Today, in a new series I’m hoping to continue moving forward we’re going to look at a player the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired against another player fans wanted whether it’s a trade they didn’t make, a free agent they didn’t sign or something else. We’ll look at what the two sides have done since and why, probably, it’s completely okay that random hockey guy you so love is not a flightless bird right now. Today we will start with a classic player Pens fans wish they had… Brandon Saad. On the other side, aka the guy who is actually a Penguin, we have Phil Kessel.
These two players were chosen because they were traded on consecutive days in the summer of 2015 and both caused big splashes. Saad was traded (the first time and holy smokes I can’t believe I had to type that) on June 30th, 2015. Phil Kessel was traded the next day, July 1st, 2015. Both joined their new teams and became a huge part of them from a marketing and excitement standpoint. When Saad was moved people asked Rutherford what he offered for him, Rutherford explained he hadn’t been aware he was so he didn’t offer anything.
Phil Kessel was being liberated from a Toronto team doomed to tank for a year. Brandon Saad was supposed to breathe life, or so I heard, into the Columbus Blue Jackets so the Hawks didn’t have to pay him. Kessels $8 Million AAV deal had $1.2 Million absorbed annually by the Leafs and Saad signed a long-term extension that summer so now both players have remarkably similar costs to their teams.
Saad’s current cap hit: $6 Million AAV
Kessel’s current cap hit: $6.8 Million AAV (for Pittsburgh)
Each player has spent two whole years playing in the league since these two deals went down. So what have they done since? Well, Saad’s numbers are actually sneaky good. After putting up more than 30 goals on a lottery team in Columbus last year he tallied 24 in 2016-2017. His 54 goals oust Kessel’s 49 by a hair but goals aren’t the only things we count…Kessel has 129 points over the last two regular seasons. Saad? Has 106. That doesn’t even include playoff scoring where Kessel was the runaway leader in the league over the last two years. In the 49 games, it took the Penguins to hoist back to back Stanley Cups the oft-maligned winger has 18G 27A, good for 45 points. There isn’t really an easy way to compare these numbers with Saad’s except to point out that Saad won two Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015. In those two runs, he played much less so the numbers do not match up well. Though in the 2017 playoffs with Columbus he had three points in five games including one goal, for what that means.
Now, of course, we look at the statistics. Saad’s possession numbers overall are very good. He is good at shot generation and suppression where if you look at this Hero Chart from @MimicoHero, Kessel isn’t so good.
The thing is, part of that is due to linemates. Kessel played the bulk of his even strength ice time over the past two years with Nick Bonino who, for all he was beloved by Pittsburgh and still is, is not very good defensively. Kessel is a winger who likes to shoot and score. Kessel is effected, rightly or wrongly by his linemates and the hero chart up there includes time with Tyler Bozak and Nick Bonino both of whom aren’t great defensively if you look at their own Hero charts. Saad, conversely, is a center. So he is driving the line he’s on. Now, look no one is saying Phil is a defensive stalwart but last time I checked he was paid to score and he does a pretty gosh darn good job of that…
In conclusion, the Penguins didn’t trade for the Pittsburgh kid. But they did trade for 129 points in 164 regular season games (that’s every single one, in case you wondered), 45 points in 49 playoff games, and back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships… see how this worked out in the Penguins favor? Sure, they don’t have Saad and that would be nice since they’re low on centers right now…but they do have Kessel and on a team where everyone is always hurt a dependable, durable, scoring winger is still pretty darn important.