Can the Blackhawks find a long-term solution to one of their biggest roster headaches?
By Adam Hess
After his strong performance during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Blackhawks almost had no choice but to sign forward Bryan Bickell to a contract extension. He was set to be an unrestricted free agent, was coming off a decent regular season, and was one of the team’s best and most consistent producers throughout their championship run.
Bickell’s strong playoffs put him in a nice spot, though, because he was able to ask for more money than his standard production would’ve warranted. He ended up signing a 4-year deal worth $4-million annually.
Two and a half seasons later, that deal has come to bite both Bickell and the Blackhawks in the ass in the worst way.
Bickell has not produced at even close to the same rate he was at in the 2013 playoffs, with this season being by far his worst. He has appeared in 23 games with the Blackhawks and tallied just two assists in those appearances.
His play has been nothing short of horrible. The case could be made that, at his contract, Bickell is the worst player in the league. No player making $4-million should have just two assists in 23 games. He has been seemingly unable to do much of anything right at the NHL level.
His play in both zones leaves a hell of a lot to be desired. In a word, he is slow; he skates and thinks too slow. He can’t move his feet well enough to be in position, and he often has no idea what to do with the puck when it’s on his stick.
But besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
Bickell now finds himself in Rockford for the second time this season. He was being passed over for the likes of Brandon Mashinter and newcomer Richard Panik in Chicago, and no longer had a place on the roster. It’s entirely likely he never dons the Four Feather sweater again.
This puts the Blackhawks in a precarious position. What do they do with this $4-million anchor who is signed through next season?
Reports over the weekend indicated that Bickell and his agent wouldn’t mind a trade, which only puts them about seven months behind the Blackhawks in joining that club.
“If we are watching things with our eyes open, it’s pretty clear that I would say his future is likely not with the Blackhawks,” Todd Diamond, Bickell’s agent, told the Sun-Times. “Hopefully, we can work out a trade. Stan [Bowman] is open to that.”
But his contract and bad play have sent his trade value plummeting through the floor; no team is willing to give up even a 7th-round draft pick for him, even if Chicago retains salary.
Outside of a trade, the Blackhawks have two options: stick out Bickell’s contract next season and get it over with, or buy him out this offseason. The salary cap is not expected to go up by much – if at all – next season, so it’s really a lose-lose.
Should the Blackhawks keep Bickell around, he’ll be $4-million against the cap yet again and will still probably be worth none of that money.
In a buyout, a player’s cap hit is reduced to one-third its normal amount for twice as many years as the contract has remaining. So a Bickell buyout would result in him counting as $1.33 million against the salary cap until the end of the 2017-18 season.
Either way, the Blackhawks are in a bad place. Unless they find a trade partner willing to take Bickell’s contract to reach the cap floor next season, Chicago will be forced to decide which of the these two evils is more necessary.