Chicago Blackhawks: Bryan Bickell Faces Raised Expectations Following New Deal
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Bickell can savor a 2013 Stanley Cup, a new bride and a four-year, $16 million contract for the moment. He can also begin preparing for a new set of expectations from his team, as well as 'Hawks supporters.
A year ago, Bickell was coming off a 2011-12 campaign that saw him as a healthy scratch for long stretches of time. Thanks to a solid regular season and a memorable playoff run, the 27-year-old has security in the form of a big-money deal.
Despite his issues in 2011-12, Bickell was one of the best values in the NHL during the course of his previous contract. Playing for a shade more than the league minimum the past three seasons, Bickell scored 17 goals in 2010-11 and added 17 points in this year's march to the Stanley Cup.
Grumbling about a player making $600,000 a season has to be taken with a grain of salt. That same player at $4 million, like it or not, carries more responsibility to deliver the goods.
Bickell earned a good portion of his current contract with an opportunistic and physical game which saw him put up nine goals in the postseason. Teamed with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the top Chicago line, Bickell was able to play effectively, deliver some big hits and take the action to the net.
Bickell may move around from line to line next season. He may even spend some time on the Blackhawks third line. So long as he can produce wherever he plays, fans should not get hung up on where Bickell lines up.
Regardless of the spot head coach Joel Quenneville puts Bickell, this much is clear: The 'Hawks need Bickell to be aggressive and focus on playing closer to the net.
Bickell's wrist shot is a valuable weapon. However, it needs to be secondary to a power game that brings him closer to the crease.
On occasion, Bickell has gravitated toward the perimeter. At his present salary, that behavior is more difficult to tolerate.
It is common for a player in Bickell's position to attempt to "live up" to the money. That can lead to problems as well. What Bickell has to do is concentrate on playing the style that won him his extension while staying within his capabilities. That's a fine line to walk.
Bickell has toiled for minimal bucks before signing his latest contract. I was happy to see him get the deal. Once training camp starts, however, the honeymoon is over.
For better or worse, it is time for Bickell to produce to a higher standard.
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