Former Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell diagnosed with multiple sclerosis

Terrible news regarding the three-time Stanley Cup champion.

Former Chicago Blackhawks winger Bryan Bickell has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The Carolina Hurricanes, Bickell’s current team, announced the horrible news Friday, which will keep him away from hockey indefinitely.

"First and foremost, the most important thing is for Bryan to take care of himself and our thoughts are with him and his family," Carolina GM Ron Francis said in a statement. "He will need to take some time to rest in the immediate future, and we will support him as he takes the necessary steps for his health. We ask that his privacy be respected during the process.”

Here are Bickell’s words from the statement: “Since the 2015 playoffs, I've been struggling to understand what was going on with my body. Again during the past few weeks, it felt like something wasn't right. Obviously this is a bit of shock for my family and me, but I am hopeful I will be able to return to the ice and continue playing the game that I love."

He also tweeted out appreciation for all the support he’s received.

Bickell has been battling health issues since missing some games during the Blackhawks’ 2015 Stanley Cup run due to unknown head issues. Following the Cup victory, Bickell told reporters he had vertigo, but his agent stated in January 2016 that it was actually an “ocular issue.”

By February, the story had changed again, with his agent saying that it wasn’t vertigo or an ocular issue, but problems with his vestibular system, which helps humans with balance and spatial awareness.

And now, well over a year after Bickell was initially suffering from problems, he’s gotten a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a disease that eats away at the protective covering on nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The damage can cause major nervous system issues, which would help explain all the symptoms Bickell has dealt with over the past 16 months.

There is presently no known cure for multiple sclerosis, although hopefully Bickell can be better treated now that doctors have figured out what’s wrong.

The Blackhawks also released a statement wishing Bickell well:

In June, Chicago traded Bickell and forward Teuvo Teravainen to the Hurricanes for a second-round pick. Bickell, who is only 30 years old, appeared in seven games with Carolina and recorded one goal. Over the course of his 10-year NHL career, he’s recorded 66 goals and 70 assists to go along with three Stanley Cups.

His current four-year contract expires at the end of this season, at which point he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. Given his health issues, and the need to prioritize that over his playing career, it’s unclear whether Bickell will ever be able to play hockey again.