Dec 29, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell (29) checks Nashville Predators defenseman Seth Jones (3) during the third period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Suffice it to say, for several years now, Hawks Nation has been somewhat perplexed that a highly-talented team such as our beloved Chicago Blackhawks that is coached by Joel Quenneville, who notoriously demands multi-faceted abilities from his players, that a seemingly one-dimensional player like Daniel Carcillo even has a place on the roster.
While the asset vs. liability balance is always delicate with these players like Car Bomb, like it or not the Blackhawks need a Daniel Carcillo. We all know the Hawks’ success hinges on possession play dictated by their very talented offensive core. Unfortunately, other teams know this as well, and they also know how to disrupt this system: physicality. To beat the Hawks, you need to throw them off their game by hitting them hard and often.
Thus, players like Carcillo act as a bit of an insurance policy to allow the Blackhawks to operate by providing repercussions to any opponent that adopts a physical game plan. This role of enforcer is easily filled because of the ample amount of NHL players that fit the bill. John Scott, Brandon Bollig, and Jamal Mayers are just a handful of players that have filled that niche for the Hawks in the recent years.
While the enforcer role may be easy and essential to fill for the Hawks, there is an upgraded version of this type of player that can provide all the benefits of an enforcer, and much more. I’m talking here about what is traditionally referred to as a shutdown forward, and the Hawks have already benefitted greatly from perhaps the greatest shutdown forward in the league right now: Dave Bolland.
Jun 15, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Dave Bolland (36) yells at Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) during the second period in game two of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
Bolland is not a physically imposing player, nor will you find him in many highlight-reel hits or fights. But during his tenure with the Blackhawks, Bolland’s physical ability to ruffle the feathers of other teams’ top forwards and disrupt their gameplay was so effective it earned him the nickname “The Rat.” Furthermore, Bolland accomplished this without spending significant time in the penalty box. Bolland’s expertise in physical harassment not only disrupted other teams’ offensive production, but also made him a target for these teams’ enforcer players, inadvertently taking pressure of the Hawks’ top scorers.
Oh, and did I mention Bolland could also score? Hawks Nation will always remember Bolland’s goal in 17 Seconds, but that was merely the exclamation point at the end of a very productive offensive career in Chicago.
Given all the aforementioned, I think it’s pretty obvious the Blackhawks need another Dave Bolland. While this isn’t a new concept for the Hawks, I broach the subject now because there is a Hawks player showing incredible potential in becoming a Bolland-esque shutdown forward, and a lot more, this season.
No, it’s not Andrew Shaw, though that’s a good guess. Shaw’s certainly proven that like Bolland, he has a penchant for gritty intimidation while also finding ways to put the puck in the net when needed. However, at 23 years old, Shaw still has some maturing to do as a player to really become an effective shutdown forward, because as of now, his Tasmanian devil-style recklessness carries with it liability, both to himself and his team. There’s no doubt the Blackhawks will reap these benefits from Shaw in the near future, but I don’t see it happening this year.
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The candidate I’m referring to here for shutdown forward is none other than Bryan Bickell. As you are likely aware, the high points of Bickell’s career as a Blackhawk has been filing in the void left by Dustin Byfuglien: using his big body to camp out on the crease and tip in goals during the playoffs.
Bickell excelling in this capacity earned him a nice contract, but apparently, the Blackhawks’ brass are expecting more for such a hefty price tag, and it appears Bickell has gotten the message.
There is one aspect of Bickell’s game this year that has changed from years prior: his hit totals. As of this post, Bickell’s team-leading body check total has him at 28th overall in the NHL. In years prior, Bick wasn’t even in the top 30 for the season. This should come as no surprise though. The one very noticeable difference in Bickell’s game this season is that he’s finishing his checks, especially in the corners, and playing the man over the puck much more often.
Bottom line, Bickell has demonstrated he’s willing to be physical. The question now is whether he’s willing to take that physicality to the next level. This doesn’t mean becoming the next Brandon Bollig or heaven forbid, John Scott. It simply means Bick putting certain numbers of opposing players in the back of his head and giving them a little extra tender loving next time they’re on the ice together. In other words, Bickell needs to take a page out of the Book of Bolland.
While he may not have the squirrelly harassments skills possessed by Bolland, at 6’ 4” and 233 lbs. Bickell obviously has a far greater advantage when comes to physical intimidation. Bick just needs to demonstrate to opponents he’s willing to use it. It’s just a matter of getting the message across. A quick glove to the face or a sharp whack in the back of the skates is all Bickell would need to tell the Dustin Brown, David Backes, and Milan Lucic’s of the NHL you’re on my radar and if you take a run at my teammate, you’re getting run over.
Bickell’s ability to embrace this role is also dependent on the Blackhawks’ coaching staff willingness to give him the proper opportunities by lining him up with such players, the way they did with Dave Bolland. Once again though, Bick has demonstrated he can be physical, now it’s time for Coach Q to give him the chance to take that physicality to the shutdown forward level.
Bryan Bickell has already demonstrated his ability to grow into a role the Hawks needed him to fill; now’s the time to see if he can grow into yet another.
FOR THE DAGGER!