Did the Chicago Blackhawks Make a Mistake in Bringing Bryan Bickell Back?

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 14:  Bryan Bickell #29 of the Chicago Blackhawks moves to the puck against the Phoenix Coyotes at the United Center on November 14, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Coyotes 5-4 in a shootout.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Re-signing rugged left wing Bryan Bickell seemed like an obvious move for the Chicago Blackhawks to make as soon as they finished their Stanley Cup victory parade last June.

Bickell was a key contributor throughout the Stanley Cup run. The big forward scored nine goals and added eight assists in the Blackhawks' 23 postseason games, using his size and strength to propel his team to their second Stanley Cup victory in four seasons.

It was Bickell's goal with 1:16 remaining that allowed the Blackhawks to tie the sixth game. Bickell positioned himself in front of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, took a pass from captain Jonathan Toews and slammed home the goal that put his team in a position to win the game and the Stanley Cup just seconds later.

That remarkable goal and solid playoff performance put Bickell in a position for a big raise. He signed a four-year, $16 million contract.

While there was no doubt how much he meant to the team during its run, there was a feeling that Bickell had cashed in on a hot run and was not worth that kind of eye-opening deal.

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Bickell had just completed a three-year $1.625 million contract. His salary was multiplied by a factor of five for the 2013-14 season, and it will increase to $4 million in 2014-15 followed by two years at $4.5 million.

Let's look at Bickell's production. He scored a career-high 17 goals in 2010-11 before scoring nine goals in each of the next two seasons.

Those kind of numbers don't seem to warrant a contract that averages $4 million per season, but Bickell has a lot more going for him than his past production. He has size and power, and when the Blackhawks look at Bickell and his 6'4", 233-pound frame, they see a player who could be Chicago's version of Boston's Milan Lucic.

That would give the Blackhawks a dynamic power forward. Lucic is a 6'4", 228-pound freight train who uses his frame to punish his opponents with thunderous checks. Lucic will also use his fists to settle disputes when he believes that an opponent has aggrieved either him or one of his teammates.

But there's one huge difference between Lucic and Bickell. While he's big and hulking, the Bruins' left wing can skate like the wind. He may not have the quickness and dynamic moves of some skaters, but he has excellent straight-ahead speed and a powerful stride.

Bickell is an ordinary skater at best.

That's part of the reason why Lucic has career highs of 30 goals and 62 points, while Bickell has had just one season when he reached double figures in goals. Lucic is paid $6 million per season, and he appears to deserve more than Bickell.

However, Bickell qualified for his pay raise with his postseason showing. Now he has to earn it.

Bickell admitted that his big jump in pay means the spotlight will be on him. “Yeah, there’s going to be more pressure,” Bickell told Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times. “They’re going to rely on me more. I feel these playoffs, I took a big step [in terms of] the way I need to play, the consistent level I need to bring. But I feel like I can bring that every night. I know what it takes now.”

But that knowledge doesn't mean Bickell is going to produce. He has scored five goals and added one assist in 22 games this season. He has been out since Nov. 19 with a leg injury.

He is getting close to a return and head coach Joel Quenneville says he could return to practice Dec. 13.

That would give him a chance to start paying the Blackhawks back for the investment they have made in him. Prior to the injury, he was not producing at the kind of level the team wanted and his average of 12:54 of ice time per game did not make him one of the team's leaders.

Bickell has the size to be one of the game's dynamic hitters. He was credited with 39 hits before his leg injury, and that ranks significantly below team leaders Andrew Shaw, Brandon Bollig and Brent Seabrook.

Bickell says he knows how the team wants him to play. That means hitting opponents, creating turnovers and cashing in on his scoring opportunities.

If he can do that consistently, he will earn his salary and the huge raise he has gotten. If he can't, this could be a deal the Blackhawks come to regret as the next few years play out.

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