By Jay Zawaski--
(CBS) With the start of free agency looming Wednesday, the Blackhawks are working hard to get a deal done with restricted free agent winger Brandon Saad, but it appears the two camps are further apart on a new deal than initially expected, according to sources.
The Blackhawks are trying to lock up the 22-year-old Saad to a two-year deal worth about $2.8 million annually, one source said. That's the "bridge deal" that many have suggested could be the ideal outcome for the Blackhawks.
Saad's camp, however, is hoping to bypass the second contract. They're seeking a longer-term deal at $4 million-plus per year. Saad's camp knows it holds leverage over the Blackhawks if he waits until past Wednesday to sign. In such a case, another team could swoop in with an offer sheet, forcing the Blackhawks to match the deal or let Saad walk for draft picks. (Click here for a detailed breakdown on draft pick compensation.)
Saad can begin talking to suitors Tuesday and then potentially sign an offer sheet Wednesday. He's reportedly garnering interest in the range of five years and $25 million on an offer sheet. There's "no way" the Blackhawks let Saad walk for that amount, a source said, as they'll match the deal.
Obviously, the bigger the deal, the more it hurts the Chicago as it faces a salary cap crunch. The team already has around $65 million committed to 14 players for next season, with the cap set at $71.4 million. If the Blackhawks can get Saad locked up for under $5 million per year, it should be viewed as a win for them.
There's also a less optimistic view for this situation.
Coming off a 23-goal, 52-point season, Saad may be pricing himself out of town, another source said, and the threat of an offer sheet is very real. If the Blackhawks feel like they can't get a deal done, they could try to trade Saad's rights for a bigger return of NHL players. When asked to put a percentage on Saad being traded or re-signed, the source said "50-50."
Even if Saad does accept an offer sheet of five years and $25 million, I feel the Blackhawks will match. That's a bit higher than they would like to go, obviously, but it's not fatal.
Yes, the Blackhawks would have to make sacrifices elsewhere on the roster, but it doesn't seem that there's any danger of an "unmatchable" offer sheet coming down. From conversations I've had, I'm confident Saad will be back with the Blackhawks.
It's just a matter of how much and for how long.
Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.
for more features.