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Opinion: Columbus Blue Jackets emerge as legitimate contender after Brandon Saad acquisition

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Columbus Blue Jackets forward Brandon Saad poses with team president John Davidson at his introductory press conference on July 15. Credit: Courtesy of bluejackets.com

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Brandon Saad poses with team president John Davidson at his introductory press conference on July 15.
Credit: Courtesy of bluejackets.com

In Columbus, the only sad thing that is going on is the rain. Everything else seems to being going great. The Buckeyes are national champions, the Crew are in second place in the Eastern Conference and the Blue Jackets just made a trade that could vault them into the elite class of the NHL.

On June 30, the Jackets traded for left wing Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks for Marko Dano, Artem Anisimov, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and a fourth-round draft pick in next year’s draft and subsequently signed him to a six-year deal. The Jackets also received two players from the minors with Saad.

Looking back at last season, most hockey fans would consider the Jackets’ year very unlucky. They had a ton of injuries to deal with, constantly having to change the lines with new bodies, and had to focus on making their younger players better. The Jackets fought through all this adversity and finished strong by winning 12 of their last 13 games while only missing the playoffs by nine points (four and a half games). The NHL took notice, and teams were likely hoping, maybe even praying, those pesky Jackets would find their way on the outside of the postseason with the way they were playing. They were one of the hottest teams going down the stretch. Even with no postseason, the Jackets still have found something that they are not used to receiving year in and year out: respect.

Now other teams have seen that the Jackets are growing with the last three seasons of making strong bids for the playoffs (making it once when they lost to Pittsburgh in six games in 2014 first round). With their new wing Saad put into the mix, the Blue Jackets are starting to look like a division contender with the likes of the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. Perhaps they even resemble potential Stanley Cup winners.

Who is Brandon Saad, though? He is only a 22-year-old who has been with the Chicago Blackhawks for four years and won two Stanley Cups. He posted 126 points in that time period with 52 of those being goals, 23 of which came just last season. If that doesn’t get you thinking about the line possibilities, take this in: Last postseason he helped the Blackhawks get their third Stanley Cup in six years by posting eight goals, three assists and 56 shots. While playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, he had two goals, one assist and a go-ahead goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during Game 4. For being only 22, he has a veteran-like resume.

Saad did not come cheaply, as they had to surrender strong talents Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano. Those two were the main focus in this trade, as the Blackhawks have been trying for last couple of seasons to get Anisimov from the Jackets, which showed when they signed him to a five-year extension after the trade. Dano looks like a young star in the near future, and he could end up being the balancing force in this trade to see who really got the better end of the stick.

This move overall will make the Jackets better on offense and defense. Saad was one of the better Blackhawks penalty killers, as well as a good power play guy. Personally, I love the move by the Jackets because it shows that the team is moving forward and is ready to take the next step in the quest to bring the cup to Columbus.

Having him on a line with Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno, potentially, makes my mouth water at what they could do together. Last season, Foligno was the Jackets’ leader in goals and second in assists, while Johansen was third in goals and first in assists. That brings me back to the line possibilities; think about the other three offensive lines you need.

The Jackets still have Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner, Alex Wennberg, Scott Hartnell, Matt Calvert, Cam Atkinson and others to give a boost after that lethal first line. Possibilities are far from limited with this team. Now that the Jackets have a dependable first line, they can try to find some rhythm with the other lines. The best part — if there is a better part — is the Jackets have almost all those guys under contracts for several seasons to come.

These Jackets have been slowly moving forward ever since they missed the playoffs by a tiebreaker with the Minnesota Wild in the 2012-13 season. This year, the Jackets will look to obtain a division title for the first time in franchise history, get further than the first round of the playoffs and, dare I say, bring a Stanley Cup to Columbus for the first time.

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