The Chicago Blackhawks are less than thrilled about the returns they’ve been getting since the calendar turned to 2014.
The team has only won four of 13 games in January, and is currently riding a four game losing streak. Many thought last night’s game against the lowly Calgary Flames could shake Chicago out of its funk, but the team instead lost 5-4 in overtime.
There are more than a few people wondering who’s to blame for the Blackhawks’ recent struggles, but a player who’s not helping matters is forward Bryan Bickell. He has just one goal this entire month, and has gone quiet since scoring four in October. For the year, he has just nine points on seven goals and two assists. For those who don’t recall, he was able to easily surpass those totals in last postseason alone, scoring nine goals and 17 points.
Bickell’s struggles resulted in his being scratched for last Sunday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets. Asked how he felt about the benching, it doesn’t sound like Bickell was too surprised.
“It was frustrating, but the way my game’s been going, I feel like I deserved to sit out,” Bickell said. “[Coach Joel Quenneville] wants to get me angry and mad on the ice and bring the physical game.
“I need to do more and get myself more into the game.”
It’s a bit surprising that Bickell has been off his game for the past three months, especially with how pivotal a role he played in his team’s latest Stanley Cup Championship. That said, what happened between winning the Cup and the start of this season may have a hand in Bickell’s slump.
As we all know, Bickell was one of the lucky Blackhawks who was rewarded with a big money contract during the offseason, resigning for four years and $16 million. It was a lot of money for a player who’s never averaged more than 13:50 minutes of ice time per game. Now, the Blackhawks are paying him $4 million a year and just scratched him for being ineffective.
What’s happening with Bickell is nothing new to the NHL. There always seems to be a player or two that severely outperforms their potential in the postseason and earns themselves a fat new contract as a reward. And, every so often, said player buckles a bit under the pressure of the newly raised expectations. Whether or not this is the diagnosis for Bickell isn’t definite, but odds certainly favor it.
Bickell is no longer getting paid third-liner money, a point teammate Patrick Kane made before the regular season started. Obviously, he’ll want to take the ice night after night and prove that he deserved every cent of his new contract. Of course, this can always result in gripping the stick too tightly, so to speak. By trying to do too much and not getting the ideal results, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Bickell’s struggles were starting to get to him.
Overall, it’s a tricky situation. Bickell has to get reengaged and show the effort and results he displayed in the postseason. But he also can’t get overly frustrated if the results don’t show. The weight of his contract isn’t going anywhere, so the only thing Bickell can do is fight his way through his funk and keep trying to rediscover the drive that made him a rich man.