It wasn’t supposed to work out this way, but the Chicago Blackhawks are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Aside from the expected contributions of stars Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks’ have a boatload of secondary scoring. Two of those said players, Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell, are in each other’s position, and it’s not sitting well with Blackhawks fans.
They don’t call him the “Man-child” for nothing. At only 21 years of age, Brandon Saad has already become a key cog in the Blackhawks’ offense. He is entering his sophomore season in the NHL after gaining a ton of confidence in 2013, playing full-time in the NHL ever since game 2 of the season. Saad quickly became one of the league’s best rookies, and improved his skill-set exponentially, playing on the ‘Hawks top line for most of the season.
Saad has carried that momentum into the 2013-14 season, and after spending the beginning of the year on the third line, he is now a top-six forward within the organization. He currently has 5 goals and 8 assists, on pace for a 50-point year. He is averaging 17:09 of TOI/game, and has collected a +8 rating through 21 games.
Bryan Bickell was the story of last year’s post-season. As soon as the puck dropped on the Blackhawks’ first round series against Minnesota, Bickell was there, scoring the overtime winner in Game One, and kept it going throughout the entire run, finishing by tying Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals, beginning the greatest 17 seconds of hockey history. Bickell’s tires were pumped by analysts and broadcasters alike during that period, as he was set to become a free-agent, but eventually re-signed with the Blackhawks to a four-year, $16 million deal.
Bickell came into the 2013-14 year flat, with just one point in his first seven games. Bickell seemed to regain that playoff form shortly after, scoring four goals in four games, but since then has only registered a goal in 10 games, with the Blackhawks winning eight of those. Bickell’s scoring inconsistency remains to be a huge problem, and he was demoted to third-line duty.
When looking at the Blackhawks’ lineup from a chemistry standpoint, Saad seems like the perfect fit. He brings skill and speed to the top line that complements that of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane very well, but he does not leave the offense top-heavy. Bickell, whose physical, gritty style of play has been consistent in the first 21 games, just can’t buy a goal, even when he’s making $4 million this year. Now alongside recent pickup Kris Versteeg and the newly signed Andrew Shaw, the Blackhawks’ third line will cost them $8 million next year. Saad will likely become an RFA, but Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman would be crazy to let him go.
One of two things need to happen in the future for this Bickell/Saad situation to work out:
- Bickell starts putting the puck in the net, gets bumped back up inside the top six, Saad drops back down to the third line, where everyone expected him to be anyway
- Bickell continues to struggle while Saad continues to thrive, the Blackhawks lose salary cap space on a player they overpaid for, and could possibly shop Bickell on the trade market
Bickell is a well-liked figure within Chicago confines, and the first option would be much easier on the hearts of Blackhawks fans everywhere. Saad will have many years ahead, and if they continue to be in a ‘Hawks sweater, he will be a top-six forward in the next couple of years anyway. Bickell can regain his net-front presence, and become a great complement to the speed of his line-mates, whether that is Toews or Brandon Pirri, Sharp or Marian Hossa.
The fact of the matter is that these problems are great issues to deal with, and the Blackhawks remain atop the entire league going into Tuesday night’s action. With no need for immediate change, this trivial matter is overblown, and the perfectionists that are Chicago Blackhawks fans cry out for change. Stay the course, people, this Blackhawks ship isn’t going down anytime soon, whether Bryan or Brandon is on the top line.
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