Everything Else

Due to the Hawks’ schedule and personal, I haven’t gotten around to summing up what went on during the trade deadline. So we’ll get to it now. The trade deadline is always a weird portion of the schedule, especially when your team (rightly) sits it out altogether. There are only a few teams that should participate, but yet too many can’t help themselves. So we’ll just go through this team-by-team of those who are trying to make noise in the spring. As for the sellers, we honestly won’t know how they did until the picks are made and the prospects come up.

East

Boston – Boston’s problem is obvious to everyone. It’s that they suck when Patrice Bergeron is not on the ice. They haven’t had anyone top play with David Krejci in like three years. And yet, Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson aren’t it. These are third-line players, not second-line ones. Charlie Coyle spent what seemed like a decade tantalizing Wild fans with what he could be, but he remained a player where the idea of him is far greater than the reality. The only thing I remember him doing there is getting his face in the way of Duncan Keith‘s stick. Maybe he’s a winger, maybe he’s a center, but no one seems to know, including Coyle. Johansson is a great checking line player, which is probably a good thing to have when the first thing you’re going to see in the playoffs is the arsenal in blue, but you’ll also need to score a bit. And here’s a secret no one wants to mention…the Bruins’ blue line isn’t any good. Charlie McAvoy is always pointed the wrong way and Torrey Krug has always been a glorified Erik Gustafsson. Sure, it’s maybe enough to get past the Leafs again simply of the voodoo sign they hold over them. But it’s not enough to not get flattened by Tampa. So really, what was the point of all this?

Toronto – They made their move early, which was Jake Muzzin. And he’s fine. He’s mostly a product of playing with Drew Doughty, but he’s better than what they had. The Leafs will go as far as they score…until Freddy Andersen turns into cold urine again when it counts. Their ceiling is also being turned into goo by Tampa.

Pittsburgh – How do you top signing Jack Johnson to an actual free agent contract? You trade for Erik Gudbranson, who is Canadian Jack Johnson. They’re gonna miss the playoffs on the back of these two, and the comparisons to the Hawks will only get stronger.

Carolina – Again, they moved early, which was to get Nino Neiderreiter, who has only been a perfect Hurricane his entire career. Underrated, fast, skilled forward who is just short of top-line material. The league office should have engineered his move there like years ago just to have everything in its right place. His 15 points in 17 games prove this. I don’t know how much longer they’ll get goaltending from Curtis McElhinney, but this team can absolutely come out of the division if their metrics carry over and the goalie doesn’t keel over. In some ways the worst team they could play in the first round is the Islanders, who shrink everything down to a bounce or two. They’re going to take Columbus’s run that they so desperately need.

Columbus – The one worth talking about. I don’t really know what the Jackets’ place in Columbus is really like. They’ve never been whispered to be in trouble, they seem to sell enough tickets, and they’re the only professional game in town. So when they say they need to have a run for the fanbase, I wonder. Then again, they’ve never had one, so at some point you have to before you become the Cubs without any of the story or ballpark. And yet I kind of can’t wait for it to blow up.

Panarin and Bobrovsky have already checked out, though the former at least seems interested enough to keep his dollars up from the Panthers. Bob has been a shithead all season, and he just got lit up by the Penguins in a game the Jackets really needed. Doesn’t exactly bode well for the spring. Matt Duchene has benefitted his entire career from being on teams where someone has to do the scoring. You can have him. Ryan Dzingel is Ryan Hartman 2.0. They’re fine if you’re counting on them for depth, and if Panarin, Atkinson, Dubois, Anderson do most of the lifting, that’s what they’ll be. But does it matter if your goalie put up an .896 in the first round?

West

Nashville – I hate the Mikael Granlund move, because it’s a good one and I have a strong distaste for the Preds. Granlund wasn’t quite up to being the guy in St. Paul, especially when Koivu and Parise started putting tennis balls on the bottom of their skates. He doesn’t really have to be in Nashville where Filip Forsberg lives, though someone is going to have to pick up the ball when Ryan Johansen is stuck at the pregame spread during Game 5. Wayne Simmonds remains one of the dumber players in the league and now he’s slow and old, and he’ll take a wonderfully selfish penalty against the Jets at some point that will cost them a game. It doesn’t fix what their problems are enough.

Winnipeg – Something is in the water (or ice) in Manitoba, where the Jets can’t get right. It’s nothing that Connor Hellebuyck returning to form won’t fix, but without a fully functional Dustin Byfuglien they do lack a puck-mover (and even he’s iffy). It’s not Trouba’s or Morrissey’s game, and Tyler Myers is only one in his own head. This was something of their problem against Vegas last year, they couldn’t escape that forecheck at times. That still seems to be a problem, but it probably won’t keep them from winning the division and I don’t see either Nashville or St. Louis going in there and winning twice to move on.

Vegas – You’re going to pay Mark Stone $9.5M, huh? Mark Stone, who is about to cross 30 goals for the first time in his career when everyone is doing so? It’s amazing that George McPhee only needed two years to chew up a completely blank salary cap structure, but here we are. The Knights are still fast and annoying, but it matters less when MAF isn’t putting up a .930 to cover for a defense that just isn’t that good. Even with their goalie problems, the Sharks are putting this down in no more than six games and next year the Knights are going to start to slink to the land of wind and ghosts.

San Jose – Gustav Nyquist doesn’t play goalie. So that’s weird. Maybe Doug Wilson was worried about poisoning Martin Jones‘s stay beyond this year if he were to demote him by trading for a goalie. But the Sharks are all in on this year and this year only. Joe Thornton is going to retire. We don’t know if Erik Karlsson is staying, and he if he goes they’re just a fine team instead of a really good one. All this team needs is someone who doesn’t light his face on fire in net and they would basically waylay everyone in the West. And I’m on record as saying Jones comes alive in the playoffs, but I have nothing to lose if he doesn’t. The Sharks have everything to lose. And if the Sharks pull this off, we’ll get a flood of idiots saying you don’t need a goalie to win the Cup, a myth which the 2010 Hawks drilled into everyone’s head for far too many years (even when they won two more on the back of Crawford).

Everything Else

With the Hawks in a malaise, and no answer or savior over the hills, there’s been rabble-rousing about trades. About blowing the team up. About hitting reset. Now, one of the louder calls has been to shop Brandon Saad.

It’s no secret where we at the FFUD laboratories stand on Saad. We were positively thrilled to be getting a proven two-way skater who could flank Jonathan Toews and put The Captain back on track. We thought that he would resume as the force in transition with back-checking skills to boot, upgrading from Hossa Jr. to Hossa Reincarnate. There were even stars in our eyes about Saad becoming a 30- or 40-goal scorer in his return to Madison St.

The lattermost of those hopes and dreams has been crushed this year, but is all as bad as it seems for our favorite Man Child? In times of doubt, we turn to the data for answers, so what do we know about Saad’s year?

To start, let’s look at a claim I made over on Twitter dot com a few days ago.

I claimed that trading Saad would be shortsighted because his ONLY problem was that his shooting percentage was down 3%. Friend of the Program, Jim Brett, said that he wished he could be sure that the shooting percentage was the explanation. So let’s see whether I was talking with my brain or my colon.

First, let’s start where a lot of the pain comes from: Saad’s raw points totals. Through 54 games, he has 13 goals and 11 assists at all strengths. For comparison, Artemi Panarin—the main piece in the trade to get Saad back—has 13 goals and 29 assists through 53 games. It’s easy to compare the two and think that the Blackhawks got hosed.

So, let’s look at the claim I made, which is that Saad’s only problem is his lower shooting percentage (S%).

Saad Team GP Goals Shots SPG S%
2013 CHI 46 10 98 2.13 10.2%
2013-14 CHI 78 19 159 2.04 11.9%
2014-15 CHI 82 23 203 2.48 11.3%
2015-16 CBJ 78 31 233 2.99 13.3%
2016-17 CBJ 82 24 210 2.56 11.4%
2017-18 CHI 54 13 153 2.83 8.5%

Per-game ratio (Shots Per Game [SPG]) rounded to two decimal places for easier reading

Stats relevant to ALL situations

Currently, Saad’s S% is 3.3% lower than his career average prior to this year (11.8%). If we do some math and assume that Saad were shooting at his career percentage this year, he’d have 18 goals, five more than the 13 he has. Extrapolating that over a full season, if Saad were shooting at his career rate, he’d end the year with 27 goals, as opposed to the 19 he’s on pace for.

To recap:

  • Saad is currently shooting 3.3% lower than his career average, on pace for 19 goals on the year.
  • If he were shooting at his career average of 11.8%, he’d have 18 goals through 54 games, and 27 through 82, which would be his second highest goal total of his career, behind only the year in which he shot at a 13.3% clip (1.5% higher than his career).
  • Saad has taken the second-most shots per game (SPG) of his career this year. So he’s getting more chances, and fewer of them are going in than ever before.

Now, let’s take that information and apply it to the bigger points picture. First, a look at what Saad has done to this point in his career.

Saad Team GP Goals Assists Points GPG APG PPG
2013 CHI 46 10 17 27 0.22 0.37 0.59
2013-14 CHI 78 19 28 47 0.24 0.36 0.60
2014-15 CHI 82 23 29 52 0.28 0.35 0.63
2015-16 CBJ 78 31 22 53 0.40 0.28 0.68
2016-17 CBJ 82 24 29 53 0.29 0.35 0.65
2017-18 CHI 54 13 10 23 0.24 0.19 0.43

Per-game ratios (Goals Per Game [GPG], Assists Per Game [APG] and Points Per Game [PPG]) rounded for easier readability.

If you look at the goals per game (GPG) category, Saad is currently just a bit behind his career pace prior to this year (0.29), and that’s while he’s shooting 3.3% off his career rate. If we extrapolate this year through 82 games at his current 8.5 S%, he would end up with 0.23 GPG vs. his career 0.29 GPG prior to this year. While that would be his worst GPG rate since his rookie year, it isn’t so far off as to sound the alarm.

On the other hand, if we assume Saad shoots at his career 11.8%, then his GPG through 82 would extrapolate to 0.33 GPG.

So, a quick recap:

  • At his current S%, Saad’s 82-game GPG ratio would rest at 0.23 (lowest since rookie year).
  • At his career S%, Saad’s 82-game GPG ratio would rest at 0.33 (second highest in career).
  • Even at his current below-average shooting rate, Saad’s GPG ratio (0.23) is at least close to his career average (0.29). It’s a drop, but it’s not precipitous.

Now, what’s really alarming is Saad’s assists per game (APG) ratio this year. Prior to this year, Saad averaged 0.34 assists per game (or 28 assists per 82 games). This year, he’s on pace for a paltry 15 assists. When we consider assist numbers, there are a whole bunch of variables that can affect the ratios. For instance, we’d have to consider the quality of Saad’s teammates (QoT) and the quality of his competition (QoC).

Since people infinitely smarter than me haven’t yet agreed on the best way to turn QoT and QoC into an agreed-upon algorithm, I’m going to try to give you an idea for what might be affecting Saad’s assist rates in the context of which teammates he’s played with most this year. Please note that this method is incredibly imperfect (I’m pulling a Milbury and making it up as I go), but it might give us an idea for why his assist numbers are as low as they are. (For a bigger and better discussion on passing, check out some of Ryan Stimson’s stuff.)

TOI WITH Shots 2018 S% 2018 Actual Goals 2018 S% CAREER Expected Goals 2018 Actual vs. Expected
TOEWS 667 154 9.7 15 15.3 24 -9
KEITH 447 129 0 0 4.7 6 -6
SEABROOK 322 81 3.7 3 5.3 4 -1
PANIK* 289 70 8.6 6 12.6 9 -3
KANE 225 189 11.1 21 12.3 23 -2

TOI in rounded minutes at ALL strengths, stats at ALL strengths, Expected Goals through 54 games

* = With Hawks Only

First, let’s get some obvious flaws out of the way (outside of the ones we’ve already discussed): Toews probably isn’t ever going to approach his career S%, so his expected goals are likely inflated. And Richard Panik probably isn’t a 12.6% shooter in real life, so his expected goals are also likely inflated. And it’s not like these guys took ALL off their shots while on the ice with Saad. But say everything goes perfectly, and the top six guys whom Saad has played with this year score at their career rates. That’s an extra 21 potential assists Saad is looking at just with the guys he’s played with most this year.

Of course, Saad likely wouldn’t convert each and every one of those 21 potential assists among these linemates. And of course, this assumes that all of the shots these players took were with Saad on the ice, which isn’t the case. The point here is that among the guys Saad has played with the most, each one is shooting either below or well below his career S%, which likely plays a role in Saad’s assist totals. Additionally, Saad is currently playing with guys like Tommy Wingels, Patrick Sharp, and Ryan Hartman, who have shown no scoring prowess thus far this year.

So, to recap this section:

  • Saad’s assists per game ratio in 2018 (0.19) versus his career average (0.34) is much more out of step than his goals per game ratios (0.24 vs. 0.29, currently).
  • The players Saad has played with most this year are all shooting below their career averages.
  • The above methodology is at best a stab at why his assist numbers are so low, given the numerous variables that would go into predicting future assist numbers, including QoT and QoC (which don’t have accepted algorithms). Take it with a grain of salt.
  • Saad’s recent partners (Hartman, Sharp, Wingels) are not scorers, further hindering his assist totals.

The numbers above reflect Saad as an individual player. When we look at some of the more team-focused stats, Saad is actually having one of the best years of his career. For instance, he’s currently posting a 58.4 CF% (versus a career CF% of 54.5). And look at the differences among his CF% Rel year-over-year:

Saad Team CF% Rel
2013 CHI 1.5
2013-14 CHI 0.4
2014-15 CHI 0.1
2015-16 CBJ 2.9
2016-17 CBJ 6.4
2017-18 CHI 7.3

Jumping even deeper down the rabbit hole, let’s look at Saad’s expected goals-for percentage (xGF%).  (For a thorough explanation of this stat, click here.) Briefly, the xGF% stat tries to predict the difference between the expected goals for (xGF) and the expected goals against (xGA) while the player is on the ice. Similar to CF%, an xGF% above 50% means that while the player is on the ice, it’s more likely that his team will score than be scored on. Saad’s current xGF% is 53.46, and his xGF% Rel is 5.36. Compare this to some of his other teammates who have played comparable minutes:

xGF% xGF% Rel
KANE 58.46 13.22
TOEWS 55.15 8.56
DEBRINCAT 53.48 4.85
SAAD 53.46 5.36
SCHMALTZ 52.23 1.88
ANISIMOV 50.78 1.71

Minimum TOI bound: 700 minutes, ALL situations

One final recap:

  • Saad’s CF% and CF% Rel are at career highs.
  • Saad trails only Kane, Toews, and DeBrincat in xGF%, and only Toews and Kane in xGF% Rel

So, Should the Hawks Trade Saad?

Short answer: NO, unless.

Based on these numbers, Brandon Saad is a 25-year-old LW whose shooting percentage is down, whose assists-per-game ratio is extremely down, whose possession numbers are on the rise, and who would be on pace for 27 goals and 28 assists (55 points, the highest of his career) if he were performing at just his career averages. Unless you believe that Saad peaked at 23–24 (and it is possible, but not likely), trading Brandon Saad would be selling extremely low.

So, what would it take to get a reasonable return on Saad? I asked our very own Feather about this, and he used Rick Nash as a baseline.

Currently, the Rangers are asking for a pick, a player, and a prospect for Rick Nash, who is on an expiring contract, is 33-years-old, and has exactly three more goals than Saad this year. On top of that, Saad vastly exceeds Nash in CF% (58.4 vs. 49), CF% Rel (7.3 vs. 3.8), xGF% (53.46 vs. 50.76) and xGF% Rel (5.36 vs. 3.55). And wouldn’t you know it, Nash is also shooting about 3% lower than his career average, though that might be the age coming out.

Feather suggested that the Hawks could accept nothing less than double that (so essentially, two picks, two players, two prospects) for Saad. If they accepted anything less, we could assume that the Hawks’s front office has no long-term strategy for this team whatsoever. Don’t forget that Saad will be just 27 when his contract expires, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another well-rounded player like him for $6 million a year.

In short, Saad is having a terribly unlucky year. Outside of his low shooting percentage and outrageously low assist-per-game ratio, Saad is having one of his best years in the NHL. Luck can change quickly, so unless the Hawks can find a haul, I’m willing to wait Saad’s funk out, based on past and expected performance.

Sources

Expected statistics (xGF%, xGF% Rel) for All Players

TOI Stats for Assists chart

2018 & Career Stats (All Players)

Saad’s Salary

Explanation of Expected stats (xGF, xGF%)

Deeper Explanation of Shot Quality and Expected Goals

Discussion of Passing Stats

Special thanks to Jim Brett for inspiring this article.