ANALYSIS: Who won the Brandon Saad-Nikita Zadorov trade?


People love to talk about trades in terms of winners and losers. That is the nature of sports. If one person wins, it means that someone else has to lose. 

One of the big offseason trades was the Brandon Saad for Nikita Zadorov deal between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Colorado Avalanche, and people have been quick to bicker over who won the trade. 

Personally, I like to think it takes a while for a trade to be fully evaluated. Sometimes players need time to flourish in their new environments. What seems like an obvious win for one team could potentially never materialize. Team chemistry, despite the name, is not an exact science; who knows what could happen once all the players involved hit the ice? 

So before these two division rivals play each other (whenever that will be), I wanted to delve into the story of this trade—and maybe see if it is possible to crown a winner before we return to play.

As an Avalanche fan, I wanted to be concise and thorough, so I’d like to thank fellow The Rink writer Juliana Nikac for giving me some perspective on the Blackhawks. 

Let’s get into the context, because trades do not happen out of thin air. 

Chicago Blackhawks: A rebuild

Before the new millennium began, the Chicago Blackhawks had won three Stanley Cups, the least of the Original Six teams (that honor now belongs to the New York Rangers). But then, a strong, young core, led by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, gave them another three Stanley Cups in the span of six seasons.

The Blackhawks organization was one of a few that dominated this past decade—but that has not been the case the past few years. Especially with the benefit of hindsight, the organization is on a downward trend.

ANALYSIS: Who won the Brandon Saad-Nikita Zadorov trade?

(Information courtesy of Hockey Reference)

In 2018 and 2019, the Blackhawks did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while this year they were able to beat the Edmonton Oilers in the play-in round. But, their overall regular season record was 32–30–8. They were the last in the Central Division, and lost in the first round to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games. 

After the Saad-Zadorov trade, Blackhawks players were vocal in expressing their concerns about the direction the organization is heading.

According to The Athletic, a source close to the team said, “They’re pissed. The core guys have had enough.” 

ANALYSIS: Who won the Brandon Saad-Nikita Zadorov trade?

(Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are among the core players remaining with the Chicago Blackhawks. Photograph courtesy of Gene J. Puskar)

Jonathan Toews, three-time Stanley Cup champion, clarified, “I’ve never been told that we were going through a rebuild. That has never been communicated to me, for that matter. A lot of this comes as a shock because it’s a completely different direction than we expected.” 

You have to wonder why the plan was not discussed with the team’s leaders, and I am sure people have their own conspiracy theories. I am not an NHL player or general manager (probably for the best), but I feel like there needs to be open communication in situations like these—it is hard to blame Toews for being frustrated. 

Once that article came out, the Blackhawks shared an open letter to fans stating, “We’re committed to developing young players and rebuilding our roster. We want more than another window to win; we want to reach the summit again and stay there — an effort that will require a stockpile of emerging talent to complement our top players.” 

Even with their veterans, the Blackhawks are one of the youngest teams in the league, with several players under age 25. Their oldest veteran is Duncan Keith at 37, and his future with the team is not written in stone—and Chicago would get even younger should they trade him.

The Blackhawks seem to have a plan, and we still have plenty of time to see if it will pay off for them.

Colorado Avalanche: Post-rebuild

The Colorado Avalanche had a whirlwind of a decade from 2010–2020. They went from being one of the worst teams in 2016 to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in 2020. In fact, according to Sports Betting Dime, the Avalanche are tied with the Vegas Golden Knights with the highest odds to win the Stanley Cup in 2021 at +750.

Now, obviously, betting and statistics do not always dictate Cup runs—but with the moves the Avalanche have made in the past couple of offseasons to bolster their depth and draft quality young players, they are going to be a hard team to beat. 

Joe Sakic, General Manager of the Avalanche, has made some big trades over the years. He traded former top player Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators in a three-way deal with the Nashville Predators. Sakic also traded veteran defensemen Tyson Barrie, rookie forward Alexander Kerfoot and a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for veteran forward Nazem Kadri, AHL defenseman Calle Rosen and a 2020 third-round pick. And he orchestrated a seemingly quiet trade with the New York Rangers by acquiring Ryan Graves and sending Chris Bigras to the Big Apple.

Initially, his trades generated some criticism and worry from fans, but today, he’s seen as a top NHL GM.

The Saad for Panarin trade

ANALYSIS: Who won the Brandon Saad-Nikita Zadorov trade?

(Artemi Panarin was traded for Brandon Saad in the summer of 2017. Photograph courtesy of the NHL)

This is not the first time Saad has been involved in a controversial trade. After helping the Blackhawks win their 2015 Stanley Cup, Saad was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets that offseason in exchange for Jeremy Morin, Marko Daňo, Artem Anisimov, Corey Tropp and a fourth-round draft pick in 2016.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks signed Artemi Panarin from the KHL. In his rookie season, “The Bread Man” won the Calder Trophy and scored over 30 goals, managing the same milestone in his sophomore season while finding great chemistry with MVP Patrick Kane. 

Then, in the 2017 offseason, Saad was reacquired by the Blackhawks in a trade where they also received Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth-round draft pick from Columbus. The Blue Jackets received Panarin, Tyler Motte and a 2017 sixth-round pick. 

The salary cap was definitely a factor there, given the fact that Panarin later signed with the New York Rangers with a cap hit of $11.6 million after initially taking a team-friendly deal with the Blackhawks. After the 2017 Columbus trade, Panarin let it be known that the move surprised him, and the trade is arguably one of the least popular deals ever in the eyes of many Blackhawks fans. 

Juliana spoke in defense of the move, saying the Blackhawks were never going to be able to afford Panarin.

“It made a lot more sense just to get Brandon Saad back,” Nikac said. “He was manageable for $6 million per year for the next three or four years. You didn’t have to worry about re-signing him in free agency come 2019. He was just available to you, you knew what he was.”

With all that out of the way, let’s get into the Saad-Zadorov trade.

What the Avalanche get with Saad

ANALYSIS: Who won the Brandon Saad-Nikita Zadorov trade?

(Brandon Saad could prove to be a valuable acquisition for the Colorado Avalanche. Photograph courtesy of the Colorado Avalanche)

Saad has two Stanley Cups under his belt, winning with the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015. He is a consistent 20-goal scorer, probably a solid addition to any second or third line for the offense. He has been named to the All Star Game, and was also in the Lady Byng discussions in his career due to only reaching an average of 14 penalty minutes per season. In the shortened 2019–20 season, he scored five game-winning goals, the most on the Blackhawks’ roster.

While talking to Juliana, I found the fans were rather mixed on Saad, which surprised me, as his record on paper speaks to a fairly reliable player. 

“Since that deal, Saad has had really bad luck, just putting it frankly,” Nikac said. “He tries his best, he always does. … (The puck) never seems to go in for him.”

When I asked Juliana to clarify, because hitting 21 goals this season is still impressive, she said Saad typically was not scoring those goals when it mattered most.

“People got really frustrated with him because it was never when they wanted it,” Nikac said. “It was never in those special moments with a minute left in the game or on the power play.”

That is understandable. As a fan, you want a player to come through for you and your team. 

Part of the frustration also seems to be that he scored more goals in his two years on the Columbus Blue Jackets, getting 31 one season and 24 the next. Juliana did partially lay the focus on the Blue Jackets being a stronger organization at this point, while the Blackhawks were already pivoting toward a rebuild. But Chicago fans wanted that production again, and there is still a lot of time until we find out what Saad may achieve in Colorado.

Saad only just recently turned 28. I doubt he is going to crumble next season. I am personally really excited to see how he fits into the Colorado organization. He could play on the second line with Andre Burakovsky and Kadri, or maybe even Gabriel Landeskog if he is moved to that line. Saad-Kadri-Landeskog would be very hard to play against.

What the Blackhawks get with Zadorov

ANALYSIS: Who won the Brandon Saad-Nikita Zadorov trade?

(Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman is excited with what the team is getting in Nikita Zadorov. Photograph courtesy of @nhlportrait)

Nikita Zadorov is big and he is young. 

At 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, he is 25 years old. In the 2019–20 season, the three biggest players on the Blackhawks were all 6-foot-4 and the heaviest was Corey Crawford at 216 pounds. Zadorov was also the biggest on the Avalanche roster, and he laid the most hits by a large margin (175 to Graves’ 112).

Typically, Zadorov utilizes his ample size—sometimes less so than his brain. His critics will say he has sloppy turnovers (and he does sometimes), but I do not think he is an overall bad player. Not only is he solid in five-on-five situations, he is sort of a throwback to the bigger, heavier style of defenseman who flourished in the league 10–15 years ago. And in that regard, he could be a nice addition to a smallish Chicago blue line.

There are advantages to Zadorov’s game. Avs fans will recall a game between the Avalanche and the Blue Jackets, where he was able to gain puck possession by knocking down Nathan Gerbe, leading to a Kadri goal that tied the game. 

Zadorov is also a great locker room guy: a big personality, willing to chirp and have fun. And he was adored by fans of all ages—a positive to have on your team. 

But there were definitely moments while watching him that a fan could become frustrated. Zadorov takes a lot of penalties, and, as previously mentioned, can be a bit sloppy with the puck. As the Avalanche grew more cohesive with their goals and system under head coach Jared Bednar and Sakic, it became clear that Zadorov’s style no longer gelled with their vision. A trade was inevitable.

As Chicago goes through a rebuild, I do not think Zadorov will be a bad fit there—especially when Chicago is presently a small and soft team.

Like many Avalanche fans, I hope Zadorov fits in well in Chicago. 

What the Avalanche get with Gilbert

ANALYSIS: Who won the Brandon Saad-Nikita Zadorov trade?

(Dennis Gilbert was also part of the Brandon Saad-Nikita Zadorov trade. Photograph courtesy of the Colorado Eagles)

When I first heard the Avalanche acquired Dennis Gilbert, I was confused because I recognized the name, but I do not follow the Blackhawks. Then I remembered.

Gilbert fought Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog during one of the division games in December of the regular season.

Juliana said she thought Zadorov and Gilbert were more of the equitable parts in the trade based on their playing styles. However, Zadorov has significantly more experience, with over 350 NHL games under his belt.

Gilbert’s career in the NHL has been sparse. He has played in a total of 22 NHL games with 38 penalty minutes and a -9 rating, but he has shown some offensive skill on top of his abilities as a defender, with the way he jumped into play for his first NHL goal.

With the Avs’ deep blue line, Gilbert is probably going to be a strong player for the organization’s AHL team, the Colorado Eagles. But, if Colorado’s bad injury luck carries over into the 2020–21 season, Gilbert would likely get called up and see some NHL ice time.

What the Blackhawks get with Lindholm

ANALYSIS: Who won the Brandon Saad-Nikita Zadorov trade?

The Chicago Blackhawks were finally able to land Anton Lindholm after having had their eye on him for a few years. (Photograph courtesy of the NHL)

Anton Lindholm, like Gilbert, is typically an AHL player. He started his career in the NHL with the Avalanche with 48 appearances in the 2017–18 season, but he quickly found more time with the Eagles. In 45 appearances this past AHL season, he had one goal and two assists as a defenseman. 

“(Lindholm) doesn’t bring a lot of offense to the table, but he is a strong skater and he is, in my opinion, vastly underrated as a defenseman,” said Marie Sexton, who covers the Eagles for The Rink.

So who won?

Right now, the bulk of opinion on this trade—among both Chicago and Colorado fans—seems to be that the Avalanche won the trade.

The Avalanche traded a third-pairing defenseman for a second-line winger, with the Blackhawks retaining $1 million of Saads salary. In this currently cap-strapped world, it is definitely a tally for the Avalanche.

One noticeably absent aspect of this trade is the lack of draft picks involved. As Juliana explained to me, many fans had expected that a deal of this nature—for a rebuilding team—should have earned Chicago some quality draft picks.

There is a lot up in the air before the teams return to play. Maybe Zadorov will flourish and reach another level in Chicago. Maybe Saad will struggle to score 10 goals this season, showing a dramatic decline. Maybe Gilbert and Lindholm will emerge as great trade pieces, either now or closer to the later trade deadline. Or not.

But for now, with no ice time in the foreseeable future, I still think it is too early to render a final judgement. I want to hear what you all think! Comment down below, or reach out to me on Twitter at @OwynsGrace. An big thanks to Juliana for her help with this piece! 

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