A complete franchise turnaround as dramatic and swift as the one the Chicago Blackhawks have pulled off over the last six years doesn't happen for one reason in particular.
It's been because of an incredible touch in the draft — from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford. It's been been because of prudent salary cap decisions that were never easy to make — from the free agent signing of Marian Hossa to the way the team traded many crucial cogs from the 2010 Stanley Cup team while still maintaining talent and flexibility.
Many people in Chicago even want to credit John McDonough, the team president whose arrival and branding takeover coincided with the time when Kane and Toews were coming into their own.
When the Blackhawks are really rolling, though, like they were in the playoffs on their way to the Cup in 2010 and 2013, there's something more subtle propping them up. It's easy to focus on the star power for a team with as many big font headliners as the Blackhawks, but surviving something as grueling and tense as the NHL playoffs requires a total team effort.
The Blackhawks don't reach their ceiling unless the players at the floor of the roster are firing on all cylinders, too. Depth has been a common thread on both Cup teams, and Wednesday's 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild to give Chicago a 3-2 series lead showcased it once again.
Yes, we're talking about Bryan Bickell.
Bickell scored his sixth goal of the playoffs in the second period to tie up a game the 'Hawks were seemingly being out-played in at the time. Minnesota came out smoking in the first period before Chicago finally remembered how to control the puck and get it on net in the second period. For Bickell, getting the puck to the net is only thing he needs to do his job.
Hockey is that easy, sometimes: get a big body in front of the goalie, fire shots and see if he can tip one in. That's exactly how Bickell scored on Wednesday, this time off a laser from Kane. It's how Bickell scores almost of all his goals, really. Now he's tied for the lead in the playoffs with six goals — more than Zach Parise, Anze Kopitar, P.K. Subban and all of his more touted teammates on the 'Hawks.
It's incredible for two reasons: a) he did this exact same thing in the playoffs last year, and b) Bickell's underwhelming regular season performance makes him look an albatross contract on a team that's constantly massaging the salary cap.
A year ago, Bickell came out of nowhere to be an unlikely playoff hero. After scoring nine goals in 48 games during the regular season, he scored nine goals in 23 games during the playoffs, and finished second on the team with 17 points. It was enough to convince the 'Hawks to give him a four-year $16 million contract. It didn't take very long to make that seem like a foolish signing.
Bickell finished this regular season with 15 points in 59 games. His goal in Game 5 gave him nine points in 11 games during this postseason.
Is this type of unlikely playoff success sustainable? Is it mostly luck? Can the Blackhawks keep counting on Bickell moving forward, or would they be better off to move him in the offseason with Toews and Kane both up for extensions soon?
It's another difficult decision for the Blackhawks, but that's nothing new at this point. The Blackhawks have traded away a big bodied playoff hero from a Stanley Cup team once before, and no one in Chicago is currently complaining about the decision to deal Dustin Byfuglien. Bickell's game is very similar, and so are the results. The Blackhawks will take it, even if it's no sure thing this is the version of Bickell they'll get the rest of this series and beyond.
The 'Hawks have so much talent that making the playoffs is unlikely to be a concern anytime soon. They will be there. If Chicago wants to win another Cup and make itself something close to a modern day dynasty, it's going to need to keep getting contributions from role players.
That's the double-edged sword of Bickell: he's fully arrived right now, but no one is sure how long it will last.