Bryan Bickell finally ran out of second chances.
The Blackhawks on Monday sent their struggling, $16-million power forward down to Rockford of the AHL and recalled 20-year-old Marko Dano. After they couldn’t find any takers for him in the trade market over the summer, the Hawks tried just about everything to light a fire under Bickell — scratching him, sending him through waivers, and putting him on the top line. But in seven games, Bickell failed to register a point and only put five shots on goal.
He cleared waivers last month, and had the Hawks waited any longer to demote him, he would have had to clear again. Bickell hasn’t been in the AHL since the 2009-10 season, when he spent most of the season there before coming up for the Hawks’ Stanley Cup run (he played just four games that postseason).
“It’s always a tough day when you tell a guy like Bicks, who’s been around a while, that he’s got to go down,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “That’s the business we’re in. I don’t think he was happy. I think when he went on waivers that day, he knew that this day could happen. And it happened. So he was obviously disappointed.”
NHL teams can’t bury contracts in the minors, so the Hawks will only get $950,000 of salary-cap relief by demoting Bickell. He’ll still count as $3.05 million against the cap.
Bickell earned his four-year, $16-million contract after his superb performance in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, when he had nine goals and eight assists in 23 games. He was strong again in the 2014 playoffs, with seven goals, but after another inconsistent regular season (14 goals, 14 assists), he struggled mightily in the 2015 postseason, with no goals and five assists in 18 games. He also had been battling vertigo since the Stanley Cup Final, though Bickell said that hasn’t been an issue lately.
“There’s been ups and downs — healthy scratches to kind of spark me,” Bickell said after he was sent through waivers last month. “This is maybe a [motivation] to really show that I really want to be here and I don’t want to leave, and play like I used to play, and be a physical presence on the ice. That’s what I think we need and I need to bring it every night.”
But he didn’t, and now he’ll have to find his game in Rockford. When asked what he wants to see out of Bickell before he can be recalled, Quenneville simply said, “Consistency.”
Dano was a key part of the Brandon Saad trade, a promising young forward with loads of potential. In 35 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last year, he had eight goals and 13 assists. He shined during training camp at Notre Dame, but struggled during the preseason and was sent back to Rockford to shore up his defensive game and his understanding of the Hawks’ system.
“I understand it,” Dano said of being cut from camp. “I felt like I hadn’t done that well to make the team. There were better guys who played better than me. So I understand it. It happened last year in Columbus, and now I know what to do and just kept working, and now I’m back.”
He’ll skate on a line with Tanner Kero and Ryan Hartman tonight. The three of them played together in Rockford a little more than a week ago, and Hartman was Dano’s roommate. They’re hoping some instant chemistry can help break the Hawks’ stagnant offense out of its recent funk.
“We all fed off each other,” Hartman said. “We all play different styles, but we had good chemistry. We had a couple goals in Rockford, so hopefully we can continue that.”