Did One Goal Create the Bickell Pickle?

In the 2013 Stanley Cup run for the Chicago Blackhawks that led to their fifth Stanley Cup, Bryan Bickell was an absolute monster. In 23 playoff games, he tallied 8 assists and 9 goals, including a rather memorable one in Boston in Game Six. The Blackhawks were so smitten with Bickell’s playoff performance that they promptly signed him to a four-year $16 million contract after winning the Cup in 2013. This seemed logical at the time, or did it? Bickell’s regular season stats through the end of 2013 reveal that in 220 games played, he had 50 assists and 40 goals. Nothing more than role player numbers to me, and hardly worth tying up $4 million a year. Maybe the organization thought he was about to enter his prime as a big-bodied, bruising forward with great net front presence.

So how did he do following the signing of the new contract? In the 2013-2014 regular season he scored 11 goals in 59 games played. Not that impressive really. But wait, perhaps he re-signed for his playoff prowess? Well, in the 2014 post season Bickell tallied 7 goals and 3 assists in 19 games. Seems solid enough. While the team fell short of a return to the Cup Final, one would be hard-pressed to blame it on Bickell.

Okay, let’s move on to the Blackhawks championship season of 2014-2015. Bickell played in 80 regular season games last year, recording 14 goals and 14 assists. Again, in sticking with the regular season trend for him mentioned above, these are rather pedestrian numbers.  As for the 2015 playoffs: 18 games played, 5 assists and zero goals. So much for the playoff is his prime time thought process. Reports after the season indicated that Bickell was suffering from Vertigo during the Western Conference Final as well as against Tampa Bay for the Cup. Still, those are rather underwhelming numbers. Given the salary constraints this past summer, it was no surprise Bickell’s name was front and center. Yet, there were no takers and he remained with the team at the start of camp. Absolutely anyone who could read his numbers or watch his play should have been surprised by this result.

Following an underwhelming preseason, Bickell was placed on waivers at the beginning of this October. Most, including Bickell himself, believed it was an attempt to motivate him. Perhaps the Blackhawks were hopeful someone would appreciate his services. If so, then someone isn’t dealing in reality. He cleared waivers, again no surprise, and has started all six games this year.  As for using waivers to motivate his play, Bickell has zero points thus far in 2015-2016. In fact, when asked about Bickell today, Coach Quenneville replied: “I thought his last game was ordinary. Other than that he’s been OK.” To hammer home the definition of “ordinary” and “OK”, Bickell was not even practicing on any of the four lines earlier today.

So what likely options does the team have now?

AHL Demotion –  According to the collective bargaining agreement, the Blackhawks can send Bickell to their AHL affiliate – the Rockford IceHogs – without placing him on waivers again as long as he has not played in 10 regular season games or have been on the roster for 30 days. Tick-tock to say the least. I personally would rather he find his game down with the IceHogs then sit in Coach Q’s doghouse long-term.  Besides, the Blackhawks can then see what Hartman or Dano can do up with the big club.

Trade Now – Bickell is a forward who has proven to have some talent and is a big body in front of the net. The problem with a trade is that most teams don’t want to be saddled with his remaining contract and its $4MM cap hit for the next two years. The only likely way a trade goes down now is if the Blackhawks bite the bullet and retain most of the salary hit. However, that would limit who they could actually get in return.

Healthy Scratch – As of today, the likely scenario whereby Bickell gets benched until (if) he can snap out of his slump.

Regardless of how this gets resolved, the fact of the matter is the Blackhawks put themselves in this mess just as much as Bickell’s poor play is now forcing their hand. I know the easy thing to do is blame the player, but sometimes past history does in fact dictate future performance. The key is not to let one goal, no matter how glorious, put you in such a difficult pickle in the first place.