Winnipeg Jets v Chicago Blackhawks
Updated: February 28, 2014 6:29AM
Bryan Bickell started the season playing 15 to 18 minutes a night. Since returning from a knee injury Dec. 17, he has been playing fewer than 10.
On Sunday night, he played zero.
Coach Joel Quenneville finally reached his breaking point with the slumping Bickell, benching him in favor of a seventh defenseman — Michael Kostka, who skated as a right wing on the third line, with Kris Versteeg swapping to the left — against the Winnipeg Jets.
“We need more,” Quenneville said. “We need a lot more. We’re looking for more.”
It was Kostka’s first NHL game at forward. He played one preseason game at wing because of a last-minute equipment problem for Bickell.
Bickell, who earned a four-year, $16 million contract with his nine-goal, eight-assist performance in the playoffs last season, has only seven goals and two assists through 39 games. He has one goal and one assist (minus-7 rating) in his last 14 games.
One of the first moves Paul Maurice made when he took over as coach of the Jets after Claude Noel was fired Jan. 12 was to put Michael Frolik on the top line with Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little. And the former Hawks winger has fared well in the role, with a goal, two assists and a
plus-4 rating in seven games.
Frolik, a top-10 pick in 2006 and a two-time 21-goal scorer in Florida, was a fourth-liner and penalty-killing specialist with the Hawks.
“The comment on Michael when I got here was, he’s a player that whatever line we put him on, that line goes,’’ Maurice said. ‘‘And that’s true. We’ve asked him probably to do the same things that he’s done everywhere he’s played — be a real good responsible two-way player.”
Shortly before Noel was fired, Dustin Byfuglien was moved from defense to forward, where he was so successful during the Hawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup run. Byfuglien had two goals and four assists in his first seven games back up front. He has 12 goals and 28 assists on the season.
“We’ve seen enough of him up front, so we know what he’s capable of,” Quenneville said. “He’s a big presence, he’s got some strength on the puck, he’s got quick hands and he’s got some strength in the tight areas around the net.”