It’s rare that the Hawks do something so large that we need a full day to clear out all the feelings and stories from it. But here we are with Brandon Saad’s trade to Columbus.
A day later, I think it tells us a lot when Stan Bowman comes out and says that they weren’t even close in negotiations. Because look at Bowman’s record on this sort of thing: Kruger (possibly twice), Hjalmarsson, Oduya, and even Sharp and Seabrook for what they are have all signed deals probably below market value to stay in Chicago (you could argue Kane and Toews as well, if you really want). When Stan wants to get this done, if it’s in any way possible it almost always gets done. When he tells you they were miles apart, they were probably miles apart.
With that, there’s a natural urge to get angry at Saad and accuse him of empty words when he said he wanted to take less to stay. I think Saad genuinely believed that and wanted that. But this is why players have agents. Saad is a 22-year old with what I’m guessing is barely a high school education. He’s never been through this before, as your entry-level deal is pretty much dictated to you unless you go through four years of college. So he’s navigating this all for the first time. And I’m sure his agent Lewis Gross told him that he will get to stay, but he’ll get him a lot of money as well and he shouldn’t settle because he didn’t have to. I’m sure Gross told Saad worst case scenario was that he’d have to sign an offer sheet and the Hawks would match it. Because no one saw the Hawks trading him, and that probably included Gross and it certainly includes Saad, according to friend of the program’s Jay Zawaski.
I don’t want to say Saad got bad advice, because he’s going to get at least a 500% raise and make more money than we’ll ever dream of to play hockey. But I guess you can say that if Saad genuinely wanted to stay and would have taken less money to do it and his agent got him punted to Ohio. Remember, these are kind of naive kids essentially and an agent can fill their heads with just about anything. I don’t really want to paint Gross as a total villain because he’s just doing his job and I can’t prove he fucked this up. But that’s all it would be, is a fuck up. Stan may have been telling Gross the whole time if you don’t come down on your number we’re going to have to trade your client, and Gross just wanted to call his bluff. I doubt he was telling Saad about every single negotiation, as Saad would have trusted him to handle it.
I know some are balking that Arty The One Man Party (my brother’s nickname for him in Columbus) got an extension of $4.5 per year and that might end up being only $1 million less than Saad eventually gets. Two factors. One, Anisimov was heading into unrestricted free agency. Two, he’s a center and that’s simply more valuable than a wing. Play this out. The Hawks sign Saad for what he was asking for four years and he hits unrestricted free agency, all the while becoming the player we think he might alongside Toews. How much is he going to want then? $8 million per year? That might even be conservative.
You can say “Oh that’s still four years down the road and the cap could go up and they’d figure it out.” Yeah, it could. But it could not. And you’ll still be paying Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook (and Seabrook is far more valuable than Saad), Hjalmarsson (see Seabrook). Teuvo will be on his second contract. Crawford might still be here assuming the meatballs haven’t had him killed (after this third or fourth Cup, of course). There’s probably a Hossa recapture penalty to worry about then, assuming he’s not playing. It would be a problem. But that doesn’t enter into today.
Now the cap space? The Hawks hare going to have to get Versteeg and Bickell overboard, minimum. If they can do that they’ll have $8 million in space. Kruger probably eats up two of that. Desjardins and Nordstrom eat up a combined two? Johns and TVR as well, which leaves about $2 million in space for whatever the Hawks want to do with it (John Moore sounds nice).
Sharp still could go I suppose, and Stan could be more of a player today either via free agency or trade (you could make just a hockey trade with Sharp now instead of a straight salary dump). I don’t see it, but won’t rule it out. Sharp has two years left, and even a correction in his percentages sees probably 10-15 more goals than he scored last year, along with some better health.
In the end, it just sucks. It sucks because no one did anything criminally wrong here. It sucks because we all enjoyed watching Saad play so much. Who was the last power forward the Hawks produced in their system? Secord? (Though the Hawks might ask some questions about that “power” adjective). It sucks because we were all sure he would be here for years and become part of the core and go down in Hawks’ history. It sucks because it was such a shock.
But Stan isn’t allowed to have this sort of sentimentality. Bill Belichik doesn’t. The Spurs don’t, and those are your models in other capped sports. They’d scoff at the very idea. You’ve got to be so cold, so focused. The Hawks made one signing out of sentimentality recently, and that’s Bickell. You could argue Crow, but he’s now market value. Be glad you have a GM who doesn’t get bogged down with this.