Chicago Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell has at least one remarkable trait. For a player making just over the league minimum salary, he has the ability to draw the ire of fans like players making far more money.
Bickell has two full seasons of NHL hockey under his belt and is entering the last season of his current deal. On one hand, the 26-year-old wing has provided a lot of value in the first two years of the contract. On the other, there is plenty to cause frustration.
Bickell has been at times a surprising scorer as well as a 6'4", 235-pound invisible man on the ice for the Blackhawks. When he has the opportunity to get it off, he possesses a wicked wrist shot. He can deliver a big hit on occasion and has four goals in the last two postseasons.
Last season, Bickell and his third-line buddies Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik started the season like a house afire. I was among the throng touting them as possibly the best checking line in the league. Through his first 12 games, Bickell had three goals and a pair of assists.
Then came November.
Following a big Halloween goal against Nashville, 23 games and nearly two months passed before Bickell tallied so much as a point. He was a scratch in six of those games, including five in a row to start December.
From November through February 7, when he sat out against Colorado, Bickell's output was a goal and three assists. His season numbers of nine goals and 15 assists saw a noticeable drop from his 17-goal, 20-assist effort in his rookie season.
In some ways, Bickell was a victim of his own success. Expectations may have been a little high in terms of his goal scoring abilities. I was stunned at how prolific he was in 2010-11. That said, he certainly underwhelmed for stretches of last season.
Fans expecting Bickell to replace the departed Troy Brouwer were predisposed to being let down. Bickell can be a physical player, but it was GM Stan Bowman's fault that Brouwer's game wasn't replaced, not Bickell.
As spring approached, Bickell heated up a bit in his point production, with 13 of his 24 points coming in the last two months. Bickell also got a lot of scoring opportunities started by winning a board battle or collecting a loose puck.
What are we to expect from Bickell in a contract year? I think a successful season for him is a 12-goal, 18-assist campaign. In other words, somewhere in between a surprising and a disappointing season.
We can always hope that Bickell makes his way to the net more consistently and that he can avoid the ire of coach Joel Quenneville throughout the season. Bickell is presumably looking to earn a bigger payday as a UFA next summer. Let's hope that carrot propels him to a solid performance in 2012-13.
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