Whether he knows it or not, Bryan Bickell is too old for this.
At 29, the veteran Blackhawks forward shouldn’t need coach Joel Quenneville to bench him to shake Bickell out of whatever funk he’s in. But it seems to work, eventually. And that beats not working at all.
After being a healthy scratch Sunday night against the Rangers — a dubious position for a player with a $4 million salary cap hit — Bickell skated on the third line with Brad Richards and Patrick Sharp when the Hawks (39-21-6, 84 points) practiced in preparation for Thursday night’s game against the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale, Ariz. The benching is a penalty he’s almost too eager to pay.
“I think it does spark me,” Bickell said. “I don’t want to say I wished he scratched me earlier. But it seems like it happens every year and it kind of gets me fired up on what I need to do late in the season. I think that’s [Quenneville’s] tactic for getting me going. Hopefully it works.”
Not even Quenneville knows which button works best when it comes to motivating the talented but enigmatic Bickell. Otherwise he’d push the right one a lot sooner. In fact, it sounded like the most recent benching wasn’t even a motivational tack. Quenneville just wants the best players on the ice.
“Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Quenneville said. “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.
“As a coach you’re sometimes in a real short-term business. That’s where we’re at. As a player, you’ve got to find a way.”
The 6-4, 233-pound Bickell has scored 11 goals and 24 points in 65 games this season. He has one goal and no assists in his last 12 games. He has two goals and three points in his last 19.
“With Bickell we always talk about that consistency,” Quenneville said. “Just simplify your game and get on the body, get pucks to the net, get the puck moving forward.
“He’s more efficient being as simple as you can make the game. Nailing it is something we want … where every game you bring it. We’re trying to get him to do the same thing and he’s trying to do it as well. It’s a work in progress. I would never say that we had it nailed.”
It’s kind of the same old story for Bickell — it’s all in his head. Asked if he looked at film to analyze his game, he said, “I just need to go back in my head and remember what works for me, to be on the forecheck and be physical; open space up and be a presence physically. It’s important for me to do that for this team.
“I think it’s a re-start button where he’s given me a little slap on the wrist to keep me [focused] on what I need to do.”
The sooner the better, because Bickell is no longer a luxury, especially with the Hawks struggling to score goals with Patrick Kane out with an injury.
“We’re looking for some guys to step up,” Quenneville said.
Bickell could be the guy. But he could not. Nobody really knows what makes Bickell tick.
“I don’t know,” Bickell said when asked what it is that snaps him out of it. “He [Quenneville] gets me really mad. I think I play better mad. For him to get me pissed off [and] take me out of the lineup … hopefully it doesn’t happen again and I give him reason to keep me in the lineup. I need to be better, that’s all.”