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TORONTO – A few months ago, Brandon Saad was wiping champagne from his burning eyes in the Chicago Blackhawks’ locker room, winning the second Stanley Cup of his young career. But he knew what was coming, as they all did: changes.
The NHL is a business, and the business of winning in the NHL means that the names and faces will be different from season to season.
Saad wanted to stay.
His asking price, and the team’s unwillingness to meet it, meant he had to go.
“Any time you win, you become close. You want to be around as much as you can. But it’s a business. Someone’s going to go. You want to be back there, with the guys again. So I was a little surprised by how things happened. But I understand it is a business,” said Saad, 22.
On the surface, Saad seemed like the catalyst for his own departure. He knew what the salary structure was for the Blackhawks, who still had to shed veterans Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya in cap dumps after trading Saad’s rights to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
On the surface, one might imagine Saad’s demands ruffled the feathers of some of the veteran Hawks, watching a core player put personal gain over keeping the band together.
But inside the room, Duncan Keith said they knew what Saad knew: it’s a business.
“I don’t ever take things like that personally,” said Keith. “Everyone has their own decisions to make. Careers can be short; at the end of the day, they have their own decisions to make.
“Saad is in Columbus now. I talked to him just before, and he’s excited. It was a shock to him, though. He wanted to stay in Chicago. But with the cap now, it’s different. They negotiated, it didn’t work out and everyone moved on.”
Including Saad. “It’s a short career. You just try to play and prove yourself,” he said. “It’s a numbers game and it didn’t work out in Chicago.”
So Saad signed his six-year, $36 million contract with the Blue Jackets, and brings his explosive offensive game to Columbus, where he’s expected to be paired with fellow young gun Ryan Johansen.
“I talked to him after the trade a little bit. We’re excited to meet each other, become teammates, find that chemistry,” said Saad, who has 126 points in 208 games in the NHL.
Another thing he’s excited about: Competing in the same division with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
There’s a cult around Saad in Pittsburgh, his hometown. Ever since the Penguins failed to draft him in 2011, there’s been this outcry that the team should ‘bring him home’, although the chances of that happening have certainly diminished. “I have a lot of friends and family asking me about whether they’ll come to Columbus, or see me in Pittsburgh,” he said.
“It’s always nice to have that support. You see how Pittsburgh’s grown, with the amount of players that are coming out of there, and I’m proud to be one of them.”
So instead of the Kings, Ducks and Blues, Saad will have to help his team battle through the likes of the Penguins, Capitals and Rangers. Instead of being on a Blackhawks team looking to extend its dynasty, he’ll be on a Columbus team trying to get back into the playoffs, and win a round for the first time.
What are is expectations?
“Sky’s the limit for them. They’re young, talented. You see the push they made last year,” he said. “When we’re healthy, we’re a really good team. The biggest thing is to have a good start.
“It’s already a good team. With a lot of leaders, a lot of talent. I’m just another piece of the puzzle.”
Still, there will be adjustments. Like getting used to the cannon they fire after goals.
“Yeah, it scared me the first time I heard it,” he said.
“I used to not like it. But I’m going to like it now.”
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