As the hockey world focused on tomorrow's free agent frenzy and the associated minor deals, signings and waiver placements, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks shook the hockey world with a stunning trade. The Stanley Cup champions send 22-year old Brandon Saad to Columbus, together with prospects Michael Paliotta (D) and Alex Broadhurst (C). Leaving Columbus are Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Corey Tropp and Jeremy Morin, together with a 4th Round pick in the 2016 Entry Draft.
Given the focus on the blue line, this one was a stunner. Saad is a restricted free agent, and Chicago is hard against the salary cap. With the clock ticking, the Blackhawks feared one or more offer sheets after the stroke of midnight, which undoubtedly forced their hand. As recently as yesterday, Jarmo Kekalainen said that he would only make a deal if it improved the club, and this one certainly meets that description. Saad is a fast, tough and skilled forward, who tallied 23 goals, 29 assists and 52 points in only his second full season in Chicago. He is a game changer, played all 82 games last year, and should be here for years to come.
Of course, to get something you have to give up something, and the Blue Jackets surrendered plenty. Anisimov has been a consistently good player in all three zones, and the club fed off of his skill and tenacity upon his return from injury last season, spurring that late season unbeaten run. He had been rumored to be the odd man out for several months, due simply to the wealth of forward talent in Columbus, and his status as an unrestricted free agent after this season. Dano was the biggest surprise in the deal, as he had emerged from the pack of 1st rounders (Rychel, Dano, and Wennberg) as a speedy, skilled and tenacious forward, with a nose for the net. (Sounds a bit like Saad, doesn't it?) More focus had been put on Kerby Rychel as a trade candidate, but Chicago knew what they wanted. These two sting a bit. This represents deja vu for Morin, who was acquired from Chicago in the deal that sent Tim Erixon to the Windy City. Tropp is more or less a throw-in to the deal, as is the fourth round pick.
Paliotta is a defenseman of some repute, having just finished his playing career at the University of Vermont. He was a Second Team All-American selection, and received a number of league and regional honors for his defensive play. He could compete for a slot with the big club this year. Broadhurst has spent the past two seasons with the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate, posting modest offensive totals. All three of the newcomers to Columbus were 2011 draft picks for Chicago.
While it's going to take some time to digest this one, there are several things that quickly emerge. First, this goes a long way to clearing that logjam at forward that was the source of some concern, and makes way for guys like Bjorkstrand, Rychel and others to find a way onto the roster. It seems clear that Matt Calvert is on the verge of a deal as well, while reports have Mark Letestu going to free agency tomorrow. This clears about $5.6 million in salary cap hit off the books, but most of that will likely be replaced by Saad's signing. Expect that one to happen very quickly. This also leaves plenty of cap room for a free agent center, and provides further wiggle room for other deals, should the opportunity present itself.
My gut reaction when I heard this one was that the Blue Jackets had given up too much. Now that the shock has worn off, I was wrong. I love Artem Anisimov as a player, and his role will be missed. Similarly, I was very impressed with Dano and his performance in the second half of last season. He could blossom into a very good one, Then again, maybe not. Dano is only two years younger than Saad, who has proven himself in the crucible of the NHL over two and a half seasons, has a Stanley Cup ring, and brings a winning tradition into the room. Paliotta might be another solid defensive acquisition, filling the gap while Zach Werenski develops.
The bottom line here is that you seldom get the chances to land a player of Brandon Saad's caliber via trade. When you do, you have to grab the opportunity (if it doesn't break the bank), and Davidson/Kekalainen did just that here. Yes, the price stings a bit, but in many respects you get what you pay for. I strongly suspect that more is coming, so the next few days could be very interesting. For now, welcome to Columbus, Brandon Saad!! Stay tuned.