CHICAGO | NHL teams usually don’t pay $16 million over four seasons for an enforcer, throwing his weight around, who doesn’t have a nose for the net.
That was the not Blackhawks’ mindset a few days after they clinched the Stanley Cup championship in June, keeping forward Bryan Bickell off the free-agent market with a rich deal.
Now the tallest and heaviest Hawk at 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds, Bickell added to his big-body persona to emerge first as a complementary scorer in the regular season, then as a clutch performer in the playoffs. Getting promoted to the first line with Jonathan Toews, Bickell ranked second on the Hawks with 17 points, including nine goals, two of them game-winners.
But coming through at just the right time doesn’t necessarily roll over to a new season.
Although he scored goals in four straight games from Oct. 19 to 26, a left-knee injury knocked Bickell out of 15 games from Nov. 21 to Dec. 15. Wearing knee braces to speed his return, Bickell hasn’t yet found his scoring groove with six goals and eight points total.
And on a Hawks team that is loaded with scorers, including Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw on his third line, Bickell suddenly finds himself back to the future in what is needed from him.
“My physicality is a big part of my game,” he said, remembering he led the Hawks with 108 hits last season. “To help in that department with this team is important. If I bring it and hopefully a couple of pucks go in here and there…I know I’ll get my chances if I work hard and play my game.”
“We have a lot of scoring in our locker room. You can’t go wrong with that. It’ll be nice to score. I know everybody wants to score. To do the little things to help this team win is the ultimate goal.”
Bickell has to please himself. But, he also needs to fulfill the expectations of his coach, who will not quantify what he desires from Bickell in the scoring columns.
“He hasn’t played the way he did, certainly last year in the playoffs,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Hopefully he starts progressing here. I still think he brings a lot to our team with his size and his speed and his shot. But we need a little bit more out of him. But it’s part of the process of getting up to speed.”
Line mate Shaw expects to set up Bickell for more future scores.
“He’s confident in himself,” Shaw said. “He’s got to get back to shooting the puck. He’s getting in shape and we’re exciting to play with him the rest of the season.”
Bickell said one game in which he felt particularly “strong” was a Dec. 20 showdown with arch-rival Vancouver. “There was a lot more hitting and I felt comfortable,” he said.
But Bickell surely wants to join in the scoring fun that has marked another run at the Cup.
“(I'm having) a slow (personal) start, but the team is doing well,” he said. "Hopefully, I can score more goals in the next half.”