With just a few games under his belt, has Blackhawks rookie Jimmy Hayes already started pushing Bryan Bickell out of the Hawks’ rotation?
Consider, first of all, the tale of the tape:
|$$||$ 541,667||$ 875,000|
The page doesn’t lie: these are a couple big boys.
Last year, Bickell was able to get his feet wet in the NHL and performed fairly well (17 goals, 20 assists, 178 hits) in 78 games with the Blackhawks. Indeed, based on last year’s performance, Bickell was viewed by many as one of the better value contracts in the Central Division coming into this year.
This year, however, has been a different story for Bickell. He has only four goals and four assists through the team’s first 40 games. Yes, he has 70 hits, but his minus-seven is tied with Michael Frolik for the second-worst number on the roster (Andrew Brunette sits at minus-nine).
Meanwhile, Hayes was brought up at the end of the calendar year before the Hawks hosted the Detroit Red Wings. He came into action without showing many signs of being overwhelmed against a hot Wings team, and set the tone physically early in his NHL debut.
Here are the ice time totals and number of shifts for the two in Hayes’ first three NHL games:
|12/30 – DET||13:27||21||8:23||12|
|1/2 – EDM||9:26||12||7:40||11|
|1/5 – @ PHI||9:33||14||8:33||12|
There isn’t a clear trend developing, but Hayes has seen more critical ice time. Why? It’s simple: Hayes is producing.
In three games since being recalled from Rockford, Hayes has two goals.
In 23 games since the start of November, Bickell has one goal and two assists.
Looking closer at the three games since Hayes was brought up, it’s starting to become clear that the rookie is putting pressure on Bickell to perform. Hayes has more hits (six) than Bickell (five) in the three games, an indicator on paper that fans’ eyes haven’t lied: Hayes has been more physical than Bickell.
But the most disgusting statistic from Bickell in the last three games comes in the shots on goal category. With a kid clearly in position to take his ice time away, Bickell has been credited with two (2) shots on goal in three games, and both of them were against the Flyers. Hayes, on the other hand, has been credited with seven shots.
The cards are on the table, and Bickell is doing little to help himself.
However, if we’re going to answer this piece’s title question, we must do so in two parts.
While there is certainly enough about Hayes’ game to fall in love with after three games, we must hit the pause button. He’s only played in three NHL games. One plus for Hayes is that two of those games have come against Detroit and Philadelphia, two of the better teams in the league. But the sample size is still too small to say, without a doubt, that Hayes is ready for a full-time NHL gig.
With that being said, however, there’s a second half of the answer to this question that we can confidently provide: Bickell is playing himself out of a spot on the Blackhawks roster.
We’ve seen 34 games from Bickell this year and one stretch where he got to watch from the press box as a motivational move by the coaching staff. Too many times in every game is he standing still or out of position. He’s had plenty of opportunities to cement himself as a player on this roster, but has continued to fail.
So while we might not know if Hayes is ready, we can say with a fair amount of certainty that Bickell isn’t working right now. As the Hawks shop for a defenseman and/or a center before the deadline, we’ll have to hope that Bickell’s 17 goal performance from last year convinces a general manager in another city that a change of scenery is necessary for him.