By Scott Powers
For the Sun-Times
Bryan Bickell had hoped to never see Rockford again.
Bickell’s wish was ruined by the Blackhawks and the rest of the league on Sunday. No team claimed Bickell off waivers prior to the Sunday morning deadline, and he was later reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL for the second time this season.
The Blackhawks save $950,000 of Bickell’s $4 million cap hit by moving him to the AHL. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville did not anticipate anyone being recalled in Bickell’s place.
The question now is what all of this means for Bickell’s future with the Hawks.
“If we are watching things with our eyes open, it’s pretty clear that I would say his future is likely not with the Blackhawks,” said Todd Diamond, Bickell’s agent. “Hopefully, we can work out a trade. Stan [Bowman] is open to that. But making trading these days in the NHL can be a time-consuming process where in the past you could just move bodies around much easier. Now it’s not just a hockey trade, but it’s also a financial trade. Sometimes it just takes time. For some teams, every day counts towards the cap. Sometimes it can take a couple days or it can take months.”
Bickell had been reassigned to the IceHogs in October after struggling early in the season. He was highly productive in Rockford, generating seven goals and seven assists in 12 games and earned his way back to the Hawks in December. But since being recalled, he had zero goals and two assists in 16 games, and his ice time continue to dwindle. He had played less than six minutes in his last three games.
Bickell, who did not participate in the Sunday’s morning skate, recently expressed frustration about his play and admitted playing so few minutes made it harder to get into a rhythm.
Quenneville said Bickell’s demotion came down to his lack of performance, but he wouldn’t write off Bickell returning to the Hawks, or getting back to the player that earned him a four-year, $16 million deal after the 2013 Stanley Cup run.
“The opportunity, if it’s there, it’s there,” Quenneville said. “You got to earn it. Sometimes it’s on a merit basis; sometimes it’s on health reasons as well. I don’t want to deny him an opportunity to get back here and play and help us. I still think he has that ability. How far away that is to be seen.
“We know he has a lot of good assets to his game as far as his skill sets. He can shoot the puck, can skate, physical. That physical part of his game helps him come up with loose pucks, helps him get to the net in battle areas, having the puck-moving forward, spending more time in the offensive zone.”
Andrew Shaw, one of Bickell’s closest friends on the team, said he’s tried to be there for Bickell and was optimistic Bickell could benefit from another stint with the IceHogs.
“You talk to him as much as you can,” Shaw said. “Sometimes you want to be left alone, and you got to give him space as well. When he needs someone to talk to, I’m there for him. Like I said, you’ve got to look at the positives. He’s going to go down there, he’s going to play, he’s going to get ice time and improve his game.”
Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said he understood how difficult the situation has been for Bickell, going from being a key contributor to where he is now.
“It’s tough,” Toews said. “Hurts your confidence, you know, when you’ve kind of had a lot of success, a lot of opportunity over a number of years and all of a sudden it’s taken away from you. That’s a tough thing to overcome and battle through, but he’s a professional. He’s doing his best to do that.”
Said Diamond: “He’s a professional. He comes to work early. He leaves late. He works hard. It’s just to take that same attitude to wherever it may be. Obviously we believe he’s an NHL player, and hopefully the future will show that we were absolutely correct. The time with the Blackhawks has been great. Who knows what’s going to happen as we lead up to the trade deadline and playoffs? But Bryan has always been a member of the team and obviously hoped he would be there his entire career. It doesn’t maybe seem like the case right now, but time will tell.”