Blackhawks' Bickell working to find his place in NHL
Feature NFL running backs who get 8, 10 or 12 carries in a game never get into a rhythm.
It's when they hit that 20th, 22nd, 25th carry that yards start coming in bigger and bigger chunks. It happens because the defense wears down and because the RB get in the flow of the game.
They've found their rhythm.
That premise also holds in hockey. Few players, if any, make meaningful contributions in 5-8 minutes on the ice.
Yet, that's the playing time level Bryan Bickell was getting after he was called up to the Blackhawks on Dec. 5. Bickell played in 16 games for the Hawks, but eclipsed 12 minutes of ice time just three times.
His last five games: 6:47, 8:42, 5:39, 5:14, 5:33.
After that last game on Jan. 8, the Hawks had seen enough and sent Bickell to Rockford for the second time this season. On Saturday, after the IceHogs beat the Chicago Wolves 4-2 at Allstate Arena, Bickell acknowledged it was difficult to show the coaches much in limited playing time, but he understands their perspective as well.
"It's tough to get into games and keep your mind into it and your legs into it," Bickell said. "Those five minutes, or whatever minutes I was getting, he (coach Joel Quenneville) wanted me to do the best with them. I guess I didn't, so that's why I'm here. I'm down here playing, having fun. …
"It's another chapter in the book. I'm just gonna look forward and go from there."
The first five seasons in Bickell's NHL novel read pretty well. The CliffNotes version:
• He scored 17 goals as a rookie in 2010-11.
• He scored 3 goals in 2013 Western Conference finals, then became part of Blackhawks lore by tying Game 6 of the NHL Final in Boston. Seventeen seconds later, Dave Bolland scored the game-winner.
• Then Bickell scored 7 goals in 19 postseason games in 2014.
• And finally, he had an up-and-down 14-goal regular season in 2014-15.
That's when author Stephen King apparently took over this story. Bickell, who didn't score in 18 postseason appearances last year, started having problems with his vision and he missed all but one of the Stanley Cup Final games.
Things didn't get better over the summer and still hadn't improved much by training camp. After treatment, Bickell's vision finally returned to normal around mid-November.
"One of my eyes was offset," Bickell said. "So it was hard to follow pucks and turn your head and catch the play. …
"I'm happy it's gone. It was kind of frustrating. In the finals, you want to play hockey. You didn't get a chance because you didn't want to hurt yourself or hurt your team."
Bickell looked pretty good Saturday night, taking 6 shots on goal (3 in a 15-second flurry) and assisting on the IceHogs' first score. In the 13 games of Bickell's second stint with Rockford, the big man has 3 goals and 6 assists.
"The first maybe five, seven games he came down the second time he wasn't doin' a whole lot," said Ted Dent, Rockford's coach. "But I think he's gotten in a groove here the last three or four games. He's playing better hockey -- shooting the puck and finishing checks."
So now what?
Bickell still has a year remaining on his contract, one that carries a $4 million cap hit when he's in the NHL ($3.05 million when he's in the AHL). It's no secret the Hawks have been trying to trade Bickell for some time, but that's a lot of money for a 29-year-old forward who hasn't scored an NHL goal since April 7, 2015.
Still, a fresh start might be exactly what Bickell needs to write a few more chapters in his NHL career.
"A fresh start? Yeah, I still think I've still got at least a handful of good years left in me," Bickell said. "I had an opportunity to work my way up and play a handful of years with the Hawks. You can say those were pretty good years. I wouldn't want it any other way. It was a good run. …
"If it's somewhere else, maybe a fresh start would be nice. It's just a waiting game now."
• Follow John's reports on Twitter@JohnDietzdh.