It’s crazy the difference a pair of seasons can make.
Two years (less a day) ago, the Chicago Blackhawks clinched the Stanley Cup in a Game Six win over the Boston Bruins. Bryan Bickell, who had been a huge contributor all post-season long, scored the first of two Chicago goals in 17 seconds, tying the game. Dave Bolland’s gave the ‘Hawks the lead, and less than a minute later, they were champions.
Bickell’s big goal was the icing on the cake for the pending UFA, who CBC and NBCSN announcers had been praising throughout the playoffs. A big raise was coming that summer, but who would give it to him? Could the Blackhawks afford to keep him?
They could, and Bickell signed a 4-year, $16 million dollar contract that following off-season.
Flash forward to Game Six of this year’s Stanley Cup Final. It wasn’t in such surprising fashion, but nonetheless, the Blackhawks again clinched the Stanley Cup, with a 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
This time, Bickell wasn’t a big part of the win. In fact, Bickell wasn’t even playing at all. Like others such as Ryan Hartman, Joakim Nordstrom, and Antti Raanta, Bickell threw his equipment on in the final minutes, and joined the ‘Hawks on the ice for the celebration.
That’s not what the Blackhawks are paying him $4 million dollars per year to do.
This wasn’t Bryan Bickell’s year. Could he rebound? Sure, but the Blackhawks can’t afford to wait around, with the gargantuan contracts for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews kicking in next fall. The roster needs to be retooled, and Bickell is certainly one that the Blackhawks would like to sacrifice.
For the price of Bickell, the Blackhawks could have had two of Brad Richards. With skilled veteran players looking for success late in their careers, the Blackhawks have the luxury of attracting quality players, who are willing to take home less money than they imagined, in exchange for a good shot at getting their name engraved on the Cup.
The Blackhawks have also done a terrific job of drafting and developing prospects over the past several years, and their prospect pool speaks to that. Players such as the aforementioned Hartman, Mark McNeill, or Phillip Danault are ready to take the step to the NHL, but have a limited opportunity, as the Blackhawks continue to have success with the same core group of players.
Does Bickell have to go? Yes. Where does he land? That answer is not so certain. Even the Blackhawks’ regular trading partners, the Florida Panthers, have too much salary locked up in former Blackhawks, (see: Dave Bolland) and would likely be unwilling to take on a monster cap hit for the production Bickell would provide.
No matter which jersey Bickell puts on next year, however, the Blackhawks can’t anticipate a big return. In fact, they better be prepared to take a loss.
Blackhawks’ GM Stan Bowman doesn’t make these mistakes often, but this off-season is a chance to right the wrong he made in the summer of 2013. It will likely take some time and diligent work, but for the better of himself, and the Chicago Blackhawks, Bryan Bickell has to go.
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