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Blackhawks Mon May 05 2014
When Bryan Bickell signed a four-year, $16 million extension after helping the Hawks win their second Stanley Cup in four seasons, a few questions arose amongst the fan base and talking heads. Why pay that much money to a guy who only scored nine goals to go along with 14 assists during last year's shortened regular season?
It was a decent chunk of money going against the salary cap, and with Jonathan Toews' and Patrick Kane's contracts coming up before you know it, the thought was to save as much money as necessary to keep the heart and soul of the team in this city for years to come. Bickell certainly paved the way for a big payday during last year's postseason (nine goals -- one of which will go down as one of the best ever, and eight assists), but the real question was, could he consistently contribute like he did for a full 82-game season plus the playoffs?
As soon as the 2013-'14 season started, you could see a different Bryan Bickell on the ice for the Hawks. The pressure of living up to a sizable pay increase began to show, and suddenly the weight of carrying around Lord Stanley was replaced by the weight of a hefty contract and expectations that came along with it.
Bickell showed signs of his playoff self during early stretches of the season, until November 19, when he suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for nearly a month. It wasn't that the United Center faithful were booing the forward from Orono, ON, but sometimes a groan from all the way up in Section 323 can amplify louder when you're in your own head.
Bickell finished the regular season this year with 11 goals, four assists in 59 games played. He'd get in a scuffle here and there to protect a teammate, but if there was one thing Bickell was doing that went a bit unnoticed it was his help on even-strength opportunities in shots on goal.
During the 59 games in which Bickell played (some with minimal times on the ice), he posted a 58 percent CORSI-for rating, which was sixth best on the team. By comparison, Toews played in 76 games and posted a 59.3 percent CORSI-for mark, just ahead of Bickell.
What does that mean exactly? It means when Bickell's on the ice, shots are being taken on goal more often than not. Bickell took 93 shots on goal throughout his 59 games on a team that averaged 33.1 shots per game during the regular season -- third in the league. So while Bickell may have only taken 1.58 shots per game, it was his ability to help screen and rebound to get other chances for his teammates.
And look at Bickell now. He's at it again, playing lights out when it counts during the postseason. He's almost Mark Lemke-like in his ability to play under the radar during the regular season, but then dial it up and have a nose for the puck when the chase for the Cup begins.
You knew the Hawks were going to beat the Blues in the first round of these playoffs, not merely because they had more firepower, but because of Bickell. Did you happen to catch him skating between Blues' forwards and defenders in the offensive zone? Patrick Kane does stuff like that, not Bryan Bickell. But there he was, having his way offensively and helping the Hawks get to the second round.
After helping his team to a 4-1 victory yesterday afternoon in Game 2 against the Minnesota Wild, Bickell upped his playoff scoring total to five goals and three assists. He's second on the team, behind Toews, in shooting percentage at 21.7 percent and is second on the team in CORSI-for at 57.4 percent.
If Bickell keeps this pace up, the Hawks will repeat as Stanley Cup champs. That's when Bickell shakes off the weight of the world from his shoulders and happily replaces it with 34.5 pounds of hardware and proves to everyone he's worth every penny.