Bryan Bickell: Unnecessary Hero

Bryan Bickell, playoff hero. Bryan Bickell, dead weight. Those are the two sides of the ambiguous 28-year-old from Canada. After outplaying his three-year contract worth $1.625 million during Chicago’s 2012-13 Stanley Cup-winning season, Bickell earned himself a hefty new four-year contract to the tune of $16 million. Now, ‘Hawks general manager Stan Bowman, although I’m a bit partial, is the best in the business. However, in my mind, the Bickell contract belongs right alongside Dave Bolland’s new deal with the Florida Panthers amongst the worst NHL contracts in recent years, and here’s why:

Bryan Bickell takes a shot during a game last season (Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Bryan Bickell takes a shot during a game last season (Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Small sample size

Bickell turned a lot of heads around the league when he posted 17 points in 23 games during the 2013 playoffs. However, if Bowman dished out $4 million on the basis of one year’s playoff performance, that would be absurd. Prior to restructuring his contract, Bickell had played in 220 career regular season games with the Blackhawks and accumulated 40 goals and 90 points. Not quite $4 million worth. His playoff history, excluding his 2013 performance, was not much more spectacular. Four goals and seven points over 15 games for a guy enjoying his first few years in the NHL isn’t terrible, but is it $4 million worth? I don’t think so. His 2013 playoff performance was one for the ages, but much too small a sample size to give him that much money.

Cap troubles

With excellence comes offseason frustration, and no GM or team knows that better than Bowman and the Blackhawks. After capturing the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1961 in 2010, Bowman dealt away Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Colin Fraser, and Ben Eager. Those five combined for 54 goals, or nearly twenty-five percent of the goals that season. Goaltender Antti Niemi also left Chicago for San Jose. This offseason is more of the same, especially after Chicago made Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane the richest men in hockey history with twin eight-year, $84 million extensions.

Brandon Saad will be getting a larger paycheck come next season (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Brandon Saad will be getting a larger paycheck come next season (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Currently, the ‘Hawks are in the red at $2,216,795 over the cap. They were able to fill a hole at second-line center fairly cheap when Brad Richards agreed to a one-year deal at $2 million, but obviously, still need to shed cap. That is where Bickell comes into play. His $4 million cap hit would (1) put the Blackhawks back in the green and (2) give Chicago some space to resign guys like Brandon Saad or Marcus Kruger, who are in the final year of each of their respective contracts. This might be a bit difficult to accomplish considering Bickell has a modified no-trade clause attached to his contract, but it is manageable. There are teams around the league that would be willing to take on all, or at least part of the three years that remain on Bickell’s contract.

Bickell is replaceable

What Bryan Bickell brings to the table is a fair amount of skill combined with his main attribute, physicality. He has found a nice balance between producer and enforcer, something that is not easily attainable in hockey. So, Chicago can go one of two ways. The first option would be to replace the skill factor with a guy like Teuvo Teravainen. The 19-year-old prospect from Finland has shown tremendous playmaking ability, already has a couple NHL games under his belt, and comes at a bargain price just south of $850,000. It has been established that Teravainen is a major piece in the ‘Hawks future plans and to add to his value, he has played professionally at both center and wing. Therefore, he could fill the void at left wing, should Bickell depart, or center after Richards, 34, leaves or retires. Teravainen is more than capable of putting up 15 points over an 82-game season, which would equal Bickell’s total from last year in the regular season.

Teuvo Teravainen created a lot of hype last season coming over from Finland (Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Teuvo Teravainen created a lot of hype last season coming over from Finland (Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The other option would be to replace Bickell’s physicality. Brandon Bollig (92 PIM) is no longer a thought after he was dealt to Calgary for the 83rd overall selection in last month’s NHL Entry Draft. One player that comes to mind is American Hockey League veteran Jared Nightingale. The 31-year-old is a bruiser and has accumulated 854 PIM in 387 career AHL games. Last season, he captained Chicago’s AHL affiliate in Rockford and tallied four points with 114 PIM.

Perhaps the most intriguing choice for Chicago would be to go for broke and throw 2013 first-round pick Ryan Hartman into the fire. Hartman has spent the last two seasons playing for the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, where he accrued 211 points, including 48 goals, over 108 games.

Ryan Hartman impressed last season with the Plymouth Whalers [photo: Rena Laverty]

Ryan Hartman impressed last season with the Plymouth Whalers [photo: Rena Laverty]

Despite his 5’11” stature, Hartman also packs a punch. He also added 113 PIM in that span. The West Dundee, Ill. native might be the lone option that can bring both skill and physical play potent enough to make up for Bickell’s absence, should he be willing to move to the left side.

Verdict

The majority opinion is that Bickell will not be moved this year. In my mind, Bickell’s regular seasons of mediocrity fail to make up for his playoff heroics and his time in Chicago should be nearing an end. Some players just are able to flip a switch when it counts, but to me, that is not enough.

Jason Lowenthal

Jason Lowenthal

Blackhawks writer for THW | Intern with Chicago Steel (USHL) | Intern with Mizzou hockey | Covered Chicago Wolves (AHL) and 2014 Coors Light Stadium Series game between Blackhawks and Penguins for Inside Hockey Magazine | Cover Mizzou football for The Maneater | 2013 graduate of Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute
Jason Lowenthal
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5 Comments

  1. 1) Bickell is not a fighter or an enforcer. He’s a big body who can play a physical game, but he’s credited with precisely 8 fights in his entire NHL career according to hockeyfights.com. To assume that somebody whose primary roles is as an enforcer could reliably take those minutes is to completely misunderstand both Bickell’s role on the ‘Hawks and the diminishing role of the enforcer in the modern NHL.

    2) Stop it right there with Jared Nightingale, you’re doubling down on your lack of comprehension about how the game is played by going back to that well. There’s a reason why he was never drafted and, at 31, has never played at a level higher than the AHL or even been signed by an NHL team. Bickell has shown an ability to fit in with any of the top 3 lines and you’re advocating replacing his minutes – I don’t care if you’re talking about all of them or just a small fraction – with a guy who would make John Scott or Brandon Bollig look like Gordie freaking Howe in comparison. Jared Nightingale is not a viable option for any NHL team, let alone one with cup aspirations.

    3) It’s nice that you have no problem throwing a guy like Hartman or McNeill into the fire, but until one of them shows Quenneville that he can both contribute offensively and more importantly can play the system defensively Quenneville isn’t going to use him. It’s really that simple. It’s why, for example, Brandon Pirri could lead the AHL in points but couldn’t crack the ‘Hawks lineup.

    It really boils down to this – there is nobody NHL-ready in the ‘Hawks organization that possesses a similar combination of size and skill and would be able to readily replace Bickell in the line-up. He may be overpaid based on what he produced points-wise in the regular season (a regular season in which he was coming off some pretty serious knee injuries too, and also had a crazy-low PDO that’s not likely to be replicated, so maybe we wait until he has a healthy season to judge?), but considering how much more he would have gotten in free agency and the skill set that he brings to the table that is currently unmatched by anyone else in the ‘Hawks system it’s pretty well understandable why he received his current contract. If the ‘Hawks can replace him with someone Hartman or McNeill in the next year or 2 that’d be great, but in the meantime he’s not going anywhere.

    • Thanks for taking time to reply Pete. Some solid analysis there.

    • Jason Lowenthal Jason Lowenthal says:

      From what I’m gathering, you and I both agree that waiting for a guy like Hartman or McNeill to develop is probably the best option (and most likely option at that). Bickell obviously provides the Hawks with a unique skill set, I just see it as more replaceable that you do. But thanks for the thoughts, I appreciate the argument.

  2. Jason Lowenthal Jason Lowenthal says:

    The Hawks have plenty of skill and talent to deal without Bickell. Therefore, his physicality is really what needs to be replaced. Even if he is 31, I think Nightingale is a viable option given his experience, even if it is at the AHL level. I also have no problem throwing a young guy like Hartman or McNeill into the fire. Chicago has seen plenty of young guys come in and contribute right away, even when I didn’t think they were NHL-ready.

  3. There’s too much idiocy in this article to deal with. From your belief that Bickell is overpaid on this contract despite the fact that he would have gotten at least another million per if he’d tested the UFA market, to the fact that you don’t see the irony in proclaiming a player to be eminently replaceable but needing 2 different players to replace everything he brings to the table because there’s no 1 player in the ‘Hawks system that can do everything Bickell does, to the idea that one of those replacements should be a face puncher (despite Bickell not exactly being much of a fighter) who at 31 years old has never played a single NHL game.

    There are a couple of players in the ‘Hawks system who might be able to replicate Bickell’s combination of skill and power – like Hartman or McNeill – and when one of them is ready to do so then Bickell can be launched in favor of a cheaper and younger replacement. In the meantime, the idea that it would be easy to save any money / cap space by moving Bickell and being able to easily replace what he brings to the roster is just asinine.

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