Over the Olympic break, I will do a daily review of a single Chicago Blackhawks player and give him a grade based on his season to date. Let’s start it off with the oft-maligned third line winger, Bryan Bickell.
Bickell began the season on Chicago’s top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in an attempt to continue where the trio left off last spring. Despite the high quality linemates, Bickell’s offensive game disappointed to the tune of a mere one assist in the first seven games of the year. His play picked up noticeably after being moved down to the third line, and he put together a four-game goalscoring streak that spanned eight days. Following this, however, was another extended slump; after the four-game run concluded, Bickell collected only one point over his next 11 games.
Following those 11 was a knee injury that forced Bickell out of the lineup for approximately a month. Upon his return, the offensive production remained and remains stagnant — Bickell has picked up just four points in his last 21 games, and only five in his past 32.
Nevertheless, this is where the tone changes. Despite Bickell’s problems, his goals per 82 essentially matches his established career norm. The complaints about his offense, then, stem largely from his lack of assists. This is nonsensical on two levels.
First, Bickell has and never will be a playmaker. His passing ability is definitively below average; he much prefers to fire a powerful wrist shot on net when entering the offensive zone with possession. Ask yourself: Is this not sensible? His best asset while on the attack is his shot and his size, and he’s evidently been quite consistent as far as the latter is concerned. To blame Bickell for not creating enough off the pass is analogous to throwing vitriol Patrick Kane’s way for not providing Selke-caliber defense.
Second, assists are influenced by the play of teammates more than any other offensive statistic. A quick look at Bickell’s PDO (on-ice save percentage plus shooting percentage) reveals that he has been the most unlucky player on Chicago’s roster, and it hasn’t been particularly close. A PDO of 946 as Bickell has is nearly unheard of in a full season. His assist totals are down because, frankly, his teammates simply haven’t been doing their jobs.
While Bickell’s offensive numbers are unimpressive, there are clearly some hidden factors that we must take into account when evaluating his performance. Still, good and bad luck are part of performance, and while I believe it would be silly to completely blame a player for it one way or another, Bickell cannot be entirely absolved either.
Final verdict: D+.
Bickell’s goal numbers may be on par with his norm, but a good deal more than this was expected of him after the new contract signed last June.