Cage Match: Brandon Saad vs. Jaden Schwartz

by Rick Roos on November 1, 2017

This week two hot wingers in Brandon Saad and Jaden Schwartz face off

With October in the books, enough hockey has been played to consider whether a hot start might be a new normal rather than just a temporary scoring burst. That’s especially the case for players – like this week’s combatants Brandon Saad and Jaden Schwartz – who’ve been on the cusp of entering fantasy elite territory but never quite done so. Are we witnessing a mid-20s true breakout for either or both, and who’s the better own? Time to find out – Cage Match starts now!

Career Path and Contract Status

Saad, who turned 25 last week, was selected 43rd overall in 2011. He found himself an NHL regular in 2012-13, posting 27 points in 46 games. In 2013-14, he progressed to 47 points, and shined with 16 in 19 playoff contests. After he rose to 52 points in 2014-15 and again hit double-digits in the playoffs, Saad seemed like a fixture in Chicago. But that was not to be, as the cap-crunched Hawks dealt his RFA rights to Columbus. Saad posted 53 points in each of his two seasons with Columbus, while the Hawks exited the playoffs in the first round in both campaigns. In an effort to recapture past magic, Saad – along with fellow 2015 offseason departure Patrick Sharp – landed back in Chicago this summer.

Schwartz, 25, was selected tenth overall in 2010, and like Saad became an NHL regular after an AHL stint during the lockout. While Saad made a nice splash in 2012-13, Schwartz posted a meager 13 points. But Schwartz exploded for 56 then 63 points in his first two full NHL campaigns, ranking him in the top 20 in points per game among forwards who played 155+ games over those two seasons. Unfortunately, that momentum was halted by a major ankle injury in October 2015, and he never quite got on track (22 points in 33 games). Yet Schwartz bounced back to 55 points last season.

Both players are inked through 2020-21. Saad’s cap hit ($6M) is slightly higher than Schwartz’s ($5.3M).

Ice time

Season

Total Ice time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

SH Ice time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

2016-17

17:01 (B.S.) – 5th

18:54 (J.S.) – 3rd

1:34 (B.S.) – 6th

2:38 (J.S.) – 3rd

0:29 (B.S.) – 10th

1:05 (J.S.) – 7th

2015-16

17:13 (B.S.) – 4th

17:12 (J.S.) – 5th

2:07 (B.S.) – 6th (tied)

2:11 (J.S.) – 5th

0:38 (B.S.) – 7th

0:51 (J.S.) – 9th

2014-15

17:15 (B.S.) – 4th

18:14 (J.S.) – 4th

2:11 (B.S.) – 6th

2:20 (J.S.) – 6th

1:04 (B.S.) – 5th

1:07 (J.S.) – 7th

2013-14

16:17 (B.S.) – 5th

17:31 (J.S.) – 4th

1:48 (B.S.) – 6th

1:46 (J.S.) – 6th

0:42 (B.S.) – 7th

1:32 (J.S.) – 5th


Seeing these numbers, it’s not surprising Schwartz’s points per 60 minutes rates have been consistently solid (2.40 in 2013-14, 2.76 in 2014-15, 2.33 in 2015-16, and 2.24 last season, for a cumulative average of 2.44). The somewhat downward trend in his P/60 is concerning; however, the company he’s in by virtue of his steadily high P/60 rates is reassuring. In fact, only 20 other forwards also cumulatively averaged 2.44+ P/60 over the past four seasons without having a P/60 less than 2.24 in any campaign, and 15 of them have scored 75+ points at least once, boding well for Schwartz’s present/future.

Yet concern lies in the fact that, as we can see above, last season Schwartz had already graduated to a top line and PP1 role, and still only managed his familiar 55-60ish point scoring pace. Even if maybe he was held back by unsustainable bad luck, it’s difficult – at least based solely on ice time – to reconcile this data with his better than point per game emergence for 2017-18.

As for Saad, despite having a consistent spot in the top six in each of these four campaigns, he’d never been a top line fixture or PP1 staple. In fact, it’s almost uncanny how little variation he saw in both his ice times and rankings among forwards on his team over the years, even though two of these seasons were in Chicago and the other two in Columbus.

The good news is like Schwartz, Saad has displayed a healthy P/60 rate, which in his case ranged from 2.21 to 2.37 per season. Yet unlike Schwartz, who at least displayed a nice bump in P/60 in one season, Saad’s flatter P/60 rate works somewhat against him morphing into a better fantasy contributor, as does the fact that Jonathan Toews (with whom Saad has skated over 95% of his even strength minutes this season) is not a centerman who tends to have highly productive wingers. In fact, the only one of Toews’ regular wingers to post even 60 points since 2010-11 has been Marian Hossa, who just so happens to be a Hall of Fame talent.

Secondary Categories

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2016-17

0.09 (B.S.)

0.23 (J.S.)

0.29 (B.S.)

0.91 (J.S.)

0.31 (B.S.)

0.55 (J.S.)

2.56 (B.S.)

2.29 (J.S.)

0.05 (B.S.)

0.11 (J.S.)

2015-16

0.18 (B.S.)

0.24 (J.S.)

0.55 (B.S.)

0.78 (J.S.)

0.32 (B.S.)

0.63 (J.S.)

2.98 (B.S.)

1.91 (J.S.)

0.11 (B.S.)

0.15 (J.S.)

2014-15

0.14 (B.S.)

0.17 (J.S.)

0.64 (B.S.)

0.72 (J.S.)

0.35 (B.S.)

0.61 (J.S.)

2.47 (B.S.)

2.45 (J.S.)

0.12 (B.S.)

0.20 (J.S.)

2013-14

0.25 (B.S.)

0.33 (J.S.)

0.61 (B.S.)

0.67 (J.S.)

0.25 (B.S.)

0.40 (J.S.)

2.04 (B.S.)

2.33 (J.S.)

0.11 (B.S.)

0.12 (J.S.)


Saad is an SOG beast, ranking 39th overall in shots taken over the past four seasons among all forwards. The issue is among heavy volume shooters there are “haves” and “have nots” when it comes to scoring, with little room in between. Unfortunately, Saad seems to be in the “have nots” group. Specifically, looking at the 38 ahead of Saad in SOG, 16 (like him) combined to score fewer than 210 points over these four seasons, while 14 had a total of 250+, leaving only eight in the 210 to 250 range.

What this means is, for every high-volume shooter who’s also a big scorer (such as Tyler Seguin, Patrick Kane, Alexander Ovechkin) there are as many (e.g., Craig Smith, Jason Pominville, Patric Hornqvist) who, despite firing as many or nearly as many pucks on net as top producers, nevertheless fail to translate their SOGs into points. In short, we can’t count on Saad eventually turning into a major point producer simply because he’s been a consistent SOG monster.

Schwartz is less of a shooter, but has seen his hits rate increase and his blocks stay consistently good, such that it’s reasonable to expect him to produce roughly one more hit+block per game than Saad. Both are poor PIM producers.

That leaves just PPPts, which was a weak area for both last season. Although Saad has never shined on the PP, Schwartz had fared quite well until seeing his rate drop in two straight seasons. Making that bad situation worse is the fact that last season marked his highest average PP time per game and a true PP1 spot for the first time, only to see him fail to produce.

As will be discussed more below, Saad has been part of Chicago’s PP1 in 2017-18. Yet with arguably more young, talented, and hungry forwards in the mix in Chicago than in St. Louis, not to mention Saad’s history of not being a PP1 player nor showing any knack for PP production, he could lose his grip on a PP1 spot, probably easier than Schwartz.

Luck-Based Metrics

Season

Personal Shooting %

Team Shooting % (5×5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

Average Shot Distance

Secondary Assists %

2016-17

11.4% (B.S.)

10.6% (J.S.)

8.19% (B.S.)

8.92% (J.S.)

75.7% (B.S.)

64.0% (J.S.)

57.7% (B.S.)

51.6% (J.S.)

27.9 (B.S.)

25.4 (J.S.)

38% (B.S.)

33% (J.S.)

2015-16

13.3% (B.S.)

12.7% (J.S.)

9.72% (B.S.)

8.26% (J.S.)

70.7% (B.S.)

62.9% (J.S.)

51.6% (B.S.)

63.0% (J.S.)

25.7 (B.S.)

29.1 (J.S.)

50% (B.S.)

35% (J.S.)

2014-15

11.3% (B.S.)

15.2% (J.S.)

7.95% (B.S.)

8.26% (J.S.)

73.2% (B.S.)

76.5% (J.S.)

57.8% (B.S.)

57.5% (J.S.)

24.2 (B.S.)

27.1 (J.S.)

45% (B.S.)

34% (J.S.)

2013-14

11.9% (B.S.)

12.8% (J.S.)

9.57% (B.S.)

10.09% (J.S.)

61.0% (B.S.)

67.9% (J.S.)

63.9% (B.S.)

51.9% (J.S.)

24.8 (B.S.)

28.2 (J.S.)

28% (B.S.)

41% (J.S.)


With Saad, it’s strange that for someone with such a consistent personal shooting percentage his team shooting percentage has bounced around quite a bit. What’s more – his numbers were almost identically below the 9.0% general average for NHL forwards once for Chicago and once for Columbus, then almost identically above the 9.0% threshold once for Chicago and once for Columbus. Saad’s secondary assists ratio also wavered for each team – very low once, and a bit higher once. His ASD was consistently low, and his IPP was above the all-important 70% threshold in each of the last three seasons, again spanning both teams.

With Saad having a low ASD, I decided to cross reference high SOG rate players with ASD to see if there is any possible correlation. If we focus on the 39 forwards who took more shots over the past four seasons than Saad and – like Saad – cumulatively had an ASD of 29 feet or less, that comprised 21 forwards. But of those 21, it turns out 12 didn’t post more than 65 points in any of these four seasons, while among the 18 who averaged more than 29 feet for ASD over the past four seasons, 13 had at least one season above 65 points. Thus, Saad’s combination of low ASD and high SOG volume might also not bode well for him becoming a high scorer.

As for Schwartz, he’s been very consistent in the past, which makes him a safe bet not to see his scoring drop but also could raise concerns that over the long haul of a season he might not have what it takes to put up elite numbers. Let’s also keep in mind that in 2014-15 Schwartz stood at 18 points after 17 games, only to slow to 45 in his next 58 contests. Also concerning is the fact that he only managed to finish one season of these four with an IPP above 70%, albeit last season. In fact, going back to 2012-13 and even 2011-12 he also failed to top the 70% threshold. That’s a major issue since his proven inability to factor into actual scoring could catch up to him.

Early Returns for 2017-18

Like a few other Hawks, Saad started red hot (six goals and eight points in his first six games) but has since cooled (only one point in his last six games). His PP1 deployment had been holding steady, but perhaps because of his lack of production of late and/or poor output with the man advantage overall (one PPPt for the season), he might be in danger of seeing that slip away, and in fact Saturday’s game marked his first time all season seeing less than time on less than 50 percent of Chicago’s PPs.

Schwartz, on the other hand, started on fire and hasn’t cooled. Yet his ice times aren’t much above his norms, while his IPP and team shooting % are. Chances are the “real” Schwartz is probably somewhere in between what we’re seeing now and what he’s normally produced in past seasons.

Who Wins?

Not Saad. His pairing with Jonathan Toews makes it difficult to perceive anything more than 60 points to begin with. Although his PP1 spot might not be “lost” just yet, his lack of production with the man advantage both this season and in the past make it unlikely he’ll be there for the long haul, particularly with no shortage of other candidates to step into the role. Also, while Saad’s high IPP is impressive and can’t be denied, it doesn’t mean he helps his team score more, only that when they do scores he factors into the scoring often. With so many seasons of 70%+ IPP yet none with 54+ points, it might be that he’s great at filling a score sheet but not so great at helping generate goals.

Long story short, I can’t see Saad as more than a 60-point player; and since Schwartz has already shown he can reach that mark and has outproduced Saad’s career best in all three of his last full seasons, he gets the victory. What do I see from Schwartz? With an IPP over 75% last season and a high number so far this year, he might be having a mid-20s breakout; but I think what we’ll see is similar to 2014-15, where he cools – just not as much. When the dust settles on 2017-18, he could taste 70+ points.

In terms of fantasy advice, if you sold high on Saad in October, kudos to you. It still might not be too late to try and turn him into an upgrade. However, if you’re “stuck” with him, you still should end up getting good value if, as is quite possible, he bests his career high of 53 points. Schwartz is a sell if you can get a proven 75+ point guy in return or fill another need; otherwise, he’s a fine hold since he’s got next to no downside and should still finish with a career high when all is said and done for 2017-18.

 

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