Bryan Bickell has been one of the more frustrating entities on this Chicago Blackhawks team in the last several years, even before he signed his lucrative four-year deal, which was earned thanks to his incredible postseason performance in 2013.
He still has yet to really justify that contract, and with every night that he's invisible, his future with this team becomes a bit more unclear. While that may seem like a dramatic statement, the cash-strapped Hawks may have no choice but to consider opening Bickell up to the highest bidder -- probably not this season, but possibly next summer. First, though, he could get a wakeup call from the coaching staff, in the way that he has in seasons past: by way of invitation to the press box.
It wouldn't be a surprise to see Joel Quenneville grant Bickell a one-night stay in suiting up with a jacket and tie, especially given the inconsistency we've seen through six games. The sample size questions always comes into play with early struggles, but the trends we're seeing from Bickell are exactly what has been observed in the last couple of years, meaning that this concern isn't based on just six games to start the year.
Through six games on the year, Bickell has three points, including a goal and two assists. He's a plus-2 and has 12 hits in the year, as he attempts to establish himself as a consistently physical player. It's important to note, however, that two of those three points came against the Philadelphia Flyers, in the one game that he truly stood out. Also coming during that game were six of his hits, representing half of his total on the year. He was fantastic against Philly, before disappearing against the Nashville Predators on Thursday and finding himself stapled to the bench late in the game.
His possession numbers on the year aren't bad, just as they weren't bad last year during the regular season when he was quiet on the stat sheet. He was up over 71 percent in Corsi% on Thursday night, and has hovered around 50 in three of the first six games this season, having yet to fall into the negative side of things. So there's an apparent positive here, at least.
However, consistency on the stat sheet has been an issue for Bickell throughout his career, and it has frustrated the coaching staff, to the point where he's served as a healthy scratch on multiple occasions, even last year after he signed that large contract. And as early as it is, Quenneville's handling of Bickell against Nashville gives a pretty clear indication of his frustration with him, even early on. So what do they do to spark the most physical forward in their lineup?
The first solution will likely to be scratch him. If he has another game like he did against Nashville, he'll end up in the press box for a game as Quenneville sends a message. That is likely the most obvious and likely route. What happens then, at that point, if he continues to struggle in finding consistent production? We don't know. He's not going to be traded during the season, if at any point. So that discussion is off the table. Just how do the Hawks get Bickell going?
Perhaps put him in a situation where he has demonstrated success in the past? In fact, playing next to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane is what earned Bickell that massive contract. Of course, Quenneville has been hesitant to put Toews and Kane next to each other at all, so who knows when we might actually see that transpire.
The bottom line is this: six games or not, Bryan Bickell needs to discover some sort of consistency for the Blackhawks. Even with decent Corsi numbers, he has yet to justify that contract. Long term, he could be playing himself out of Chicago, but our concern is the immediate future which could point to Bickell heading directly towards healthy scratch status. This is going to be a situation worth monitoring as the year wears on.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.