Does Bryan Bickell's postseason performance make him worth keeping?
Bryan Bickell has gained a reputation for being mediocre in the regular season and dynamite in the postseason. Is that label accurate, and is it worth the money for the Chicago Blackhawks?
Like it or not, a member of these Chicago Blackhawks will be traded in the coming weeks. It could be a handsome one (Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya), a dopey one (Nick Leddy), or a former prodigal son turned doghouse resident (Kris Versteeg).
Additionally, a somewhat common name in the trade discussion has been Bryan Bickell. One year into a deal that carries a $4 million cap hit, many have wondered if Bickell, the posterboy for regular season mediocrity, is worth sending off for financial relief.
At this point, there isn't really any mystery to what you're getting from Bickell. In the regular season, he's Pearl Harbor Ben Affleck. When the postseason rolls around, he's Argo Ben Affleck. His postseason play is the primary motivation behind that four-year deal he received from the Hawks, and it stirred the belief that someone would mistakenly throw huge money at him last summer (looking at you, Brian Burke).
The following represents Bickell's regular season performance (we'll get to the fancy stuff later) in the past four seasons, since he became a full-time piece of the Hawks:
There are some interesting figures there, to be sure. For one, his ice time has declined quite a bit from that first season when he was a key piece (and when the depleted Hawks were relying on him more than they probably expected) to last year, the first season of that contract. His point per game total jumped up in 2013, when he tallied 0.47 points per tilt, but that fell to 0.25 this past year. In the GRIT aspect -- the amount of hits he's recorded, indicating his physicality -- many feel he's also been lacking.
Yet, when you flip the chart over to the playoffs, there's a complete shift in his production. Completely neglecting the fact that he struggled as the 2012-13 postseason wore on (mostly because he wasn't healthy), he notched 17 points in 23 games. His nine goals were second on the team and a pair of those were game-winners. His average time on ice was up over 15 minutes. He wasn't quite as dominant in last year's run, but he still averaged 0.52 points per game and logged over 16 minutes of ice time per tilt. He also upped the physicality, with 85 hits in 23 games in the 2013 postseason and 80 in 19 games last year. Regardless of his lackluster regular season, there's something to be said about his level of play when the postseason rolls around.
Of course, it's difficult to discern how effective a player is by just looking at the standard statistics. Possession figures are important, as the large influx in usage of advanced states in the last couple years helps to illustrate. As far as Bickell is concerned, his possession numbers were excellent. Without delving too far into it, his Corsi For % was up at 59.2 percent for the year at even strength, which was one of the best figures in the league. He took home a 16.1 Corsi/60, fifth on the team and fourth if you remove Jeremy Morin from the equation. His 5.6 Relative Corsi was actually fourth among Blackhawks forwards. Additionally, his 11.7 Fenwick/60 was fourth on the team among regulars. So while his standard figures don't look terrific, his possession numbers were extremely beneficial last season. His Quality of Competition isn't high compared to some of his top six teammates, but as a third line player, he's getting quality chances with quality teammates.
A quick look at the numbers might make it easy for one to dismiss Bickell as an important part of the Blackhawks moving forward, especially given his mediocre tendencies during the regular season. But make no mistake, his possession numbers, as well as his ability to play the physical game (an overrated quality perhaps, but a rare one on this club) make him a key component in whatever the Blackhawks aim to accomplish in the coming years.
As for paying for playoff performance, which the Blackhawks appear to have down with his four-year pact, they have enough offensive firepower to be just fine when Bickell goes dark on the score sheet. If this trend continues, and Bickell continues to be a force, both physically and offensively, in the postseason, then he's worth every penny, especially if it means another banner hanging at the United Center in the near future.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.
(Possession figures via BehindtheNet.ca & stats.HockeyAnalysis.com)