The Edmonton Oilers have a lot of players who are really good on one side of the puck and less good on the other side. The Oilers don’t have that veteran two-way guy that plays well defensively but is also skilled enough to play higher than the bottom six. If you squint, maybe Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is sort of that player, but he doesn’t tilt the ice enough on either offence or defence. That’s not surprising when he’s saddled with players like James Neal and Alex Chiasson, or Milan Lucic and Jesse Puljujarvi previously.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl do their thing and caring about their defensive play is unnecessary more often than not, though it might be time to lessen Draisaitl’s minutes until he’s back to normal. Adding a forward who can be the defensive conscience beside any of Nugent-Hopkins, McDavid or Draisaitl could be a unique way to improve the Oilers up front.
Enter Brandon Saad. Saad started his career with two Stanley Cups in three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. Strapped for cap space, Chicago dealt Saad to Columbus for a package including Marko Dano and Artem Anisimov in 2015. Columbus could pay Saad and the Blackhawks received some useful players and prospects in return. Saad had two 53-point seasons with Columbus before the Blue Jackets sent him back to Chicago for Artemi Panarin in 2017. Once again, Chicago couldn’t afford their young wingers’ upcoming extension and traded him for a player(s) with more cost certainty.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman mentioned the Oilers might be interested in Brandon Saad, who is injured right now, on Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer on Friday.
Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks thought they were recreating Chicago’s playoff recipe reuniting Saad with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The Blackhawks’ leadership group even lobbied for Saad’s return. That hasn’t been the case. The Blackhawks haven’t made the playoffs since Saad returned and look unlikely to in 2019-20 either.
Saad’s averaging just 41-points over 82 games since returning to Chicago. Panarin was a point-per-game player in his two seasons with the Blue Jackets. Panarin’s now on pace for over 100 points with the Rangers on a huge free-agent contract, while Saad might be in play as the Blackhawks restructure after acknowledging their reign at the top is likely over.
Where would Saad fit in on the Oilers? Saad immediately becomes their best winger, excluding Draisaitl who plays mostly with McDavid but also center occasionally. Saad is still a very good player five-on-five, an area where the Oilers struggle mightily without McDavid on the ice. Saad might explode next to McDavid or help either Nugent-Hopkins or Draisaitl on a non-McDavid line.
Saad’s scoring 1.97 points per 60 at five-on-five, a first-line level. That would be fourth on the Oilers, essentially behind everyone that is McDavid or plays with McDavid.
Saad is signed for this season and next at a $6-million cap hit. That wouldn’t be too difficult to add, if someone like Adam Larsson, who is also signed for this season and next, and his $4.167-million cap hit is going the other way. Maybe Chicago is planning on not re-signing Saad in 2021. Their right-side defence is particularly weak with Connor Murphy, Erik Gustafsson, and Dennis Gilbert occupying those spots and Larsson is a capable veteran.
Trading Larsson carries a risk for the Oilers too. Ethan Bear’s been fantastic this season, but he’s only played 59 career NHL games. They’d be relying on Bear and another young right-handed defenceman, say, Joel Persson, Evan Bouchard or Matt Benning, in the top four. That’s a risk worth taking if it means acquiring someone like Saad to compliment McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins. The Oilers were fine without Larsson early on and it’s becoming clear they won’t sustain their early start without another threat up front.
Saad skates very well and brings a two-way approach the Oilers lack in their top six. Maybe they should keep their power dry and wait for a better scoring option, but Saad brings a lot of useful traits and unlike other options, might actually be available.