Would Pittsburgh really make a play for Brandon Saad? (Updated)

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CHICAGO — At the moment, Brandon Saad is a key part of a Chicago Blackhawks team looking to win its third Stanley Cup in the last six seasons.

Not long from now, though, Saad will be something else — a restricted free agent.

And that has people talking.

On TSN’s Insider Trading yesterday, Pierre LeBrun offered this nugget (transcript courtesy Today’s Slapshot):

[Saad’s] a guy you’ve heard his name attached to offer sheets maybe because the Hawks have all of these salary cap problems. I’ll tell you this. I know this. He’s a Pittsburgh native and the Penguins do have interest. What a splash that would make. They need a top-6 winger.

I don’t think that Brandon Saad is going anywhere. The Blackhawks covet him way too much. But it’s worth noting, the Penguins like the player.

There’s also this, from DK on Pittsburgh Sports’ Josh Yohe:

[Penguins GM] Jim Rutherford can’t comment on other teams’ players because of NHL tampering rules, but I mentioned Saad as an example when posing a general question to the Penguins’ GM about pursuing restricted free agents.

He isn’t against it.

“Let me say this about restricted free agents out there: We’ll always play within the rules,” Rutherford said. “If there is a situation that comes up, we’ll think about it.

“As long as it’s OK under the CBA, if there’s a player out there that we think can make us better, we won’t be afraid to consider making an offer.”

Now before we go too deep here, remember — offer sheets are rarely signed (Brough broke down the reasons why quite thoroughly last week.) It also seems really, really unlikely Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman would let his prized youngster go under any circumstances; last week, Bowman flatly told the Chicago Tribune he’ll get Saad signed.

But it’s easy to see why there’s smoke around Saad-to-Pittsburgh.

As mentioned above, there’s the hometown connection. The Pens are also always on the lookout for wingers to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and the 22-year-old Saad, a blossoming star that scored a career-high 23 goals this year, would be more of a long-term solution (rather than some of the short-term fixes the club tried previously.)

And then there’s Chicago’s financial future.

How much can the ‘Hawks afford to pay Saad? Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews start pulling down $10 million cap hits next year and Bowman has his eye on an extension for Brent Seabrook, who’s unrestricted after next season. On the RFA front, Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom need new deals this year, and Andrew Shaw the next.

Now remember — for all this talk about how an offer sheet would make sense, it just doesn’t happen all that often. The last one signed was in 2013 (Ryan O’Reilly with Calgary) and the last player to actually leave via the offer sheet?

Eight years ago. When Dustin Penner bolted Anaheim to join the Oilers.

Update: It’s worth noting that, because of the Daniel Winnik trade at this year’s deadline, Pittsburgh doesn’t own its own second-round pick at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft — which they’d all but assuredly need to sign Saad to an offer sheet. This doesn’t rule out the possibility of acquiring him via trade (or, trading with Toronto to get the pick back), but it does put the rumors in a different light.