CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Blackhawks said all along that Brandon Saad would be back next season.
Right up until Tuesday afternoon.
With contract talks at a stalemate on the eve of NHL free agency, the Stanley Cup champions parted with Saad in a seven-player deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“Our plan all along was to sign Brandon. I mean obviously we didn’t know until we began negotiating where they were going to be,” Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. “All I can say is you do your best and we gave it a real good shot. Both sides tried hard. We just couldn’t come to an agreement.”
The 22-year-old Saad set career highs with 23 goals and 29 assists in 82 games this past season. He then had eight goals and three assists in the playoffs, helping Chicago to its third NHL title in six seasons.
“He is a proven winner and exactly the kind of player we want as a Columbus Blue Jacket,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said.
Saad is eligible for restricted free agency, and Chicago might have to shed more salary to comply with the NHL’s cap of $71.4 million. Another team with plenty of cap room could have presented Saad with a big offer sheet on Wednesday, putting the Blackhawks in a difficult situation.
“That’s a possibility. Obviously, we’ll never know that,” Bowman said. “I mean that is a factor that you consider when you’re looking at things and trying to decide the best course of action.”
Bowman praised Saad and his representatives, but said he felt they never came close on a contract.
The Blackhawks also sent forward Alex Broadhurst and defenseman Michael Paliotta to the Blue Jackets for forwards Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin and Corey Tropp and a fourth-round selection in the 2016 draft.
The 27-year-old Anisimov had seven goals and 20 assists in 52 games for the Blue Jackets last season. With the Blackhawks likely to lose centers Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette in free agency, Bowman said the 6-foot-4 Anisimov was a key part of the trade.
The 20-year-old Dano also had a successful NHL debut last season, finishing with eight goals and 13 assists in 21 games. Morin, 24, was traded by Chicago to Columbus last December for defenseman Tim Erixon.