Prior to the season, the SI.com staff identified 19 players who had something on the line in 2013-14. These players faced pressures that went beyond what others had to deal with — from living up to either their hype or their fat paychecks (or both), to getting back to the qualities that made them noteworthy in the first place.
Today, with the season in the home stretch, we went back to that original list to examine those expectations and see which players met them … and which fell short, sometimes miserably so.
Bryan Bickell, Chicago Blackhawks
What we said then: Bickell emerged as a game-breaking power forward (nine goals, 17 points in 23 postseason games) during Chicago’s run to the Stanley Cup last year, exactly the sort of player that several teams were seeking in free agency. Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman recognized how hot a commodity Bickell had become and signed him at full value (four years, $16 million), though he had to trade Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik to create cap space. Even at 27, Bickell remains a work in progress. Stretches of inconsistency are inevitable, but he needs to translate that playoff magic into 25-plus regular season goals. We think he will.
The verdict now: After getting off to a solid start with four goals in October, Bickell’s season has been defined by extended periods of ineffective play. He’s been limited by injuries — a lower-body ailment cost him 15 games in November and December, and he’s currently out with an upper-body issue — but it’s the inconsistency of his physical play that’s more troubling than his weak numbers (10 goals, two assists). Coach Joel Quenneville has cut Bickell’s minutes and has even benched him, but he hasn’t been able to ignite the passion or the offensive touch that was expected from the big winger. Anything short of another magical postseason for him and his new contract will veer towards bust.