off circle. Saad also plays more of a defensive role while Panarin was pure offense. Unfortunately, Saad’s season can be summed up in a series that Blackhawks fans saw too often this year. Toews hits him in stride in front of the net, something that Saad should be able just to whack in. Instead, Saad either misses the puck, shoots it wide, or manages to hit it right into the goalie.
That sequence happened close to every game and it was just incredibly frustrating for Blackhawks fans. In all honesty, this was just horrible luck. The underlying numbers of Saad’s game, including his possession numbers, were still near the top of the leaderboards. Hopefully, a long off-season allows Saad to get his mental game back on track. Honestly, what are you going to believe: one horrible season or five phenomenal ones?
Why there is hope: Blackhawks fans are already familiar with Saad. He was drafted by the Blackhawks and won two Stanley Cups with the team. One bad season doesn’t mean that this is going to be the player he turned into. Consider this; after his Stanley Cup winning season, Saad had posted a minimum of 23 goals, 22 assists and 52 points before this year.
His shooting percentage never dropped below 11% and he continued to play a phenomenal two-way game. Oh, he’s also 25-YEARS OLD. What’s more realistic for Saad’s future? A return to numbers Saad has posted the first five full seasons, or one bad season? There is absolutely no reason to think that this is going to be the new Brandon Saad. It’s just one bad season and everyone is liable to have one.
Causes for concern: While Saad was never a player that has worried people, this is the first time that he has experienced failure on this magnitude. Even when he was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets and they missed the playoffs in his first season, he still posted numbers closer to his career averages. It’s possible that this could mess with his confidence.
Hockey is all about “mental toughness.” Not only that, but there was immense pressure on Saad. Upon his return, he was expected to return Toews to his phenomenal numbers, help return Chicago to the Stanley Cup, life up to his $6 million-a-year salary AND replace Panarin. That’s a tremendous amount of pressure for a 25-year old. Hopefully, the pressure dissipates.
Final thoughts: Look, those people that are clamoring that trade to bring Saad back was the worst thing general manager Stan Bowman did are overreacting. As mentioned earlier, Saad still put up strong possession numbers and can easily produce 20+ goals a year, with 30+ potential. It’s ONE BAD SEASON.
It shouldn’t be something people should be screaming about. However, the pressure from fans could be weighing on Saad. He’s kind of in the middle of no-mans-land in the Blackhawks locker room, age-wise that is. It’s most likely a little blip on Saad’s fine career. Unfortunately, it just happened to occur when everything went wrong for the Blackhawks. Honestly, it would be a safe bet to laugh about this season next year.