On the day two summers ago when Brandon Saad was traded from the Blackhawks to the Blue Jackets, the winger had a conversation with general manager Stan Bowman about the possibility at some point of returning to the team he helped capture two Stanley Cups.
On Friday, that came to fruition when Saad was reunited with the Hawks in a stunning trade that sent forwards Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte and a sixth-round pick in this weekend’s NHL draft to the Blue Jackets in exchange for Saad, goaltender Anton Forsberg and a fifth-round pick in the ’18 draft.
"It’s a small league and … most players don’t play the same place their whole career," Saad recalled Friday of the conversation with Bowman on June 30, 2015. "You get bounced around and you end up in different places but there’s always an opportunity to end back in the same place. It was definitely a thought in my mind that I could end up one day back in Chicago. I didn’t think it would happen this soon."
Of all the players the Hawks have lost throughout the seasons to salary-cap constraints, perhaps the toughest departure was that of Saad to the Blue Jackets. After the winger had helped the Hawks win Cups in 2013 and ’15 and with his star still rising, Saad’s price tag on a new contract was too steep for Bowman and he shipped the then-22-year-old to Columbus.
"Certainly it was a tough move a couple of years ago when we had to make that trade," Bowman said. "My conversation with Brandon (on Friday) had a much different tone. We’ve always thought that maybe we could get him back. This deal came together pretty quickly over the last several days (and) … now that we’ve been able to, I can say that we are very excited. The chemistry is there right away and the intensity for the way he plays, his all-around game is second to none."
That chemistry might be the most important aspect of the deal as Saad spent much of his first three seasons in the league skating on a line with center Jonathan Toews and the duo flourished. After Saad’s departure, Toews’ offensive output suffered as the Hawks shuffled left wing after left wing onto the top line and very little clicked. Now, coach Joel Quenneville has the option to reunite Saad and Toews to help bolster the Hawks’ No. 1 trio.
"There’s no doubt they had tremendous chemistry," Bowman said. "When Brandon first came in as a rookie he found a home there on Jonathan’s left wing. That’s really up to Joel where he wants to use them. It’s comfortable knowing he had great success with Jonathan, and if they go back to that it’s great."
Saad, who had 24 goals and 29 assists with the Blue Jackets last season, said he was excited about the possibility of playing alongside Toews again.
"He’s someone I had early success with in my career and that’s something I look forward to trying to rekindle," Saad said. "It can only grow from both of us getting better as players the last couple of years. Being able to do more damage and to be reunited would definitely be a lot of fun."
Saad wasn’t the only NHL veteran dealt to the Hawks on Friday. They also acquired Connor Murphy from the Coyotes in a deal that sent fellow defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes.
The 24-year-old Murphy played four seasons with the Coyotes and had two goals and 15 assists in 77 games during the 2016-17 campaign.
"Chicago has been a team that I’ve looked up to how they play the game," Murphy said. "They play a really competitive offensive style … with some great leaders on their team and obviously with the Cup wins in the past and a lot puck control and management. It’s a lot of things that are hard to defend. It’s nice to definitely be on that side."