The Chicago Blackhawks have long tried to trade winger Bryan Bickell and now they might have a landing place. The Toronto Maple Leafs have "kicked the tires" on Bickell and are waiting to hear back from the Hawks about a possible deal, according to the Toronto Star's Kevin McGran.
Bickell, 29, has been a trade candidate since the beginning of the season. The Hawks tried to move the forward during the offseason in order to clear his $4 million cap hit, but found a disinterested market for the overpaid veteran coming off a disappointing year that concluded with vague head-related health issues.
The team is currently "working really hard" on a Bickell deal, reports ESPN's Craig Custance. The Leafs would be willing to take on Bickell's contract, which runs through next season, "if there was something else in it for them," per McGran. Most likely, that would mean sending prospects and/or draft picks to Toronto along with Bickell.
The Hawks opted to have Bickell open the season on the NHL roster, but he lasted only a few games before being waived and reassigned to Rockford. Other than a brief return to Chicago in early January, Bickell has been trying to re-establish his game playing with the IceHogs. In 23 NHL games this season, the winger recorded just two assists, though he's been more productive in the AHL with 23 points in 25 games.
In January, Bickell's agent said he was hoping the forward would get traded. Could the Leafs really take on his oversized contract in exchange for assets? Let's break down the scenario.
Why the Hawks would make the trade
Money, money, money. If you're not aware of the reasons why the Hawks would trade Bickell by now, you probably haven't been paying attention. Bickell's contract has become the obvious albatross on a championship roster. He hasn't been good enough to earn playing time in the NHL this year, let alone his $4 million cap hit. With Chicago constantly battling the upper limit of the salary cap, Bickell's deal has become a major hindrance on GM Stan Bowman's ability to build out the roster.
Even if it meant giving up valuable assets like prospects or draft picks -- and to be clear, we're not talking a seventh-rounder here -- the value of clearing millions in salary cap space for this season and next season is huge. When you consider what Bowman did with limited flexibility last summer, the idea of letting him attack this offseason without Bickell's dead weight is tantalizing. In itself, the idea of moving Bickell is a no-brainer.
The only real question is how much Toronto wants. The Hawks need to maintain their pipeline of talent, so they can't just toss ridiculous assets at this problem, but what if it takes a second-round pick and a middling prospect? Or maybe the Hawks could take back Raffi Torres' expiring contract and give back less? Either way, it would surely be worth extra flexibility this month and millions in extra space in the summer. Unless the cost is prohibitive, this could be a big opportunity for the Hawks to finally clear Bicks' contract.
Why the Leafs would make the trade
Toronto is in full rebuild mode and that means the upcoming trade deadline is all about asset management. The Leafs have already shipped out several players to prepare for future and seem determined to hoard as many prospects and draft picks as possible before making their move to start competing again in the East.
With that in mind, taking on Bickell could be an additional way for the Leafs to bring in long-term assets. Toronto is one of the few NHL teams that doesn't have to worry too much about paying salaries, and that willingness to spend could allow management to take advantage. We've seen many trades in the NBA where teams acquire assets in exchange for taking on bad money. This deal would be along a similar line of thinking.
The Leafs have the cap space to pay a player like Bickell anyway, so why not parlay that into adding some extra long-term pieces? Toronto should have no shortage of ways to spend over the next couple years, but this could be a way for the team to acquire additional assets while merely spending money during a time when winning doesn't matter much anyway. Essentially, Toronto would be "buying" assets.
The framework of a logical deal appears to exist here. The Leafs have money to burn, the desire to acquire long-term assets and little concern about whether they'll win in the next year or two. The Hawks desperately want to clear cap space, have assets to offer and are largely focused on winning right now with a historically great core. Assuming the two sides can find the right match in terms of what Toronto gets for taking on Bickell's money, this could be just what the Hawks need to keep rearranging the pieces for a few more Stanley Cup runs. Chicago fans should might want to hold out some hope for this one, which if it goes down, could be a signal of an even larger deal before Feb. 29.