By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) It has been just a week since the Blackhawks had their miracle in the sixth game.
Two goals in 17 seconds turned a 2-1 deficit to the Boston Bruins into a 3-2 victory and the team’s second Stanley Cup championship in four seasons.
But as the party was getting started, one man was fixated on getting the Blackhawks moving in the right direction for the 2013-14 season. General manager Stan Bowman lifted the Stanley Cup, posed in the team celebration picture and took part in the rally Friday.
But as he was doing all those things, he was making an effort to get the team prepared for next season.
The draft was just six days after the final cup victory, and Bowman had to prepare for the draft. However, that wasn’t the only thing he had to do. He had to make a concerted effort to get free agent Bryan Bickell signed so they wouldn’t lose the Blackhawks unlikely postseason hero.
Bickell had made a name for himself in these playoffs with nine goals and eight assists. He scored a huge goal in the second round against Detroit in Game 6, giving the team a lead they would not relinquish in the third period.
Then, with just 1:16 remaining in Game 6 against the Boston Bruins and the Blackhawks trailing by a goal, Bickell got himself in perfect position in front of the net and converted Jonathan Toews’ pass into the game-tying goal. The play shocked the Bruins, who thought they were going to get a chance to play in the seventh game in Chicago.
Bickell’s combination of size, strength and skill gives the Blackhawks a player who can score the tough goals at key moments. While he has not always delivered in the regular season – Bickell’s career-high is 17 goals — he answered the challenge in the postseason and he set a very high bar for himself.
Head coach Joel Quenneville and Bowman expect him to come through consistently from this point forward. That’s why they signed him to a four-year, $16 million extension on Draft Day.
It was an important maneuver to make and the Blackhawks were forced to trade Dave Bolland (to Toronto) and Michael Frolik (to Winnipeg) to allow it to happen.
If Bowman had not made those key moves, he would not have had the salary-cap room to sign Bickell and he would have been a free agent by Friday. That would have put Bickell on the open market, and power forwards are a highly valued commodity in today’s game.
Bickell might have gotten a bit more on the open market, but he is comfortable on the Blackhawks. When you play with Toews, you are going to have a chance to make a lot of big plays.
There are no guarantees that Bickell will become a superstar. But he paid the price in the postseason and now he’s getting paid.
Bowman is betting on Bickell. He knows his team needs players who can score ugly goals and Bickell has proven he can do it at the most important time of the year. Now they have a chance to do it again next year thanks to Bowman’s timely salary-cap maneuvers.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.