Another Chicago cap casualty, Bickell brings size, experience to Canes lineup

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
Bryan Bickell

RALEIGH — Bryan Bickell was fortunate his first 10 professional seasons were all with one NHL organization. The Chicago Blackhawks, who drafted Bickell in the second round in 2004, have won three Stanley Cup this decade, and the Ontario native played a role in all of them.But in the end his success with Chicago, specifically in the postseason, led to his exile from the Windy City.After finishing the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs with nine goals and eight assists — his 17 points second only to Patrick Kane on Chicago’s second of three Cup-winning teams — Bickell was rewarded with a four-year, $16 million contract.In the 2014 playoffs he had seven goals, behind just Kane and captain Jonathan Toews, and then played in 18 of 23 games when Chicago won its most recent title in 2015. Bickell’s regular season output those two years was on par with his previous career numbers: double-digit goals and about a point every three games. But as a $4 million-a-year cap hit, Bickell was being paid more like the guy who was one of Chicago’s top playoff producers.So last season, with Chicago painted into a corner by its annual cap troubles, he was sent to the AHL for most of the year to make space under the league’s salary ceiling. Then during the offseason, on June 15, Bickell and his contract were dealt to Carolina for two draft picks. For their trouble the Hurricanes also picked up former first-round pick Teuvo Teravainen, one the prized young players in the Blackhawks’ system.”You know that wasn’t the ideal way I wanted to leave there, but I knew this day was going to come, that during the summer a trade was going to come,” Bickell saidon the first day on the ice of Hurricanes training camp.Bickell — who is in the final year of his contract — is just one in a crowd of Blackhawks cap casualties, joining the likes of Andrew Ladd, Brian Campbell, Dustin Byfuglien, Brandon Saad, Kris Versteeg (twice, including last year to Carolina), Andrew Shaw and others.While the 22-year-old Teravainen was obviously the big catch for Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis in June’s trade, the addition of Bickell also fills a need for Carolina.Listed at 6-foot-4, 223 pounds, Bickell should be the biggest winger on the roster come opening night. That size could pay dividends in Carolina’s bottom six forwards, which will be significantly bigger and faster with the addition of Bickell and the speedy Viktor Stalberg (6-foot-3, 209 pounds).”He’s played at a very high level at times during the course of his career, and he’s a guy that’s exactly the type of player we could use right now,” assistant coach Steve Smith said of Bickell. “Someone that can be big and strong in front of the net, someone that will go to the net hard, someone that will dig pucks out of the corner and be a physical presence.”Smith and fellow assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour also gave Bickell some power play time during Thursday’s practice, making him a net-front presence on a team that looks more skilled with the man advantage than recent years thanks to the addition of Teravainen, veteran Lee Stempniak and prized rookie Sebastian Aho.”If I’m out there, I’ve got to be in front of the net,” Bickell said. “That’s where big bodies need to be. We’ve got a lot of skill, a lot of playmakers that, you know, sometimes they don’t like going there. So if I get an opportunity hopefully I can capitalize on it.”There are a couple familiar faces in the locker room around Bickell in Joakim Nordstrom — the pot-sweetener from Chicago in the similarly cap-related deal that brought Versteeg to Raleigh last September — and fellow newcomer Teravainen.While Teravainen comes to the Hurricanes looking for an expanded role with a new coach, Bickell already knows the man behind Carolina’s bench — even if coach Bill Peters was delayed in making his camp debut because of his role with Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey.”I know my first year with him was one of my years when I was up and down [between the NHL and minors] a lot,” Bickell said of playing for Peters, who was Chicago’s AHL coach in Rockford for three seasons from 2008 to 2011. “It was his first year coming over from the Western Hockey League and his first year pro.”The 30-year-old forward said he’s sure Peters has changed some since then — as has Bickell — with experience and lessons learned. But coming off of a season in limbo due to Chicago’s cap troubles, Bickell has a coach who knows what he can bring to the lineup on a nightly basis.”I’m excited to get back to him,” Bickell said. “I know me and him got along [during] the time together, and hopefully we can keep that eight-years-ago chemistry and bring it back now.”