The likelihood of President Obama ever attending a hockey game did not increase after meeting Bryan Bickell at the White House last season.

Ahh, Bryan Bickell. If you’re the type of fan who has bemoaned the ‘Hawks lack of grit and toughness the past two seasons, you probably fucking hate Bryan Bickell.  You tell anyone who will listen what a softy he is – ugly too!

There is little question that through two full seasons, Bickell has been a disappointment in a few categories. As a young  6’4 forward with a decent shot,  the Blackhawks envisioned Bickell being a big part of replacing what players like Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager brought to the ‘Hawks forecheck in the years leading up to the Cup victory. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, even though I would argue that he hasn’t been exactly been a flop either.

First of all, we should dispel the myth that Bryan Bickell doesn’t hit. In 2010-2011, he was third on the team in the hits category and this last season,  he led all ‘Hawks forwards and was second overall on the team behind Brent Seabrook with 128. He led the team in the post-season with 32 and was 9 ahead of the nearest forward (Patrick Sharp). But even with these impressive numbers, unlike a Ladd or even Adam Burish, you just can’t seem to remember any of the momentum changing moments brought on by a Bickell forecheck.

Bickell has turned into something of an enigma (along with Michael Frolik and to a lesser extent, Viktor Stalberg) for ‘Hawks management. He is a player stuck somehwere between what he wants to be (a sniper) and what he should be (a forechecking winger who plays around the crease). So, you may ask, what the hell is he then? Fantastic question.

After signing a very cap friendly 3 year /$541,000 per year contract before the 2010-2011 season, Bickell quietly finished 5th on the ‘Hawks in goals with 17. While there were certainly howls that year about his style, the fact that his (often long ) wicked wrist shots were finding the back of the net with some frequency was enough to keep many fans off his back. He suffered a wrist injury in Game 2 of the playoffs, but hung around and played the first 6 games, scoring 2 goals and adding 2 assists before missing Game 7 in Vancouver.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad year – his first full season in the NHL. If somehow he could develop the dominating physical game to go along with his wickedly good wrist shot, the Blackhawks would have another dangerous weapon in the arsenal.

He entered the 2011-2012 campaign under the microscope. ‘Hawks fans got a slightly more physically inclined Bickell (although many still complain about his lack of grit), but his offensive production simply collapsed. Joel Quenneville lost confidence in him at key points of the season (benched during a portion of the 9 game skid) and he only averaged a little over 12 minutes of ice time per game. At times, he was dropped down to play on the 4th line and was even benched on one occasion behind John Scott. His lack of offense put his cosy spot on the Dave Bolland line at risk.  His goal total dropped to just  9 in 71 games, behind players like Andrew Shaw (12 goals in just 34 games) and even Andrew Brunette (12).  When the playoffs began, it was not clear what sort of role Bickell would play.

But then a funny thing happened – Bickell turned into one of the best ‘Hawks during their series with the Coyotes.  At one point, he led the entire league in hits for the 1st round. In Game 2 he had his best moment as a Blackhawk, netting the game winner during overtime. Bickell and Bolland dominated the Coyotes during the early parts of the series. It was the first time in quite awhile that the 3rd line was in sync. For Bickell, it was the second year in a row that he impressed during the playoffs.

So, all in all, it’s the same old Bickell – a teaser. Just when you think you know what you’ve got with him, he does something to give you a little hope. We couldn’t blame some for thinking that Bickell has peaked, that what he is right now is all that he’ll ever be. Others look optimistically at his 2010-2011 offensive campaign and two playoff series where he has been one of the better ‘Hawks.

It’s my belief that ‘Hawks fans will get at least one more season to settle this debate, and even believe there is reason for optimism. Bickell’s insanely small contract likely means he’ll stick around another year. With the CBA in flux, it doesn’t seem likely that Stan Bowman will be looking to move him out. If things go badly for the ‘Hawks and the Cap somehow comes down, a player with a near minimum contract like Bickell will be a huge asset, especially to a cautious GM like Bowman. Another possible reason to keep him around: he is in a contract year. Bickell will be playing for is first ( and possibly only) big NHL payday. At the exit day interviews, Bickell said the coaching staff told him he needed to work on his consistency and his physical play (probably similar to the speech he got last season) in the offensive zone. Even if he lacked it before, Bickell should have plenty of motivation to follow through on those things this off-season -a lot of money depends on it.

We can’t really blame you if you said you wouldn’t mind seeing Bickell go this offseason, but we also can’t deny the potential for Bickell to have a big year definitely exists. The ‘Hawks need a functioning 3rd line to compete, if he wanted to, Bickell could be a big part of that while helping himself in the process.

His regular season was a real horrorshow for the most part, but he had himself a decent playoff series against Phoenix. Factor in his hilariously inexpensive contract, we’ll go with two Indianheads. Plus, we feel bad that his buddy John Scott got traded. Wait, no we don’t.