It appears that the oft-maligned Bryan Bickell will be out of the lineup once again in San Jose. He is presently mired in one of the most trying stretches of his career. Many Blackhawks fans claim to see a player struggling badly at both ends of the ice.
Some have questioned his effort. I find this absurd; my qualms with labeling players as “lazy” aside, it seems that many are forgetting that Bickell is playing through two knee injuries. Yes, two – not only the one he sustained on November 19th against Colorado, but also the one that occurred late in last season’s playoff run… which, incidentally, was to his other knee. Bickell was forced to wear two knee braces for an extended period this year, but he has been able to shed one of them in the past few weeks.
Why Bryan Bickell Deserves Everyone’s Patience
Fans and Blackhawks coaches alike need to give Bryan Bickell a break. One weak knee is difficult on its own; two of them only exacerbates the situation. This is something that can only be solved by allowing him to adjust to it in game action. Bickell is not going to return to the ice a miraculously improved player simply because Joel Quenneville decided to sit him down for a few games. The same problems will still exist, because the dip in Bickell’s play has nothing to do with effort.
On that note, there is a nonsensical narrative being woven about just how much he is struggling on the ice. His skating is clearly not what it usually is – that I will not debate – but Bickell’s offensive game is much the same as ever. He is scoring approximately the same number of goals per 60 minutes as his career norm, and has a strong relative Corsi rating to go with it. Indeed, the only production-related difference in Bickell this season has been in his assists per 60 minutes, which have declined. But is that really something to blame him for? Playmaking and passing are not exactly his most outstanding traits to begin with; if Bickell is notching assists at significantly below his norm, that probably has more to do with his teammates’ finishing ability than anything else. Or perhaps it’s attributable to bad puck luck?
So, to sum: Bryan Bickell has an injury to each of his knees which have combined to limit him. Nevertheless, his production has been more than acceptable; indeed, with even average luck this season, he might very well have been putting up the best numbers of his career notwithstanding the knee issues.
Bickell is being scratched despite the injuries having healed all that they can for now (presumably). He will need to learn how to play through them, at least for this season – that is the simple reality.
That’s not going to happen from the press box.
Follow Sean Sarcu on Twitter: @seansarcu