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Let’s Wheel Pose On Brandon Saad

It’s a phrase I’ve come to use a lot, because it sums up nicely when a person is doing all sorts of things to justify an opinion or sell something, as well as the fact I’m getting old and my brain basically has room for six phrases now. Anyway, this post isn’t to argue that the Hawks “won” the second Brandon Saad trade, just like I wouldn’t argue they “won” the first one either. Going back to “what you know” has cost the Hawks at various points over the last seven years or so, and while selling high on Artemi Panarin was not the worst idea (doing it to put your middle finger up to your coach probably isn’t the best justification though), the Hawks probably could have done better. Should have done better.

That doesn’t mean we don’t still love Brandon Saad, because we do. And that doesn’t mean Brandon Saad isn’t a very good player, because he is. It also might mean this trade isn’t quite as lopsided as you might think, at least for this year. Yes, we’re tossing Saad’s completely snake-bitten previous campaign, when he was good as well but just couldn’t get any puck into the net. We can do that because it’s our playground and we make the rules.

So anyway, on Twitter I’ve occasionally made the joke that Saad’s 23 goals are only two behind Panarin’s 25 because it’s fun to do so. Obviously, Saad is nowhere near Panarin’s 49 assists and at no point in his career will he be. He’s not a playmaker, nor was he brought here to be, and he’ll never get to 30 assists in a season, much less 45+. That’s just the way things are. The Hawks have playmakers, so whatever.

As you’ve probably guessed, we’ll look at this metrically. Even metrically, Panarin is beyond Saad. Overall, their Corsi% is 54.6 for Panarin and 53.9 for Saad. Their expected goals percentage is 55.0% for Panarin, and 46.8% for Saad, who clearly is suffering at least a little from the historically bad defense behind him.

But the curious thing here is that there isn’t a player in the league who starts more shifts in the offensive zone than Panarin. Which is weird, because when he was here one of the things Q loved about him was his attention to detail in the defensive zone. Either he has stopped caring, or John Tortorella is being unreasonable (unheard of, I know), but 81% of Panarin’s shifts start in the offensive zone. Now, most top line players will start a majority of shifts there, because that’s where you want them. But 81% is excessive. Meanwhile, Saad starts almost exactly half his shifts there at 51%.

Now, even amongst the most sheltered, Panarin’s relative-stats still are clearly above the rest. He’s +6 in relative Corsi per 60 and +8 in relative-scoring chances, and no one else in the top-10 in offensive zone starts is anywhere near that. Which stands to reason, because if you keep a player like Panarin exclusively in the offensive zone, he’s likely to stay there and make things happen.

Still, if you look around Saad’s neighborhood of zone starts (he’s 303rd, so the 10 spots ahead and the 10 spots below), there are only two players doing his level of work in relative-Corsi. And they’re Ryan Getzlaf (what?) and William Karlsson. In relative scoring chance percentage, only Jakub Voracek, Getzlaf, and Jonathan Huberdeau are outdoing Saad’s +2.48 per 60. Those are nice names for the most part, and suggest that Saad and his linemates are turning the ice over at a higher rate than most of those asked to do it as much. Whereas Panarin already has the ice tilted for him.

Now, I couldn’t begin to tell you what Saad’s numbers would look like if he started 70% of his shifts in the offensive zone. They wouldn’t be Panarin’s numbers, but they would be more than he’s put up. I also can’t tell you what his numbers would look like if he had more than one d-man behind him who was of a higher quality than NHL third-pairing, but why don’t we just steal Seth Jones and find out? For funsies?

Again, would never argue that the Hawks won this trade or all that close. It’s just closer than you might think, and also might look better when Panarin cashes in for $11M per year from the Rangers in the summer. I mean, if Mark Stone is making $9.5M…

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