Brandon Saad came to the Columbus Blue Jackets two summers ago, just six days after winning his second Stanley Cup in three years with the Chicago Blackhawks. Saad was brought to Columbus in exchange for Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp, and a 2016 fourth round pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Saad, a restricted free agent at the time, quickly signed a 6 year, $36 million dollar deal, and the Blue Jackets were off and running.
I remember being happy when the trade went down. Losing Dano was (at the time) a tough pill to swallow, but in hindsight that has clearly worked just fine - Oliver Bjorkstrand has stepped in and taken that spot in the lineup just fine. Losing Anisimov hurt, but the Blue Jackets have filled his role admirably, and may have Pierre-Luc Dubois stepping in to play center this season.
Adding Brandon Saad meant adding a 22 year player who would be under team control for the foreseeable future. Saad was coming off a 50 point season and would bring offensive skill and playoff experience to a team that was sorely lacking in both areas. Coming off of a disappointing 2014-15 season that saw the Blue Jackets lead the NHL in man games lost for the year, getting Saad was a huge breath of fresh air into the team.
I came to love Brandon Saad over his time in Columbus, despite his faults and his alleged inconsistency. Saad is a two way forward and a streaky goal scorer, but every couple of games he could make a special play that reminded you why you loved his game.
Saad possessed silky smooth handles, great speed, and (god love him) a complete inability to finish a breakaway. There was always a feeling that there was potentially more there with Saad, and that if he could ever put a consistent season together, he would easily vault himself into the discussion of “best player on the team.”
Saad last season was one of the best forwards at even strength. He scored 20 goals, notched 22 assists, and shot over 11% at 5v5. He produced 2.22 points per 60 minutes at even strength, monster numbers for any player in the NHL. Any time Saad had the puck on his stick, you felt that something could possibly happen.
Ultimately, that feeling is why I loved Saad so much, and most likely why the front office let him go back to Chicago. The front office likely saw a guy who had not taken any steps forward in his development once he arrived here, never progressing past the 50ish point player he was in Chicago. He was given more time and opportunities here in Columbus, and never made the most of them.
On the other hand, Saad was a player who could make passes that few other forwards on the team could see, helped to drive possession in the offensive zone, and was good for one standout play nearly every night (again, so long as it wasn’t a breakaway). Saad was a softspoken member of the team, but was always one of the nicest players to interact with.
Saad was traded back to the Blackhawks for Artemi Panarin, giving the Blue Jackets a forward who has unquestionably more natural goal scoring skill than Saad has, but is not a two way forward and has played relatively sheltered minutes (starting 79% of his career shifts in the offensive zone). Panarin gives the Blue Jackets a player who can truly take over games, the type of player we hoped Saad could become when he was traded here but never developed into.
I will miss Brandon Saad, maybe because I will miss dreaming that he could take that next step. Maybe he never fell in love with our city, maybe he just doesn’t have it in him to put it together and become that 70 point player. We all have flaws and sometimes we don’t live up to what others want us to be - that’s fine, though. Part of sports is dreaming that anything can happen, and dreaming that one of the most skilled players on our team could step up at any time is part of that. Ultimately, it never happened, and Saad is a Blackhawk again.
Thank you for the memories and the dreams, Brandon. I wish you the best in your return to Chicago.
And now, one more time, for old time’s sake, I will never forget being able to use this gif constantly for two years: