At least on paper, the Chicago Blackhawks appear to have come out on the losing side of the Artemi Panarin-for-Brandon Saad swap that occurred in June 2017, but general manager Stan Bowman isn't ready to concede just yet.
Panarin was dominant in his first season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, leading the team with 27 goals and 82 points en route to a postseason berth. Saad, on the other hand, posted just 18 goals and 35 points in first season back with the Blackhawks since 2015. He hasn't fared much better this season, falling to a bottom-six role with just two assists in eight games.
Saad is signed with the Blackhawks through 2020-21 at a $6 million cap hit. Panarin, however, is slated to hit unrestricted free agency in July and told the Blue Jackets this off-season he wasn't ready to negotiate an extension with the team. Bowman said over the weekend that Panarin's looming contract situation led him to move the talented winger a year ago.
“They’re in a tough spot now,” Bowman told The Athletic. “What do you do with him? I saw that coming as a challenge.”
Bowman argued that the trade can’t simply be judged on the success of each player last season, though he admits there would be 'concerns' on his side if that was the case.
“No, because you can’t try to measure it just on the performance in one season,” he said. “You’ve got to remember there’s the bigger picture, which is the player’s status and their leverage and contract negotiations. There’s not one factor. If it was just based on their offensive production last year, then you would have concerns. But it’s a different story than that. I understand why you’re asking, and why people look at it that way. But I don’t look at it that way.”
Saad's 35 points last season represented his worst-ever output in an 82-game season and the early returns this season have not pointed towards a turnaround. Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville threatened to make him a healthy scratch last week before ultimately choosing to keep him in the lineup. Bowman admitted Saad has struggled, but argued he's finding ways to contribute off of the scoresheet.
“It’s not clicking, I agree with that,” Bowman said. “A little bit I think has been overblown. He’s played, what, six games? He’s probably played two games that I thought he played poorly. Other than that I think he’s played fine. He’s not scoring. That’s the thing. He’s still killing penalties. When you look at other numbers, he’s not on the ice for many chances against, he plays against good players and he’s able to shut them down. So that’s an aspect of that. I realize that’s not the one that maybe gets a lot of attention. … But no, I’m not that concerned about it. It’s similar to last year — he does a lot of good things.
"It’s just the biggest thing is the production’s not there, and that’s what gets people’s attention. It’s harder for maybe a casual fan to look at how he does when he plays against [Vladimir] Tarasenko and these guys and they don’t get any shots, and he’s a part of that with the way he plays — his strength, his smarts with managing the puck and keeping it out of dangerous spots, not making a lot of turnovers. That stuff doesn’t get a lot of play.”
When reminded that Saad carries the third-highest cap hit among Blackhawks forwards, Bowman agreed that the team needs more production from the 25-year-old.
“You’re right, you need a mixture of it all and he hasn’t shown it,” Bowman said. “But it’s such a small sample size. If he scores a couple goals in the next couple of games, he’s on pace for 30 goals. We need to get him going, there’s no question. But we’re not in crisis mode or anything.”
The Blackhawks, who missed the playoffs last season, are off to a 4-2-2 start this season.