Author: Mike Halford

Bryan Bickell, Michal Handzus

Goalless Bickell hopes he’s ‘been saving them’ for Stanley Cup Final


TAMPA — The last two postseasons have been pretty, pretty good for Bryan Bickell.

But this year?

Not so much.

The burly power forward has no goals — zero, zilch, nada — after scoring 16 in the previous two playoffs combined, and scoring them consistently; last year, Bickell scored at least one in each of Chicago’s three series and, the year prior, scored three against the Wild, two against the Red Wings, three against the Kings and one (fairly famous one) against the Bruins.

But this spring, nothing. It’s something he wants to change.

“It’s nice to score a goal every once in a while,” Bickell said during Tuesday’s Stanley Cup Final Media Day. “Hopefully I’ve been saving them for this round.”

In the second of a four-year, $16 million deal, Bickell netted that contract — and his $4M average annual salary — largely because of his strong postseason efforts, which allowed fans and media to overlook his routinely pedestrian regular-season efforts. The thinking was that Bickell always showed up in the playoffs, and Chicago would always make them, so all good.

Well, maybe not all good.

Bickell was a healthy scratch on a few occasions this year, an indication that head coach Joel Quenneville wasn’t content to let the 6-foot-4, 223-pounder wait ’til April to start playing. But it was also indicative of the coach understanding what buttons to push; in the aftermath, Bickell acknowledged he occasionally needs motivation, saying the healthy scratch provided a spark. Quenneville admitted it was a tried-and-true tactic.

“Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Quenneville said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “Whether you get their attention or you think they’re going to be better … you want to give yourself a chance to win the next hockey game.”

Unfortunately for both, the tactic isn’t a logical move right now, what with (at most) seven games left in the year. So Bickell and Quenneville will instead rely on repeating the power forward’s mantra:

Use your size, use your body.

“[I have to] do what I’ve been doing the first couple rounds,” Bickell said. “To be physical, to wear down their down D, to get my centerman and winger more space.

“All the pieces are coming together to get to this point as team, and we’re getting our wins. Ultimately, we’re four wins away from winning again.”

A holdover from the ‘dark days,’ does Sharp have a future in Chicago?

Patrick Sharp

TAMPA — The Blackhawks faced plenty of “dynasty” questions on Tuesday, roughly 24 hours prior to making their third Stanley Cup Final appearance in six seasons.

But for Patrick Sharp, the term isn’t in his lexicon.

“I don’t really use that word,” Sharp said during Stanley Cup Media Day. “I just know I’ve been on a good team for a long time. Going back 10 years, Duncs [Duncan Keith], Seabs [Brent Seabrook] and I got started in Chicago, and we’re kind of the last remaining ones from those dark days.”

Sharp, 33, has spent a decade in the Windy City, which predates the arrivals of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Chelsea Dagger and Cup Parades. He’s been around long enough to remember the ‘Hawks not making the playoffs — like when they won just 26 games in 2005-06 under since-forgotten coach Trent Yawney — and when the United Center was more mausoleum than madhouse.

Because of that history, Sharp is more equipped to speak about the Blackhawks’ renaissance than just about anyone. But it’s also sort of telling he’s being asked dynasties and memories now, as both he and his team face an offseason loaded with uncertainty.

Minutes prior to Sharp taking the podium on Tuesday, ‘Hawks GM Stan Bowman was at a different dais, fielding far different questions — ones about the salary cap, and the uncertain future facing his team.

“It’s a challenge,” Bowman explained. “The salary cap, that’s a system we all play under and we’ve been through it before. There’s changes to be made to every team and we’re no different.

“We certainly have expectations that we want to keep this going. The main players are going to be back..”

Which begs the question — is Sharp a main player?

Next year, Toews and Kane will have cap hits of $10 million each. Brandon Saad needs a new deal this summer, and Brent Seabrook the year following. Those financial obligations have led many to speculate that Sharp, who has two years left on his deal at $5.9M per, will be traded this summer as a cap-relief move — not unlike, as Bowman alluded to, the ‘Hawks previously being forced to deal away the likes of Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien due to salary restraints.

More: On Patrick Sharp’s future in Chicago

Sharp knows this part of the game. He was on hand for the Ladd-Versteeg-Byfuglien purge five years ago and, when his name surfaced at last year’s trade deadline, he acknowledged “there’s going to be talk, discussions, rumors” about his future in Chicago. (Prior to this year’s deadline, he was linked in a move to Washington.)

As such, it was not surprising on Tuesday to hear Sharp speak about his entire career with the ‘Hawks — not just the recent championships, that have led to dynasty discussions.

“It became just such a fun ride to be a part of,” he explained. “I don’t look at the past six years and say we’ve been to three Cup Finals — I look at the whole ride in general, and consider myself very lucky to be a part of it.”

Tire pump? Yzerman says Toews is ‘bigger, stronger, better’ than he was

Steve Yzerman

TAMPA — In 2011, Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas brought tire pumping to the forefront at the Stanley Cup Final.

Four years later, the practice may be back in vogue.

During Tuesday’s media availability, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was effusive in his praise for Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, claiming Toews is the superior player of the two.

“The reality is Jonathan’s bigger, stronger, better,” Yzerman said. “He just is. He’s just a tremendous all-around player, great person.

“Over the course of my career my play evolved and through Scotty Bowman. The way he wanted our team to play, we all became more defensive-minded players, more well-rounded players. Jonathan’s been that from day one.”

The Yzerman-Toews comparisons are nothing new (Chris Chelios noted it a while back): No. 19s, Canadians, centers, top-five draft picks (Yzerman fourth overall, Toews third) with each having won Stanley Cups, Olympic gold medals, Selke and Conn Smythe awards.

Yzerman’s point, however, is interesting. The knock on him prior winning the Cup in ’97 was that he didn’t have the complete game necessary to lead the Red Wings to a championship; Yzerman broke into the NHL as an offensive player, a scorer by trade, and his early point totals (155 points in 1988-89, remember) reflected as much.

Toews, meanwhile, isn’t the same offensive dynamo — he’s never broke the 80-point plateau — but attained playoff success far quicker than Stevie Y. Toews was a captain before he turned 21 and Stanley Cup winner before he was 23, whereas Yzerman didn’t hoist Lord Stanley’s Mug until he was 32.

That said… it’s Steve freaking Yzerman.

A first-ballot Hall of Famer and three-time Cup winner, Yzerman is now regarded as one of the greatest leaders in NHL history. He was the longest-serving captain of any team in North American major league sports upon retiring, and is an icon in Detroit. That reputation of winning has extended to his front office work, where he’s led Tampa Bay to an Eastern Conference and Stanley Cup Final in just five years on the job.

And this could be why he said what he did today.

Yzerman’s a shrewd guy, and knows how to work the media. The quiet, humble, aw-shucks-he’s-better-than-me routine fits into the narrative that many have written already, where the Bolts are the young, inexperienced, new kids on the block, underdogs against a Chicago team that’s been here before, done this before and is now looking to win a third Cup in the last five years.

To wit, I asked veteran Tampa forward Brenden Morrow — at 36, one of the few guys in this series to play against both Yzerman and Toews — what he thought of his GM’s remarks.

“They’re both competitors, but that’s just Steve being Steve,” Morrow said, smiling. “He’s a very modest and humble guy.

“He was a pretty special player.”

Video: Does Bishop, the tallest goalie in NHL history, mark ‘wave of the future’ in net?

Ben Bishop

He’s 6-foot-7 off skates and nearly 6-foot-10 with ’em on, earning him the (pretty apt) nickname “Big Ben.”

We’re talking, of course, about Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop, who over the last two seasons has gone from the answer to a trivia question to one of the league’s most dominant shot-stoppers; after last year’s Vezina finalist nod, Bishop is now playing in his first-ever Stanley Cup Final.

On the Dan Patrick Show, NHL on NBC analyst Pierre McGuire talked about Bishop and how he represents a changing of the guard in goal, in which teams are trending towards bigger, taller ‘tenders.

Jets d-man Brouillette signs in Swedish League

San Jose Sharks v Winnipeg Jets

Former Jets and Capitals blueliner Julien Brouillette has signed on with Swedish League outfit Karlskrona, the club announced on Monday.

Brouillette, 28, spent the majority of last season with Winnipeg’s AHL affiliate in St. John’s, appearing in one NHL contest. Previously, he’d made his big-league debut with Washington during the 2013-14 campaign, scoring two points in 10 games.

An undrafted free agent that worked his way up through the minors, Brouillette will now be part of a Karlskrona team recently promoted to the SHL’s top flight. He was set to become a UFA on July 1.