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Chicago Blackhawks: Bryan Bickell Clears Waivers

By Colin Likas

The 24-hour Bryan Bickell saga came to an end Saturday morning without the left wing being claimed by another team, leaving the Chicago Blackhawks with a decision to make in the near future.

Bickell was placed on waivers by the Blackhawks on Friday morning following an exodus of younger players from the preseason roster, getting the team closer to the 23-player threshold. But they quickly followed those maneuvers with Bickell’s waiver move, which was met with some surprise.

The fact no one took a chance on Bickell doesn’t mean he must immediately go to the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate in Rockford. The team has until opening night to get its roster to 23 players, so it’s no problem that they’re at 25 right now. There’s even the chance Bickell never gets sent to the AHL, and it sounds as though they currently have no plans to do so.

Goaltender Michael Leighton will eventually be sent to Rockford, leaving the roster at 24 players. Two defensemen, Michal Rozsival and Kyle Cumiskey, are both dealing with injury issues, and either or both could start the season on injured reserve. If just one does, Leighton’s ouster will set the Blackhawks’ roster. If they both hit IR, someone else could come up, probably a forward since the Blackhawks currently have 13.

Of course, Bickell could go down to Rockford — it’s not impossible — or he could go on injured reserve himself. While he has played in the preseason, probably a precursor to putting him on waivers in an effort to make him appealing to other teams, he’s publicly stated he’s still feeling the symptoms of vertigo that plagued him in the 2015 postseason. If that’s the case, the Blackhawks will probably have a few young Rockford guys on speed dial.

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These recent events may create a bit of an awkward relationship between Bickell and the team moving forward. Not in a while have we seen a player so openly shopped by his club ahead of a season. It’s very clear the Blackhawks have a major issue with Bickell’s contract considering what they’re getting from the player. We could say this will motivate Bickell to play better, but it’s not as though he’s playing so far below his ability level. A lot of what we’ve seen from Bickell since his $4 million per season cap hit took effect is his ability level. He’s a third- or fourth-liner at best who was made a lot better playing alongside Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. A ton of players can say they played well alongside those three stars. Bickell was the one who parlayed it into a healthy contract.

And now the Blackhawks want that contract off the books as the salary cap continues to constrict movements to actually improve the team. It’s pretty straightforward, but that doesn’t mean Bickell has to be OK with it. We’ll see how that plays out moving forward, especially if he stays in Chicago as the regular season gets going.

An interesting side note to this: The Edmonton Oilers were reportedly interested in Bickell ahead of the Blackhawks moving him to waivers and almost moved on him for defenseman Nikita Nikitin. While that didn’t happen, Nikitin was placed on waivers just minutes before Bickell cleared them. Might the Blackhawks still target Nikitin now? They’d have to do some interesting maneuvering, so we’ll wait and see.

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