Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad (20) advances against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, in Chicago, Ill. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)
When the roster for the United States men’s Olympic hockey team was announced on Wednesday afternoon at the Winter Classic, the list was full of the usual suspects of American hockey. Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Jonathan Quick, and Ryan Suter all made the team, but the absence of Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad’s name caused a bit of an uproar.
Saad, whose 14 goals and 16 assists definitely caught the eye of team General Manager David Poile and company, was not one of the 14 forwards who will be travelling to Sochi in February. Instead, Team USA is largely comprised of guys who are experienced hands, willing to take the occasional risk but largely disciplined, and Saad simply didn’t fit the bill of the type of player that the management team was looking for.
But did the USA brass make the right call? One prominent figure in the Blackhawks’ organization didn’t seem to think so. Blackhawks consultant (and GM Stan Bowman’s father) Scotty Bowman, who was in Detroit for the Winter Classic festivities, tweeted his displeasure about Saad’s absence from the team on Wednesday evening:
I am disappointed Brandon Saad not on USA Olympic Team Coach Q has really developed him into a solid 2 Way Player who will be on future team
— scott bowman (@coachwsb) January 2, 2014
On the surface, it would appear that Bowman has a valid point. Saad not only has proven that he is a lightning-quick skater with great hands and ice awareness, but as Bowman correctly points out, has also really taken to the requirements of head coach Joel Quenneville that he play hard on both sides of the ice. Saad has gone from a non-entity to a key component of the Hawks’ back-checking game, and he has quickly become a very good defensive forward.
Despite these steps forward, Team USA opted not to carry Saad on their roster, but judging by some of the comments that various executives made about Saad, he could be just a phone call away from joining the team in Sochi. Here are a couple of those quotes, courtesy of a brilliant story by ESPN’s Scott Burnside about the making of Team USA:
“As he has throughout, (Stan) Bowman speaks on behalf of his player, Saad.
‘I think he’s a more versatile player than (TJ) Oshie,’ Bowman says.
‘I think he’s got more to his game than Oshie. He’s like a young version of [Marian] Hossa. He’s such a strong guy. He’s just hard to handle. He’s smart. He’s a guy the coaches would love,’ the Chicago GM says.”
Burnside also revealed some of the thought process that Calgary Flames President Brian Burke went through in deciding not to vote for Saad:
“Oshie and Saad are “fix-it” kind of guys. They can play up and down the lineup and do different things, while (Blake) Wheeler brings size and, more importantly, speed. If (Bobby) Ryan is out, then Wheeler is seen as a must to fill that offensive void.
“If the group were to decide, it would be Wheeler and Saad, although (Brian) Burke brings up the point that the coaches really like Oshie, and the coaching staff hasn’t asked for much in terms of demanding certain players. Given that, Burke would likely vote Wheeler and Oshie but like the defense group, he predicts injuries will see both Oshie and Saad in Sochi when the dust clears by early February.”
Burnside eventually goes on to say that Saad was “achingly close” to the final roster spot on the team, so if any of the guys who were named to the Olympic roster are unable to go, then Saad very well could go, as he seems to have the backing of several league GM’s, even though it was the decision of Pittsburgh Penguins (and Team USA) head coach Dan Bylsma to go with Oshie over him.