Bryan Bickell has heard all the furor around him this postseason. He knows he could probably pick and choose wherever he wants to go this summer, his unrestricted free agency coming on the heels of a tremendous individual performance and a Stanley Cup.
But Bickell didn’t sound like a guy who was thinking about the possibility with other teams. He sounded like a guy who’s happy with the Chicago Blackhawks, and who’d like to stay with them.
Bickell, who earned $600,000 in 2012-13, could be looking at a big payday this summer when free agency opens on July 5. And while testing the waters is likely, Bickell sounded like the current team has the edge right now.
“They’re No. 1 on my list,” he said on Thursday, when the Blackhawks had their wrap-up meetings and met the media. “Chicago’s a second home to me. There are other things my agent and I have to work on, and hopefully we can make that happen. There are a lot of different things. You want to be happy, and I’m happy here. It’s a great team and a great city. But we’re going to work on something. Hopefully it’ll make us both happy.”
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has stated previously that he wants to keep Bickell, and he reiterated that on Thursday.
“I’m happy for him,” Bowman said. “We spent a lot of time over the years encouraging him. He spent some time in the minors, and sometimes those guys get disgruntled. If anything, we’re excited for him. We want to keep him here. It’s a puzzle to put together. He wants to be here; he’s said that publicly. And we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen.”
Bickell said there have already been talks between his representative and the Blackhawks, who have some salary-cap paring to do first. Part of that will happen immediately, as the Blackhawks will use compliance buyouts for Steve Montador and Rostislav Olesz. That will get them closer to the cap, which lowers to $64.3 million in 2013-14. But the Blackhawks may have to move others, not re-sign others, to free up cash for Bickell. Bowman said the Blackhawks are determined to re-sign defenseman Nick Leddy, their biggest restricted free agent this offseason. Dave Bolland is one name that’s been bandied about in trade talk.
One way or another, Bickell will get paid this year thanks to his postseason. The guy who struggled through the 2011-12 regular season was a force in the spring/summer of 2013, recording nine goals and eight assists in the postseason. His biggest goal was his last one, an up-close shot off a Jonathan Toews feed in Game 6 that tied it 2-2 with 1:16 remaining in regulation. You all know the rest. Bickell will also get marks for gutting out an injury, as many do in the postseason. He suffered a knee sprain in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final, so bad that coach Joel Quenneville was uncertain he would play in any Cup games. But Bickell “looked like he was coming around in Game 3,” and was stellar through the end.
“Bicks was a big factor when he played heavier minutes vs. their top lines or defensive pairs. He had some big blows that made the difference in some of the games,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I just thought Bicks came on in his overall game. The physicality part is what helped us in heavy minutes the last three rounds.”
So will the Blackhawks be able to re-sign Bickell? If the buyouts go through – no reason to think they won’t – and they’re able to work a few things, including possibly saying goodbye to another player, they can. Don’t be surprised if Bickell applies a little hometown discount, either. He’s made it clear he’s happy here. The Blackhawks have made it clear they’re just as happy with him.
“I knew coming into the season I had to have a big season. I was ready. Playoff hockey’s my game and I feel that brings the best out of me. It was a great run and a great feeling to finish off the way it did,” Bickell said. “It is flattering (the offseason attention), but it’s what’s in the best interest for me and my family. The ball is in my (court). We’re going to work out something that hopefully makes us both happy.”