Bickell’s big playoffs will raise price, may force Chicago exit
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org June 3, 2013 9:51PM
BICKELL BREAKS OUT
Bryan Bickell scored as many goals and had nearly as many assists in 48 games this season as he did in 71 in 2011-12. And his production has gone up in the playoffs.
Games played: 71
Games played: 48
Games played: 14
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Updated: June 4, 2013 3:19PM
Don’t let the toothless grin, the thundering hits and the self-deprecating comments fool you. Bryan Bickell is more than just a big dude running around looking to knock someone into the fourth row. On a Blackhawks team loaded with high-end talents, Bickell’s got one of the better shots on the roster — a heavy wrister with a quick release — has shown a knack for some slick passing, and can skate well for a 6-4, 233-pounder.
But power forwards aren’t supposed to be flashy. And Bickell’s ability to strip his game down to its barest essentials — a big body taking up space in the crease, blocking a goalie’s vision, and knocking people to the ice when given the opportunity — has made him the breakout star of the playoffs.
The Hawks spent all season looking for a true power forward — a net-front presence to fill the role performed so well by Dustin Byfuglien in 2010. Turns out Bickell was here all along. It just took the intensity of the playoffs to flip the switch.
“He’s got the confidence as a player to make some moves, make some nice passes,” said new linemate Jonathan Toews. “But more and more, he’s understanding, especially in these playoffs, there are some situations where less is more.”
Bickell has six goals in the playoffs — tied with his other new linemate, Marian Hossa, for second on the team — on just 24 shots, the best shooting percentage in the league of any player with more than three goals. They haven’t been pretty, but they don’t need to be pretty. His goal in the Hawks’ 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings in Game 2 of the Western Conference final was typical — he camped out in front of the net, got a piece of Patrick Sharp’s low shot from the blue line, and celebrated when Robyn Regehr knocked the puck into his own net as Bickell’s presence clogged up the works.
He’s also used his size and hitting to clear some space for Toews and Hossa against the overtly physical Kings.
“It’s been a good postseason,” Bickell said. “It’s been fun.”
And probably lucrative, too. Bickell will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and might be playing himself into a big contract — and out of Chicago. Bickell is making a mere $600,000 this season, and is certainly turning heads around the league with his big-time playoff performance.
The Hawks surely would love to keep Bickell, but with the salary cap dropping from $70.2 million to $64.3 million next season and Nick Leddy also needing a new deal, they might not be able to, especially as his price continues to rise.
It’d be a cruel twist, considering the Hawks dealt Byfuglien to the Atlanta Thrashers just two weeks after winning the Cup in 2010 in what GM Stan Bowman admitted was a salary dump. Byfuglien was making $3 million at the time, and signed a five-year, $26 million deal the next season.
“I’m just playing game by game,” Bickell said. “I’m just doing whatever it takes to help this team win. I know after this season, me and my agent will talk and negotiate things. For right now, I’m excited to be in this situation I am right now with the Hawks.”
Bickell said he modeled his game after Kings forward Dustin Penner, a similarly sized, similarly skilled power forward who was a 32-goal scorer with the Edmonton Oilers in 2009-10, when Bickell was a little-used rookie along for the ride as the Hawks won the Stanley Cup.
Penner has just two goals and two assists this postseason, and has just nine goals in the last two seasons with the Kings. He re-signed with L.A. this season for $3.25 million.
In his first full season, 2010-11, Bickell scored 17 goals and had 20 assists. He took a step back last year with nine goals and 15 assists, but rebounded from the sophomore slump by putting up almost identical numbers (nine goals and 14 assists) in half a season this year. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said that “putting it all together has been a process,” but that he saw big things for Bickell right away.
“Four years ago, when he was called up,” Quenneville said. “We played him with Toews and [Patrick] Kane that year. There’s ability there. You like his size, his speed. He can shoot and be physical. He’s got all the elements that you look for in a power forward.”
And this offseason, there likely will be plenty of teams looking.