The Chicago Blackhawks came into the summer with a pretty good idea of what type of salary they’d have to shed in order to survive another all-out cap purge like the one that we saw from them in the summer of 2010.
The goal was obviously to minimize the damage of the departed players while freeing up space to sign Brandon Saad. The latter has already proven a failure due to obscene contract demands, but the true trade phase of the Blackhawks’ summer has yet to actually kick in for Stan Bowman and the front office.
Bowman and the Blackhawks are slightly over the cap, with dreams of re-signing Marcus Kruger and Johnny Oduya still lingering. There is also a need for some of their younger players, such as Phillip Danault and Stephen Johnsm to transition to the NHL roster from a salary standpoint.
Which means that they still have a long way to go in order to get their financial situation in order.
Bowman is a guy known for letting things play out and taking his time before making a move. He’s not going to be forced into a trade or signing out of a knee-jerk reaction. Which is why the likes of Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell and Kris Versteeg have yet to find new homes. While all three aren’t a lock to depart, you’d imagine at least two will be gone.
The strong preference is that one of those is Bryan Bickell.
Bickell signed a four-year deal with a $4 million cap hit after the lockout-shortened 2013 season in which the ‘Hawks won their second of these three recent Stanley Cup titles. Bickell’s playoff performance led to an overpayment for the individual player, but it was actually below market value, given what Bickell might have been able to fetch on the open market.
With two years still left on that deal, and having served as a healthy scratch for almost the entire Stanley Cup Final against Tampa Bay, one would imagine that Bickell is the first player on the outs with the Blackhawks. But just what about him should make prospective teams interested in surrendering assets of any kind, whether player, prospect, or draft pick, for an overpaid, underperforming forward such as Bickell?
There might still be some upside in the forward. He brings impressive size to the equation, which he utilized far more this season than we’ve become accustomed to seeing from him. His 205 hits were a career high for him, and ranked him in the top-25 in the league among forwards.
That aspect alone is intriguing to teams who are looking to add more size and physicality to the mix. But Bickell has the potential to bring offensive upside that other physical forwards of his stature do not.
He finished the regular season with 28 points, with an even split between goals and assists. You’d like to see him use the size more effectively down around the net, but teams are going to be intrigued by a player who can hit and contribute offensively. This is especially true given that Bickell has managed to post some decent possession numbers over the last couple of years.
In 2014-15, Bickell finished with a CF% of 54.2 at even strength, and 52.4 overall. Over the last two years combined, since Bickell saw that increased role, he’s at 55.6% in that category at even strength play.
He certainly benefited from over 45 percent of his zone starts this season coming in the offensive zone, which was a career mark. But while he doesn’t post tremendous offensive numbers, his lines typically have the ability to maintain possession in the offensive zone, which is a positive attribute.
Bickell may not be as appealing a trade candidate as Patrick Sharp, in looks or in level of play. He may not even be as intriguing as Kris Versteeg.
But with the physicality he brings to the mix, combined with that offensive upside, he’s an intriguing quantity in his own right. A team is going to want to take a chance on that, though it’ll likely require a surrendering of minimal pieces, such as a late round draft pick, given the postseason performance off of which Bryan Bickell is coming. Then it becomes a matter of whether the Hawks will be forced to maintain salary or not.
When it comes down to it, though, it’s likely not a matter of Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks not being able to move Bickell, but a matter of trying to find the right match and retaining the minimal amount of salary, if any. If they want to move him, it can be done. There are enough teams out there looking for size that will take a chance on a change-of-scenery candidate, like Bickell.