Is Bryan Bickell Playing Himself Out of Chicago?

In weak free agent market, Bickell could be a big fish for a team casting for talent

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 The Chicago Blackhawks’ offense finally woke up on Saturday night in their 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, and while the stars of the team were getting a lot of the credit after the game, role players played an even bigger role for the Hawks.

Andrew Shaw scored twice for the Hawks in the contest, and was all over the ice on both offense and defense, with memories of his wretched performance in Game 3 fading into darkness as he continued to excel.

Perhaps an even bigger story for the Hawks not only in Game 4, but throughout this season, has been the play of Bryan Bickell.

Bickell, who will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, might be playing himself into a nice contract when his current deal expires. Not only has he been scoring at a career high pace, but he has also fully embraced his role as a third line grinder-scorer hybrid that could be a tempting asset for a team looking for someone to bump up to second line ice time.

His searing physicality, on full display when he rocked Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall with a hellacious hit along the end boards on Saturday, is a refreshing sight for a guy who found himself in head coach Joel Quenneville’s doghouse in his first full season in the league. This season, Bickell has consistently deployed that part of his game, and when you couple that with the wrist shot that some have deemed the best on the team (although Patrick Kane certainly would have something to say about that assessment), may have his agent seeing dollar signs.

So should the Blackhawks re-sign Bickell when the season concludes? Unfortunately, multiple forces may be at work in keeping that from occurring. Not only will the salary cap be going down by $6 million next season, but the team is also dealing with a backlog of offensive prospects that can do Bickell’s job, and at a cheaper rate than he will command in free agency.

Guys like Jimmy Hayes can match his impact in the defensive and physicality areas, and if the Hawks are worried about replacing him offensively, then guys like Ben Smith and Jeremy Morin are going to be aggressively seeking a spot in the team’s lineup for the 2013-14 campaign.

Needless to say, the desire to bring Bickell back may be there for the front office of this team, but the cap constraining reality of matters may prevent that union from continuing. Until the offseason comes and that decision actually has to be made, however, the Hawks will need Bickell to keep producing if they are going to be able to climb back into their battle with the Red Wings.

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