Monday, 17 June 2013

Should the Canadiens 'overpay' for Brian Bickell?

Brian Bickell has been a hot topic of conversation for Canadiens fans, if not around the entire league.  He's a big strong guy, at 6'4" and upwards of 230 lbs, but combines that with some skill and finish around the net, and an ability to keep up with Top 6 linemates.  Since size is going at an ever-higher premium these days in the NHL, he's chosen the right time to have such a good season, this being his last contract year before hitting Unrestricted Free Agent status.

Before this season, we'd never heard of this guy, he'd been drafted in the second round in 2004, to little fanfare, and spent four seasons in the AHL working on his game, earning brief callups with the 'Hawks before sticking for good at the start of the 2010 season.  The first time his name was mentioned as a trade target was at the trade deadline, when it was rumoured he was one of Marc Bergevin's targets to improve his team, along with Kyle Clifford and Mike Rupp.

Now, he's the flavour of the month, and teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs are stopping just short of tampering by openly courting him, letting team mouthpieces do their bidding in columns and news reports.

"Expect the Red Wings to target Brian Bickell on July 1..." they say, obviating the need for interested GM's to go up to his agent and slip him their phone number on a thousand-dollar bill.

So Marc Bergevin has his work cut out if he wants to add him to the roster.  His asking price went from a Brandon Prust-like contract to double that, and some team is bound to give it to him.

Which begs the question, is he worth that much?  Cautiously, we'll say that it depends.  On the right roster, he could have a tremendous impact, and be worth it if all goes well.

Let's look at Mark Streit, an undersized but slick offensive defenceman who apparently has just scored a four-year, $21M contract from the Flyers.  There is no way he would have been worth this much money or term to the Canadiens, replete as they are with that very type of player.  Mark Streit to us is the proverbial selling ice to the Inuit.  For the Flyers though, as injury-riddled as they were last season, as starved as they were for a puck-mover and powerplay quarterback, he's worth that kind of investment, including the risk an 'over-35' contract carries.  (As an aside, quick, let's trade to the Flyers Yannick Weber for a second-rounder before their tumescence subsides.)

In similar fashion, Brian Bickell may not be worth the contract he'll command to teams like the St. Louis Blues, the L.A. Kings or San Jose Sharks, they're full up to the gills with big bruisers.  They need to round out their rosters with other types of players, and spread their cap hit more evenly.

To teams like the Vancouver Canucks though, adding Brian Bickell to their lineup radically transforms their makeup.  Combine him with a maturing Zack Kassian, a returning David Booth and a healthy Ryan Kesler, and now their forward corps is more imposing, and they have players who can line up with the Sedin brothers and protect them.

Same with the Canadiens.  The relatively smaller lineup would benefit greatly from this injection of size and toughness, it would be a big yank on the steering wheel in a different direction.  To the Canadiens, and the Canucks and the Red Wings, he's worth the premium, because the skillset he brings, the total package, ticks a bunch of needs off the list.

So we need to take the possibility of acquiring Brian Bickell as a free agent in context, taking all factors into account.  Yes, the Canadiens will have to overpay, but maybe Marc Bergevin and Rick Dudley can use their personal knowledge of the young man, because of their time in the Chicago organization, and pitch him like they did with Brandon Prust last season.  They can sell a young improving team, a great hockey town, great facilities, a chance to play a pivotal role instead of being asked to goon it up.  All that'd be missing is a Québécoise girlfriend.  Maybe Mariepier Morin has some friends she can introduce to Brian.

Personally, I don't think it's very likely that Mr. Bickell will end up as a Hab, since Marc Bergevin has been very clear that he wants to build through the draft and not free agency.  His targeted signing of Brandon Prust was comparatively cheap at $2.25M a season, but even that was thought to be an overpayment by analysts and a lot of fans.  The opportunity to 'target' Brian Bickell with such a cheap contract has probably vanished, and he'll be chasing other rabbits on July 1, but let's give it a chance and see how it plays out.

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