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Chicago Blackhawks: 3 Dano-Bickell Move Implications

By Colin Likas

Well, the Chicago Blackhawks finally scored more than one goal in their most-recent game, Saturday against the Minnesota Wild, racking up four in a 5-4 setback. But Joel Quenneville and Co. were far from satisfied with that output, as today’s moves indicate. This morning, longtime left winger/healthy scratch Bryan Bickell was sent to Rockford for the first time since 2010, while Marko Dano received a call-up to play alongside some of his former AHL teammates.

For Blackhawks fans, these call-ups from the minors have been fast and furious of late. In the last week, we’ve seen Vincent Hinostroza sent down after a four-game stint, followed by the promotion of Tanner Kero, Erik Gustafsson, Ryan Hartman and now Dano, to go along with Bickell’s demotion. This roster looks very, very different from the one that closed out Chicago’s third Stanley Cup win in six seasons.

But what does it mean moving forward? I’ll talk more about how these latest two moves impact the forward lines in my preview post ahead of today’s tilt against Los Angeles. Fair warning, the lines that you’ll reportedly see tonight probably won’t be around much longer than that, as the injured Marian Hossa may be ready to roll by Wednesday’s game against St. Louis.

Here are three immediate takeaways from the Dano call-up and Bickell demotion:

May 27, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell (29) skates into Anaheim Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen (31) during the first period of game six of the Western Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Bickell’s time with the Blackhawks may be finished. We wanted to say this when he was placed on waivers prior to the season starting, but the all-out demotion of a guy who has been with the Blackhawks full-time since the 2010-11 season says a lot more. The waiver move was a last-ditch effort to get someone to take Bickell in order to free up cap space. Demoting Bickell doesn’t even get rid of half of his $4 million hit — it’s just a way to get a struggling player off the roster in favor of guys who have been more successful of late.

Here’s an explanation of the cap relief the Blackhawks do and don’t get as a result of Bickell’s demotion, courtesy Colligan Hockey via Puckin Hostile. If you’re unable to access the link, here’s the gist: Because Bickell is on a one-way contract, and because the league has a cap circumvention statute in its collective bargaining agreement, the Blackhawks can only be relieved of the league-minimum salary plus an additional $375,000 off a player’s contract. In Bickell’s case, this means the Blackhawks are saving just shy of $1 million in cap space, but still have $3.05 million of dead money against the cap.

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So this move isn’t about freeing up dollars and cents. It’s simply a goodbye and good luck move as the Blackhawks admitted they have younger, faster and more offensively able options available in the minors. All the previous week’s call-ups suggest that further. Of course, this doesn’t mean Bickell could at some point be recalled, but with the recent influx of youthful talent, you’d expect some of it to stick, leaving Bickell on the outside looking in.

Oct 30, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks forward Tanner Kero (67) skates with the puck during the first period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Not all of these guys will hang around … If you asked me to guess which of the recent call-ups will stay in the big leagues longest, I’d have to say either Dano or Kero. But I honestly have no clue how long some of these guys will remain with the Blackhawks. Duncan Keith is currently on injured reserve, and a roster spot will need to be opened for him upon his return from injury. Michal Rozsival appears likely to get a roster spot when he’s 100 percent healthy, too (OK, 95 percent). And the lines we’re likely to see tonight against Los Angeles don’t include an injured Hossa or a benched Viktor Tikhonov. There are a lot of variables at play here.

Let’s start on the blue line. Rozsival’s impending return, barring a setback, will result in the ouster of one of Gustafsson or David Rundblad. If Gustafsson gets his second consecutive start tonight, I think Rundblad will be the guy shipped to Rockford to clear a spot for Rozi. When Keith comes back is when things get dicey, but it doesn’t necessarily mean another defenseman would need to be demoted to get No. 2 back in the fold.

Thus, we move on to the forwards. If the Blackhawks didn’t want to move a defenseman down upon Keith’s return, it seems most likely Hartman would be axed to Rockford. Of course, that could change if he lights the world on fire and one of the other youngsters struggles. But Dano and Kero are the more-dynamic playmakers of the trio of young forwards, and I think they both have a chance to stay with the big club long term.

… but the Blackhawks are committing to a youth movement. Excluding the IR’d Keith and Rozsival, let’s look at the age of each player on the Blackhawks.

36 — Marian Hossa

32 — Trevor Daley

30 — Corey Crawford, Brent Seabrook, Ryan Garbutt

29 — Andrew Desjardins

28 — Niklas Hjalmarsson

27 — Jonathan Toews, Viktor Tikhonov, Artem Anisimov

26 — Patrick Kane, Scott Darling

25 — David Rundblad, Marcus Kruger

24 — Andrew Shaw, Viktor Svedberg, Trevor Van Riemsdyk — 24

23 — Tanner Kero, Erik Gustafsson — 23

21 — Teuvo Teravainen, Ryan Hartman — 21

20 — Marko Dano

That is a young team, folks. Its median age at this moment is 25.1, and while I don’t know where that ranks in the league, the number certainly wasn’t that small last season with Antoine Vermette (33), Patrick Sharp (33), Johnny Oduya (34), Brad Richards (35), Kimmo Timonen (40) and others gracing the United Center ice. Sure, Keith (32) and Rozsival (37) would bring that 25.1 number up, but the Blackhawks are now making it clear that they’re going to give their younger talent a good once-over.

Of course, this has a fair deal to do with a lack of defensive depth, as well as Keith’s injury, on the blue line, and a lack of consistent scoring on offense. But youth movements have to happen sometime with all teams. The Detroit Red Wings held on for as long as they could with a bunch of guys in the early-30s to early-40s, guys who helped them win Cups, until they couldn’t hold on any longer. They slowly mixed in some youth over time, and they’re still making the playoffs to this day. The Blackhawks aren’t in the exact same boat, as most of their core, minus Hossa, isn’t close to retirement. But you also can’t bury youth in the AHL until the day all your veterans decide to hang up the skates. So the Blackhawks are giving these 20-somethings a look. It’ll certainly be fun to see how they pan out.

Next: Blackhawks Month In Review — October

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