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His future uncertain, Bryan Bickell just happy to be playing again

For the Sun-Times

ROCKFORD, Ill. — There’s plenty for Bryan Bickell to dislike about being in the AHL again.

There’s living in a hotel with his family in Rockford. The bus travel is certainly not as convenient or luxurious as the private jet the Blackhawks take. It’s not the NHL in a lot of ways.

But when it comes down to simply playing hockey, Bickell is happy. And that’s a feeling he hasn’t experienced much of this season when with the Hawks in the NHL.

“I just want to play,” Bickell said after a recent Rockford IceHogs’ morning skate. “Everyone’s going to screw up down the road. Here, I get the minutes and get confidence and have fun. Up there, it wasn’t fun. It was hit or miss. You don’t know if you’re in the lineup or you’re going to play five minutes or play 12 minutes. It was more in my control, but it seemed like it wasn’t. It was a short leash where I couldn’t break through. Hopefully I can break through again.”

Bickell has been through this before, but this time the mountain back to the NHL seems greater, at least while he’s still with the Hawks. Unlike the first time he cleared waivers and was assigned to the AHL earlier this season, he isn’t nearly as optimistic about his future with the organization.

Bickell produced with the IceHogs the last time around and registered seven goals and seven assists in 12 games. His play earned him a return trip to the Hawks, but it didn’t lead to better NHL results. He had two assists in 16 games and never fully gained Hawks coach Joel Quenneville’s confidence again. Bickell’s ice time diminished to around five minutes a game in early January and he was a healthy scratch for four consecutive games before being put on waivers and reassigned to the AHL.
Bickell’s agent Todd Diamond recently said he didn’t believe Bickell’s future was with the Hawks. Bickell concurred.

“Situations like the situation I’m in right now with the year and the past, where it’s trending, you always think about other teams and what I could bring to the game and help out teams wherever,” Bickell said. “I’m always going to be a Hawk. It’s a second home for me. If it comes down to it and the trade rumors come around and if I do get traded, I’m going to do whatever it takes for the team to win. If it’s here, somewhere else or anywhere, I’m just going to do my best to help the team out.”

Bickell said he hasn’t had much dialogue with the organization’s front office. He was unsure whether the Hawks would attempt to buy him out this offseason if a trade doesn’t occur.

“I don’t know if I have any control of getting a buyout,” said Bickell, whose four-year, $16 million contract expires after the 2016-17 season. “I think that’s in their hands. We’re going to go day by day right now.

“I don’t really talk too much. I don’t really ask questions. I just sort of play and let my game kind of predict what’s going to happen. I don’t really know what’s next or what’s the future or whatever.”

Hawks minor league affiliations general manager Mark Bernard, IceHogs coach Ted Dent and a number of the IceHogs players said they were impressed with how Bickell was handling the situation. Bickell has had a goal and two assists in his first four games back in the AHL.

“He’s been awesome,” IceHogs goalie Michael Leighton said. “He’s a great guy. We enjoy having him here. I think if you ask all of us, we all feel he shouldn’t be here. He’s a great player and a great guy. We love to have him here, but obviously for his sake, we’d like to see him up in the NHL whether it’s with Chicago or another organization.”