NEWARK, N.J. -- Bryan Bickell wanted to stay with the Chicago Blackhawks. On Sunday, the Blackhawks made sure he did.
Bickell, one of the team's top performers in the postseason, signed a four-year deal with the Blackhawks on Sunday night. According to capgeek.com, the deal will average a $4 million cap hit per season. Bickell’s salary will be $3 million in the 2013-14 season, $4 million in 2014-15 and then $4.5 million in each of the final two seasons.
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That’s one hefty pay raise for a guy who earned $600,000 this season.
The big forward is coming off a tremendous postseason for the Blackhawks in which he had a career-high 17 (9 goals, 8 assists) points in 23 playoff games. Bickell scored the game-tying goal in Game 6 against the Boston Bruins, just 17 seconds before Dave Bolland, who was traded earlier tonight, scored the Cup-winner. He had nine goals and 14 assists in 48 regular-season games.
General manager Stan Bowman was excited that Bickell remains with the Blackhawks.
“He was really good all year,” he said. “His role was different during the regular season, but that line (with Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg) was effective. They just didn’t play as many minutes. And Bickell stepped it up when given the chance. He got a bigger role (in the postseason), and he was able to do more with it.”
Bickell talked on Thursday about his impending unrestricted free agency, but he seemed reluctant to think of hockey life outside the Blackhawks’ locker room. Bickell, his agent Todd Diamond and Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman all talked of how he wanted to stay with Chicago, how much he loved it here. Now, he can.
“It feels good that we got it done,” Bickell said via phone late Sunday night. “I feel like Chicago’s a second home. I got drafted (by the Blackhawks) and you can’t beat the city, the fans and the team. I’m happy to be back; it’s an awesome feeling.”
Bickell’s agent Todd Diamond said both sides wanted to get this deal done before July 5, the opening day of free agency.
“You guys were asking me a lot about unrestricted free agency during the playoffs but I was concentrating on hockey. But these last few days we’ve been celebrating (the Cup victory) and thinking about this,” Bickell said. “I’m definitely happy to get it done and I’m looking forward to the short summer.”
But Bickell will be losing some teammates. Longtime Blackhawks center Dave Bolland, who scored the Cup-winning goal in Game 6 against the Boston Bruins, was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for two selections in this draft and a fourth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Michael Frolik, who set up that game-winner, was traded to the Winnipeg Jets for two picks in this draft.
“Yeah, it’s unfortunate,” Bickell said. “I’ve known Bolland for a long time and he’s a big part of these Cup runs we’ve had. They needed to move some guys for them to keep me. I’m just happy they wanted me that bad, but to see those two guys gone, it’s unfortunate. But I’m just happy to be in this situation.”
Bowman said those trades were less about making cap room for Bickell’s contract and more about making room for in-system players who are ready to make the big club – or at least get the chance to. And in Bickell’s case, the Blackhawks didn’t want to lose what he brought.
“We’re happy to keep Bicks because we saw what he can do in the playoffs. But he has a different profile in terms of his style of play and size,” Bowman said. “We had to keep Bickell’s style of play around, and we have to go forward to do that.”
But with that situation comes added pressure and expectations. Bickell is no longer a $700,000 player who, when he had a good season, played above his potential. Now he’s getting paid handsomely – make that very handsomely – to be that player every game. Bickell said he understands what comes with that big contract.
“There’s going to be more pressure, they’re going to rely on me more. But I took a big step in these playoffs with the way I need to play and the consistency level I need to bring,” Bickell said. “I feel I can bring that every night. I know what it takes now, what they want and hopefully I can just bring it.”
Bickell will celebrate now, not just this Cup on which he’ll get his name etched, but also that contract he just signed. Bickell’s got plenty riding on it. He’s ready to prove he’s worth it.
“I love playoff hockey and these playoffs were special,” Bickell said. “What I need to bring every night to help this team win is a big part of where I needed to be. This playoff run, I found it. I just have to remind myself every game that I can do it and I just have to stick with that.”