For the first time in his career, Saad was forced to miss a significant chunk of games due to an injury after hurting his right ankle on Dec. 19 against the Winnipeg Jets.
When the Chicago Blackhawks reacquired forward Brandon Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Artemi Panarin in the summer of 2017, the hope was that he and captain Jonathan Toews would rekindle the strong chemistry they established during the 2014-2015 season, which resulted in a Stanley Cup championship. Well, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman’s plan backfired rather quickly, as Saad fell flat in his first season back in Chicago with just 35 points (18G, 17A) for the lowest points-per-game output (0.43 ppg) of his NHL career.
After receiving a hefty amount of criticism for his poor 2017-18 campaign, Saad bounced back in 2018-19 with 47 points (23G, 24A) and sound possession metrics. The Blackhawks’ 2012 second-round pick could have had an even better season had it not been for some flat out bad luck, as he finished top-10 in the NHL with 13 goal posts hit. Had just half of those found the back of the net, and Saad would have been right around the 30-goal mark, which is exactly where the Hawks need him to be.
While many thought that Saad was due for an offensive outpour in 2019-20, the 27-year-old forward struggled out of the gate with only 19 points (11G, 8A) in the first 36 games of the season. After missing nearly a month due to his right ankle injury though, Saad returned to the lineup with a chip on his shoulder and finished with 10 goals and four assists in the final 22 games of the regular season.
In total, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native wound up playing in 58 of the Blackhawks 70 games this season, recording 21 goals and 12 assists for 33 points. Saad averaged 0.56 points-per-game in those 58 games, which would put him at 47 points in a full 82-game season, the exact number that he had in 2018-19. Once again, not quite the production the Hawks are looking for out of a player they pay $6 million per year, but Saad likely would have made a push for 30 goals had he remained healthy for the entire season. So, not a horrible year offensively for Saad, although his paltry 12 assists in 58 games are not going to cut it going forward. He recorded five more in 12 fewer games as a 20-year-old rookie for crying out loud.
Looking at some of Saad’s other statistics, and a few that stood out were his career-high shooting percentage of 15 percent as well as his 16:45 average time on ice per game. Saad has only shot higher than 12 percent once in his nine-year NHL career (13.3 percent in 2015-16), so his sudden jump to the 15 percent mark could be due to some well-deserved puck luck. It is also worth noting that Saad averaged his lowest time on ice since the 2013-14 campaign, but that may not have been a reflection of his play. Saad might have lost a couple of minutes because Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton spent most of the season juggling his forward lines, rather than keeping Saad and Toews together on the team’s top line per usual.
Saad’s possession numbers remained solid in 2019-20 as they have throughout his career, with an impressive 51.1 Corsi percentage despite the Blackhawks’ defensive struggles as a team. Saad continues to play a sturdy two-way game, and if he could just find a way to put his entire offensive repertoire together, then the Hawks would likely have the top-line winger they had in mind when they traded away Panarin.
As for Saad’s top performance of the regular season, that likely occurred on Feb. 1 in a much-needed 3-2 road victory against the Arizona Coyotes. Saad scored both of the Hawks goals in regulation that night and recorded a team-high five shots on goal in 18:21 time on ice as well. Saad’s only other multi-goal game of the year came on Dec. 14 vs. the St. Louis Blues, but that was when the Blackhawks blew a 3-0 lead in the third period and wound up losing 4-3. Probably not anyone’s best game of the season.
All in all, Saad had his second consecutive middling season with the Blackhawks, although his numbers certainly would have been better had he not suffered a gruesome-looking ankle injury. Still, the Hawks simply need more out of Saad, especially when you consider what they gave up to reacquire him. 12 assists, including zero on the powerplay, is not nearly good enough, and neither is an average of 20 goals per year while primarily in a top-line role.
At the Blackhawks’ first few days of training camp as part of Phase 3 of the NHL’s Return-To-Play Plan, Saad has been skating alongside Toews and Alex DeBrincat on the team’s first line. It will be interesting to see if Colliton keeps Saad with Toews in the next couple of weeks before the best-of-five play-in series against the Edmonton Oilers kicks off on Aug. 1.
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