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Saad settled with Blue Jackets after blur of summer

by Tim Wharnsby

TORONTO -- A productive and momentous spring transformed rather swiftly into a summer of change for Brandon Saad.

One minute he was carrying the puck for the Chicago Blackhawks into the Tampa Bay Lightning zone to start a play that would be the final goal of the Stanley Cup Final, and two weeks later he had a change of address.

Saad, 22, knew between the Blackhawks' salary cap situation and the fact he was about to become a restricted free agent that there was a good chance he would be moved. But the trade to the Columbus Blue Jackets happened so fast.

"It definitely was a different process for me, especially since it was the first time I went through something like this," Saad said. "You win a Stanley Cup and you're high on emotions and then a couple weeks later you find yourself on a different team. So it was emotional, but I'm also excited about a new start."

Saad's new start with Columbus certainly began in lucrative fashion, when he signed a six-year, $36 million contract on July 3. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said he and Saad's agent, Lewis Gross, never got close on a contract to keep the emerging left wing in the Windy City.

So Bowman moved quickly to orchestrate a seven-player trade with the Blue Jackets. Saad, along with prospects Alex Broadhurst and Michael Paliotta, were acquired by Columbus for forwards Jeremy Morin, Marko Dano, Artem Anisimov and Corey Tropp.

Saad said there was sadness in his departure from the Blackhawks family. He was selected by Chicago in the second round (No. 43) of the 2011 NHL Draft, won the Stanley Cup twice in his first three full NHL seasons and scored a career-high 23 goals last season.

He continued his breakout year with a strong showing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His eight goals were third on the Blackhawks behind Patrick Kane (11) and captain Jonathan Toews (10).

Saad scored the winner late in Game 4 of the Final to knot the series at 2-2 and then came through again in the championship-clincher a few nights later.

The Pittsburgh native, born five months after Mario Lemieux and the Penguins won their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship in 1992, raves about how much he learned playing alongside Toews and Marian Hossa, especially the 200-foot game. There wasn't a better piece of evidence than that Kane goal with 5:14 remaining in Game 6.

With Tampa Bay pressing for the tie, Saad broke up a Lightning play in Chicago's end of the rink. He carried the puck the other way and then off the rush dropped a pass to Brad Richards, who fed Kane for a 2-0 lead.

It was 15 days later when Saad found out he had been traded to the Blue Jackets. All of a sudden there was a long list of phone messages and texts to return from old teammates and new teammates.

The Blue Jackets were excited about their new addition. Captain Nick Foligno, and fellow forwards Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Hartnell, Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson, rolled out the welcome mat with calls.

These are new relationships for Saad. The only current Columbus player he has played with was defenseman Dalton Prout, when the two briefly were teammates on the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League.

The Blue Jackets now have a couple teammates who are Stanley Cup winners with Saad and center Gregory Campbell, a UFA signee who won with the Boston Bruins in 2011. But before Saad could completely cut his ties with the Blackhawks he had his day with the Stanley Cup in early August.

He shared the prized trophy with C-130 Air Force Reserve near Pittsburgh and with his family and friends.

"It was a little different," Saad said about his day with the Cup coming after his trade to the Blue Jackets. "But at the end of the day it was about celebrating winning the championship.

"It doesn't matter which team you're with, when you win a championship you have your memories and you share that day with the Stanley Cup with the people that mean the most to you."

Saad made a few trips between Pittsburgh and Ohio during the summer. He had an introductory press conference, a house-hunting excursion and tossed out the first pitch at a Cleveland Indians game.

"It's nice to get to know the city," Saad said. "It reminds me of Pittsburgh, a smaller city, but with still a lot to do."

Saad, who is waiting to make his preseason debut with the Blue Jackets after he took a puck to the face in practice Monday, said there remains much to achieve in his young career. He wants to be a difference maker on Team North America in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and possibly a linemate of Johansen in Columbus.

"I'm excited about this city, this team," Saad said. "They have a lot of good young players with a lot of skill. It's exciting now to be a part of this."

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