Chicago Blackhawks: Brian Campbell

2010 Hawks to fill void with charity game

October, 17, 2012
10/17/12
8:43
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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video

CHICAGO -- It wasn't that long ago that Adam Burish, Patrick Sharp, Brian Campbell, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were on a stage answering questions from the press during the Blackhawks' run to the 2010 Stanley Cup. The five reunited Wednesday to officially announce a charity hockey game -- "Champs for Charity" -- that will take place Oct. 26 featuring members of that team and other NHL players unable to play due to a work stoppage.

[+] EnlargeChicago Blackhawks
AP Photo/Kathy WillensMembers of the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks -- along with others unable to play because of the NHL lockout -- will reunite Oct. 26 in the name of charity.
"We want to give fans that are starving for hockey something to watch and we want to give back to this charity," former Hawk Burish said from the Ronald McDonald House on Grande Ave.

They'll do just that when they take the ice at the All-State Arena in what the players hope is more than just a leisurely skate.

"To put together a competitive game was the idea," Burish said.

That idea came from Burish and his agent, Bill Zito, who spoke of his own personal situation involving a family member who had recently been hospitalized for a long stay. They want the Ronald McDonald House to benefit, knowing what families go through in caring for sick ones. Their goal is to raise $250,000.

"I didn't know what my plan was, to play (in charity game) or go overseas," Kane said. "I'm excited about it."

Kane said he was close to signing in Europe but that's on hold now because of the game and potential movement in CBA discussions, though players were more than cautious regarding the latest proposal from the league.

"As long as they don't think it's their final drastic attempt to salvage an 82-game season," Toews said. "If they were that desperate to preserve an 82-game season and get things done, this would have be done already. There's no real effort there. It's just a ploy to sway a positive light back in their favor. It's still a small movement but hopefully it's something we can work off of."

Toews said he will fly to Toronto on Tuesday night to assist in negotiations within the players association. In the meantime, other members of the 2010 Stanley Cup winning Hawks will prepare for the charity game.

"He's looking forward to playing on a line with me," Burish quipped of good friend Sharp.

"I think it's a pretty good coincidence Great Clips is the main sponsor of the game," Sharp shot back to the raggedy-haired Burish.

This kind of back-and-forth was -- and still is -- a signature of the 2010 championship team. It will always be linked, and now many will take the ice together for the first time since leaving it with the Cup in Philadelphia that June.

"It's a great group," Campbell said. "It's nice to get together with one another. It'll be fun to get back in the locker room."

Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and others will join their former teammates for the game while Burish says others will commit as the game gets closer. It'll be a diversion from the business side of hockey which has dominated the headlines during a lockout which began in mid-September. And it will benefit a charity while bringing together an iconic team that fans fell in love with.

"It's a great opportunity to get the guys back together but it's for the fans more than anything," Sharp said. "Some of the guys from the Cup team haven't even had a chance to come back and play against the Hawks so it will be nice to get those guys out. ... No one cares about Burish, we've had enough of him. You saw at the press conference, guys are excited to get back together and make fun of each other just like we used to."

Tickets for "Champs for Charity" can be purchased at Ticketmaster.

Hjalmarsson, Montador on the move?

June, 21, 2012
6/21/12
3:49
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Niklas HjalmarssonRob Grabowski/US PresswireLeague sources indicate the Hawks are willing to move Niklas Hjalmarsson.

General managers, agents, scouts and soon-to-be draft picks will gather in Pittsburgh on Friday for the annual NHL entry draft. But the selection process won’t be the only thing on their minds. The draft is traditionally where the hot stove of the NHL’s offseason heats up. And the Blackhawks could once again make some noise.

During last year’s draft, Chicago traded high-priced defenseman Brian Campbell to Florida in no more than a salary dump. The Hawks also moved forward Troy Brouwer to Washington in another cap-clearing transaction. The Hawks used some of that money days later to sign some free agents, but they never made the big-ticket move many Hawks fans may have wanted.

Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said recently that trade talks have picked up. Could these potential deals be consummated in Pittsburgh over the weekend? Here’s a few things that are emerging regarding the Hawks as NHL teams begin the heavy lifting of the summer in advance of free-agency on July 1:

Defense on the Move?

Though the Hawks could go to training camp with the roster they have, Bowman has said all along there would be some changes. League sources indicate defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador are being dangled. While the Hawks would undoubtedly want to make a good “hockey deal” in moving them, shedding their salaries could be just as important. Combined, the two players cost the Hawks $6.25 million on the salary cap per year. Hjalmarsson is signed for two more years, Montador for three.

It’s not clear who the Hawks are talking to about their defensemen, in Montador’s case it might be simply any team that will take him. If there are no takers, he could even end up on waivers. Hjalmarsson is more likely to bring some talent back in return, but again, it’s unclear if that talent would be an NHL veteran or prospect.

If the Hawks are able to shed those salaries, there is very good chance they could take a run at soon to be unrestricted free agent Ryan Suter—who is from nearby Madison, Wisconsin. Or the Hawks could really be bold and make an offer to his teammate, restricted free-agent Shea Weber. He’s the class of the free agent crop on defense.

Trade tidbits

Viktor Stalberg is not actively being shopped, but he could be included in a deal as part of a bigger package, perhaps with Hjalmarsson or Montador.

• There has never been any indication the Hawks are interested in trading Patrick Kane.

• The Hawks don’t look to be in the sweepstakes for goalie Roberto Luongo, which most likely means they aren’t in the running for a new goaltender.

Who's to blame, Quenneville or Bowman?

April, 24, 2012
4/24/12
3:41
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Quenneville-Bowman AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhAfter another first-round exit, who gets more of the blame, Stan Bowman or Joel Quenneville?
CHICAGO -- Anytime a team underachieves as the Chicago Blackhawks did this season, the blame game undoubtedly gets played. And for the Hawks, plenty can be assigned to the players.

But what about the men in charge?

There will be an offseason-long debate about who deserves more, general manager Stan Bowman or coach Joel Quenneville? Even for them there is enough to go around:

Stan Bowman: 65 percent


SportsNation

Who is more to blame for another first-round exit?

  •  
    86%
  •  
    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,230)

Second-line center: The moment Bowman traded Brian Campbell he was on the clock. He had newfound money and needed a second-line center. It was plausible a good one wasn’t an available via free-agency last summer, after Brad Richards’ mega deal in New York, but that doesn’t mean a trade couldn’t be pulled off either before the season or in season. The New York Islanders’ Frans Nielsen could have been had, but it would have cost Dylan Olsen. Antoine Vermette had a glorious playoff series against the Hawks but Bowman didn’t want or couldn’t get him from Columbus. The Coyotes did. The addition of a center would have had a trickle up and down effect on the entire team. It’s still a need.

Playoff built: Though Bryan Bickell led all skaters in the entire first round, through six games, with 32 hits, the Hawks weren’t built for a long, gritty postseason run. Even giving Bowman a pass for the moment on the goaltending situation -- though the regular season told enough there -- the team was constructed to win one way, with wide open offense. That doesn’t fly in the playoffs. At the end of the day the grit they picked up wasn’t good enough.

(Read full post)

Former Hawks excited for UC return

January, 20, 2012
1/20/12
3:37
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


CHICAGO -- Florida Panthers forward Kris Versteeg says he still gets treated like royalty when he comes back to Chicago as he is on Friday to take on his former team, the Blackhawks.

Versteeg joins current teammates Brian Campbell, John Madden and Tomas Kopecky in a return of former Stanley Cup champions to the building they had so much success in two seasons ago. Former Hawk Jack Skille is scheduled to play as well after being out with an injury.

“[It’s] the first time I’ve been back to the rink since Game 5 [of the Stanley Cup finals in 2010]. I remember we won Game 5 and I was looking around at the fans, and I said this is the last time we’re going to be here because we’re going to win it in Game 6,” Versteeg said after Panthers practice Friday morning at the United Center. “It’s nice to be back.”

The Hawks did win Game 6 and then the team was famously broken up due to salary cap restraints. But the bond between former teammates lives on -- and so does the friendly jabs. Jonathan Toews got together with Versteeg Thursday night after the Panthers arrived in town.

"I was willing to take him to the hair salon and get him a haircut last night, but he didn’t want to do that,” Toews joked after Hawks’ practice.

Versteeg has grown his blond hair out and says he hears it from players every night. Friday will be no exception.

“I already have Bolland telling me he’s going to be giving it to me all night about my hair,” Versteeg said. “If it takes the focus off the game, that’s a positive. As for Toews, he’s trying to get inside my head. I’m already inside his.”

Campbell is hoping for a better response from the fans in Chicago than he’s received from other former teams he’s played for. He’s been booed in Buffalo and San Jose but he didn’t help win those cities a Stanley Cup.

“It’ll be fun,” Campbell said. “These fans are the best. Hopefully we all get a nice response but then we have to get down to work.”

Though it is work, several players talked about how strange it is to face so many former teammates on one team.

“It’s almost like it’s not a real hockey game,” Kane said. “You’re out there laughing and joking around and having fun. But at the same time you want to beat them, too. It’s a little bit different but definitely fun.”

The joking and laughing around can extend to anything considering how well many of the players know each other. Kane was reminded of Versteeg’s infamous rap session during the Stanley Cup parade in June 2010.

“You call those skills?” Kane joked. “I don’t know if you can call it a skill. That was pretty embarrassing, so hopefully we don’t have to see that for a while.”

Ray Emery starts in net for the Hawks while Jose Theodore is expected to play for the Panthers.

Sharp update: Joel Quenneville said forward Patrick Sharp is making progress toward a return after the All-Star break. Sharp is out with a wrist injury.

“There are three games on that trip in four nights so hopefully he can begin it,” Quenneville said Friday morning. “We’re anticipating he’ll get started on that trip.”

Video: Missing Brian Campbell?

November, 8, 2011
11/08/11
11:47
PM CT


Barry Melrose explains how Brian Campbell's departure has impacted the Blackhawks on defense and special teams.

Mailbag: Will Pirri contribute this season?

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
3:00
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Time to empty the mailbox, just in time for the regular season:

Q: I was very surprised to hear Brandon Pirri won’t be on the opening day roster. It seemed like he was constantly around the puck making heads up plays throughout the preseason. With the lack of depth at the center position, do you think he will get called up and contribute at some point? -- Pat, Elmhurst, Ill.

A: I definitely think he’ll be up here at some point. The numbers just didn’t work in his favor right now but it’s a long season, and he’s a center which puts him on high alert at all times. He’s shown nice progression as a player since entering the Hawks system. Now it's just a matter of fitting in at the NHL level. Trust me, scoring as he did in the preseason doesn’t go unnoticed. However, the Hawks have proven in the past once the season starts all training camp highlights are thrown out the window. Think of Igor Makarov a year ago. He never saw the light of the day again after being sent down and pouting while underperforming. The point is, Pirri has to keep it going or whoever is playing well will get the recall.

[+] EnlargeNiklas Hjalmarsson
Graig Abel/NHLI/Getty ImagesNiklas Hjalmarsson admitted he felt pressure last season after signing a big contract.
Q: Having watched every game last year, I have a good idea of the type of player Hammer [Niklas Hjalmarsson] is. He played completely different after that hit he delivered against Buffalo that got him suspended. He is so much more effective when he plays physical, and he can! He’s strong and positions his body well, but he won’t. What gives? -- David, Ridgefield, Conn.

A: That Buffalo game was so early in the season, it's hard to know if that hit was the cause of his play or other things that preceded it. He was pretty honest about his new contract adding pressure and without Brian Campbell next to him to start the season he simply seemed overwhelmed and played timid. He knew it, too. It’s why he became such a good shot blocker. It was the only sure way of contributing night in and night out. So I’m not so sure his season is any different if he doesn’t get suspended but that certainly added to it. I assume we’ll see a bounce back year but can’t guarantee it.

Q: I'm pumped for the season to finally start! With the unexpected news that Brandon Saad is going to make the team out of camp, where does Q pencil him in? He's looked great in the preseason, but it's a whole other level being a top-6 forward night in and night out in the NHL. Does he have the defensive wherewithal to play on the third line against the opposition's top line? Does he start on the fourth line, and risk stunting his development by not getting enough minutes? -- Aaron, Winfield, Ill.

A: It's a great question and as I answer it here on Monday evening I’m just not sure. By Tuesday or Wednesday we’ll know more. He’s been skating on the top line with Jonathan Toews most of the preseason but I can’t imagine that continues this weekend. It would be a shocker but it might just happen. He’s definitely not a fourth-line player, and as you say I can’t see them sticking him with Dave Bolland asking him to check the Stars’ top guns. The second line seems set with Patrick Kane in the middle so maybe he does get a few games with Toews and then goes back to juniors. And of course he can always be moved in-game if it’s not working. Will be fun to watch an 18-year-old show what he can do.

Q: The surprise this year is obviously Saad making the team, especially considering where he was drafted. For those of us that don't know much about him, what do you think we can expect and what are other scouts/analysts saying about his potential ceiling? Thanks for the awesome reporting Jesse. -- Michael, Lockport, Ill.

A: I’ve only learned a lot about him since the draft but people have been high on him for quite a while. I heard his name being on the Hawks list before the draft but as a first-round pick. After the Hawks chose Mark McNeil and Philip Danault before him I figured they had turned the page. In all the blogs I’ve written about him I talk about his size. It's near-perfect for an 18-year-old winger, 6-foot-1, 203 pounds. I don’t know if his instincts were properly scouted or relayed to teams because I haven’t seen a bad decision yet. Ceiling seems pretty high knowing he’s still growing and learning. If his work ethic matches those abilities he could have a very good career.

Q: Why does Coach Q keep splitting up Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook? It is maddening having to watch Keith and Nick Leddy play. Why doesn't he just stick with what is a proven, lock down defensive pairing. -- Michael, Chicago

A: It's preseason. He knows what Seabrook and Keith can do together. This is the time to see what others can do in case he needs to change things up. He might start the season with them together or maybe not but there are certainly reasons behind it. In fact he might think they are a little thin behind Keith and Seabrook so he wants them broken up and this was the time to develop some chemistry. Whatever the decisions are they aren’t random.

Q: How good can this team really be? I have a bad feeling for some reason being so thin at center. -- Dan. DeKalb, Ill.

A: I’d worry more about the back end of the defense. You can convince yourself there is enough at center when you consider Sharp is around plus Ben Smith and even Michael Frolik. Though the bigger problem isn’t the defense those guys play at center but it's the face-offs they take. No one cares about face-offs until they lead to goals against. After Jonathan Toews it's pretty thin in that area. So 4-6 on defense and face-offs are my concern.

Q: Why is it better for Kane to play center rather than Sharp? Don't all the same reasons for Sharp to stay on the wing apply to Kane? -- Andrew, Ottawa, Ill.

A: On the surface it's a good question and one of the first things I thought of but maybe this is about maxing out their abilities. Center is traditionally a playmaking position. Kane is a playmaker. Sharp is a sniper. Snipers play wing. So basically, on paper, their games might be better suited this way IF Kane can handle it. I have my doubts like everyone else. Why take one of the top 5 right wingers in the game and move him? But maybe what makes him great at wing can make him great at center. In other words, he’s so skilled it won’t matter. We’ll see.

Q: Montador has looked pretty bad this preseason so far. Please tell me he will get better! If he doesn't how do you see things playing out? -- Chris, Lockport, Ill.

A: I’m sort of with you on this but he has every right to prove us wrong. I just think he’s undersized and shaky back there, at least in preseason. The undersized part won't change so he needs to be sound in other areas. I really see him as a No. 5 defenseman making a really good living. They do have eight guys back there so if he doesn’t play well they’ll go to someone else but he’ll get a long leash. However, he didn’t play at the end of the Buffalo Sabres playoff series with Philadelphia by coach’s decision so recent history isn’t on his side.

Q: Who would your six defensemen be for the opening night? -- Gerard

A: I guess I would go the easy route and go with Keith/Seabrook, Hjalmarsson/Leddy, Montador/Lepisto though I could see O’Donnell getting the call instead of Lepisto. I don’t know if those pairings would work long term but that’s what I would try to start.

Q: Jesse, fantastic job all year, especially this preseason. With Pirri and Kruger being sent down, can you give us your four line predictions? I think this will help clarify things for most fans. -- MexicoHawk, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

A: It's a great question and by the time many of you read this we might have some answers from practice but let’s give it a try assuming Saad is here, Sharp and Ben Smith are available, Stalberg is on IR and of course Carcillo is suspended:

Sharp/Toews/Saad
Brunette/Kane/Hossa
Bickell/Bolland/Frolik
Mayers/Smith/Olesz

I have a feeling that’s how they will start but it could all change by the second period. Olesz could move all the way up and Kane might be out at center. Will be interesting to watch.

Return of Hossa lifts Hawks

September, 21, 2011
9/21/11
9:21
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
The return of “Hoss” to the Chicago Blackhawks training camp Wednesday gave the team a lift as the dog days of camp have arrived.

Marian Hossa donned his familiar No. 81 and went through drills like he’s done for 13 previous seasons but this was unlike any of his other years reporting to camp.

Marian Hossa
Jamie Sabau/NHLI/Getty ImagesMarian Hossa likely will play the final three preseason games, according to coach Joel Quenneville.
Juxtaposing the death of friends in a Russian plane crash with the birth of his first child couldn’t be easy, but Hossa did his best to keep an even keel in the face of such emotions. And all parties agreed, the routine of hockey should do Hossa some good.

As for when he’ll play, Joel Quenneville said he and Patrick Kane would most likely suit up for the final three exhibition games. Last fall, Hossa never left Chicago in the preseason, playing only at home, and he had the hottest start in the NHL. Three games for him and Kane should be enough to have them both ready for the start of the regular season.

Who Hossa ultimately lines up with is anyone’s guess. Dave Bolland has been skating nearly exclusively with Michael Frolik and Bryan Bickell, just as he did to finish last postseason but without Patrick Sharp available right now, the options at center are limited.

The good news for the Hawks is Sharp is getting closer to returning from an appendectomy which occurred on the eve of training camp.

“I talked to him [Wednesday],” Quenneville said. “He said he feels way better today, and he’s excited about where he’s at and wanted to do some working out. So it’s good.”

Sent packing: Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault, 2011 first-round draft picks by the Hawks, were sent back to their junior clubs one day after McNeill had his most impressive showing as a Hawk. Quenneville raved about his game Tuesday in Saskatoon, but that didn’t stop him from being shipped out.

“We want them playing,” Quenneville said. “They’re 18-year-olds. They have a long time. The competition is big and strong here. It’s a great first step for these kids. They get to see what the pros are like.”

It’s a reminder that unless their last name is Toews, Kane or Crosby, making an NHL team after just being drafted is a rare feat. In fact, Toews went back to college after being drafted but did make the Hawks his first year he came to training camp. The No. 18 overall pick -- on a very talented team -- has the deck stacked against him, even though he showed promise in camp and against the Oilers.

Quenneville raved about the talent the organization is stockpiling, especially at forward.

“It’s the best collection of shooters or skill that I’ve seen,” he said. “The cupboard is starting to be replenished.”

No panic yet: The offseason concern, and possibly the current one, is the turnover the Hawks experienced on defense. Remember, Brian Campbell was simply overpaid, not a bad player, so replacing him wasn’t going to be easy. Nick Leddy looked a bit overmatched in his preseason debut against the Oilers on Tuesday. John Scott is a work in progress while the jury is still out on Sami Lepisto and Steve Montador.

As has been well documented, the Hawks have put a lot of stock into Montador, and he needs to produce. If you’re looking for a rough and tough defenseman, he’s undersized for that role but that doesn’t mean he can’t be gritty.

He got beat on the winning goal Tuesday against the Oilers as Jordan Eberle went right past him so those moments need to be few and far between. The Hawks believe he has more offense in his game than he’s known for and with Niklas Hjalmarsson coming off a 10-point season, someone has to pick up the slack for Campbell.

It’s way too early to panic but the Hawks' depth and talent on defense is something to watch, and that’s assuming Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook return to form. Scott and Leddy will get another game to prove themselves Thursday in Pittsburgh.

Mailbag: How about a deal for Doan?

August, 22, 2011
8/22/11
11:18
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Q: How realistic are the chances for Stan Bowman to seriously consider trading for a No. 2 centerman in mid-season? Who do you expect would be the most likely players Bowman would go after and who would Bowman be willing to trade away? -- Niko (Chicago)

[+] EnlargeShane Doan
Norm Hall/NHLI/Getty ImagesIf the Coyotes falter, Shane Doan might be a great fit for the Blackhawks this season.
A: I think it’s very realistic. They should have plenty of cap space to make that kind of move, and they’re on record saying it’s part of their plan, if need be. It would be very hard for me to speculate on specific players because the pool would conceivably be wide open. Usually, I’d look at those centers with expiring contracts who reside on mediocre teams, but nothing says they can’t get a guy who is signed past 2011-2012. With Brian Campbell gone and so many new guys on one-year deals, there is room, despite the extension to Patrick Sharp. Bowman is also on record praising his crop of prospects at center, so more than likely an expiring contract would be the way to go. Another reader asks about Shane Doan. I’ve always liked him a lot. His contract is up after this season. If the Coyotes falter I would make a hard push for him. That’s the type of player who could put them over the top. As for who would go, there are plenty of prospects who could be included in a deal, from Jeremy Morin to the Hayes brothers. It just depends on what the other team’s needs are.

Q: I cannot wait for the season to start. Do you know if the Blackhawks will ever bring back the black alternate jerseys or are they sticking with the Winter Classic alternate look again this year? -- Andrew (Chicago)

A: The answer is neither. The Hawks are going with just two jerseys this season -- the home red and road white.

Q: Is it true Igor Makarov signed with a KHL team? All we heard about him the past few years from prospect camps and 2010 training camp was how skilled he was. Why didn't he catch on? – Keith (Waupaca, Wis.)

A: Yes, he did sign overseas. I mentioned in a few tweets/chats recently he was on the way out. Apparently, he didn’t have the best attitude. After not making the team last year out of training camp he pouted and didn’t exactly go down to the minors with the work ethic needed to return. It’s why he never got a call-up, I’m sure. From what I understand, he wanted out and back home almost immediately, and he finally got his wish. Too bad, he had some hands and was one of the darlings of last year’s camp.

Q: My take on the lines are Kane/Toews/Smith, Hossa/Sharp/Brunette, Frolik/Bolly/Bickell, Mayers/Kruger/Carcillo. Keith/Seabs, Hammer/Lepisto, Leddy/Montador. What are your projected lines? Also it seems as if we are going to have quite a few decent guys as health scratches. Reminds me of two years ago. -- Mike (Macomb, Ill.)

A: I’ve had this in some mailbags and chat sessions, but it’s been a while so let’s address again. I’m still of the belief they will open with Sharp at wing and move the centers up so Bolland is on the second line and Kruger is on the third -- at least to start the season. That leaves Mayers as the fourth-line center. So I see Sharp with Kane and Toews and Bolland with Hossa and Brunette and Kruger between Smith and Frolik. The fourth line will alternate with Bickell in there, and Rastislav Olesz is the wildcard. Someone won’t make the team since, with Smith and Kruger, that would make 24 contracts. The most a team can carry is 23. On defense, Leddy and Hjalmarsson will start as the Nos. 3 and 4. Montador is No. 5 and Lepisto/O’Donnell/Scott are the others.

Q: I recently watched videos of Daniel Carcillo's past fights in the NHL. While there's no doubt I like the intensity and toughness he brings, It still worries me that his penalty minutes will continue to hurt a penalty kill unit that was not impressive last year. How do you see the PK unit performing this season, and have there been any significant changes? -- Matt (Winnetka, Ill.)

A: It’s a good question. Carcillo says he’s learned, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Either way, they need to be better on the PK if they want to be an elite team. It’s interesting, the Hawks could have undoubtedly brought back John Madden, who has been known as a penalty-killing expert but basically chose Jamal Mayers instead. Both played under Joel Quenneville, and I believe he signed off on Mayers instead of Madden. I realize they aren’t the same player, but with Carcillo there I didn’t think they needed Mayers. Or vice versa. Mayers is a better skater than Madden, but Madden is a coach on the ice. Maybe that’s the problem.

Q: Honestly, who can afford to go to Hawks games? Eighty dollars for 300 level seats in the corners? Guess I'll have to watch at home or at the bar. It's too bad the diehards are getting priced out. The Sunday hockey fans and tourists provided some dead crowds last year. -- Greg (Oak Forest, Ill.)

A: I feel your pain. The prices are outrageous. By the way, I’m pretty sure the cheapest tickets in the 300 level are not $80 but I get your point. Pro sports is ridiculous. Its supply and demand, but if one player, just one time, said he’d take a million less if they reduced ticket prices he’d become a legend. Standing room only can be fun. Hey, any way to get in the building, right?

Q: Hey Jesse, can you talk about your expectations for Toews this year? Do you know what kind of training he's been doing? I am hoping for a run at the Hart trophy. Too much to ask for? -- Dave (Chicago)

A: While it would be very hard to accomplish, it’s not too much to ask for. This would be the season for him. He’ll never have a longer rest than he did this past summer, he had no known major injuries to heal and mentally he took about three months off. He told me at the convention he purposely stayed away from hockey until August so he would miss it. I imagine he’s revving up big time right about now. His game is almost complete with the final piece being a scoring touch which he found last season. He should have as good a shot as any but can he get to near 100 points? That’s the question because he’ll need near 100 points to have a shot. Power play points are huge to have that monster season so look at those numbers as things advance.

Q: With the all the talent on this team where does John Scott fit? – Will (Chicago)

A: I’m not sure that he does. They want him to start the season on defense but there are six or seven ahead of him. He could be a training camp casualty but my gut says he makes it because Quenneville wants as much toughness around as possible. Quenneville has been in his corner since day one so I think they want to give him every chance to succeed. Training camp will help sort that out.

Q: We know about the new faces, the new contracts, the main core, etc., what's been your favorite part of the offseason? What are you looking forward to in the first 6-8 weeks of the season? -- Zach (Bloomington, Ill.)

A: As a reporter or just an observer of the team I would say draft night in late June, in Minnesota, was pretty intense. First Campbell said no to a trade then yes. Then Troy Brouwer goes and all of a sudden the Hawks championship roster from just a season before had little remaining. Obviously, July 1 was intense as well but draft night was fun. I think a fast start would be what I’m looking for. I know “fast starts” are cliche but between the embarrassment of the first-round loss, squeaking into the playoffs and the slow start last year, I think they come out like gangbusters.

Q: Hey Jesse, where do you see Michael Frolik fitting in this year? The kid has a lot of talent and his play in the playoffs was outstanding last season. First and foremost, will he play wing or center? What line will he fall on? – Rodney (Chicago)

A: He’ll start at wing and only move to center on a need basis. As I wrote previously, I think he’s entrenched on the third line. He ended on a high note there, and there is no reason he can’t continue at that level. It takes some pressure off as well not having to carry the load in the top 6. I like him but I don’t love him yet. It seems plenty of players who line up next to Bolland -- as Frolik did in the playoffs -- come out smelling like roses. I want to see him do it for a full season in Chicago.

Mailbag: Are the Hawks Cup contenders?

July, 14, 2011
7/14/11
10:53
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Time to empty the mailbag:

Q: With the additions the Hawks have made so far do you see them as a serious contender this year for Stanley Cup? -- Jim (Burbank, Ill.)

A:Yes, I do but I probably would have thought that unless they really just messed the whole roster up which they didn’t. I’m vanilla on those fourth-line guys but love Andrew Brunette so unless he’s just lost it he’s enough for me to like the offseason moves. Basically, I think there is enough character and talent getting a long summer to refuel the engines for next season to contend.

Q: I know rosters aren't set but let’s say we take care of Chris Campoli and Michael Frolik. List what you think the lines would be and why? -- Jon (California)

A: To start the season -- and that’s key to remember -- only to start but not necessarily to finish, I think it looks like this:

Patrick Sharp/Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane
Andrew Brunette/Dave Bolland/Marian Hossa
Ben Smith/Marcus Kruger/Michael Frolik
Bryan Bickell/Jamal Mayers/Dan Carcillo/Viktor Stalberg

Until we know more about Rastislav Olesz, I’ll make him the extra forward along with one of those fourth-line players. Bolland would move down to the third line and maybe Kruger up at some point or if Kruger can’t handle it maybe he moves down and Sharp moves to center eventually. But to start the season, I think it looks something like that with Olesz as the X factor, barring any roster trimmings. I just think they like Kruger a lot and want to give him a shot while Sharp is better at wing. Bolland deserves a real chance in an offensive role since we know what he can do in a defensive one.

[+] EnlargeViktor Stalberg
Jamie Sabau/NHLI/Getty ImagesViktor Stalberg still has something to prove to Joel Quenneville.
Q: So with a variety of options now available for fourth-line wingers what with Carcillo, Mayers, Stalberg, John Scott, who do you think is likely to get the most playing time? Any chance they use Stalberg in the top six again occasionally like they did last season? He was serviceable there, though not great by any means. --Jen (Rockford, Ill.)

A: Yes, I think Stalberg might get a look in the top six here and there but not often unless there is an injury. Scott will work on defense to start the season so Stalberg, Mayers, Bryan Bickell and Carcillo seem your best options, at least at the outset. Again I’m not sure where Olesz fits in but let’s assume it’s not on the fourth line. In my opinion I think Stalberg and Bickell still have something to prove to Joel Quenneville.

Q: Should the Hawks try to play Scott on the power play during training camp and the preseason and use him as a screen and maybe he could get some garbage goals we so desperately need? -- John (Vernon Hills, Ill.)

A: I don’t see why not. It's training camp. I know Quenneville likes him on the ice, and he wouldn’t be the first big guy to stand there as long as he can show some hands, which he hasn’t to this point. The power play has some openings with the loss of Brouwer and even Tomas Kopecky as well as Brian Campbell. I do think Brunette will end up being the guy in front of the net as well.

Q: Jesse, you're doing a great job, pal. So, do you feel Jimmy Hayes has a legitimate shot at a fourth-line spot out of camp? He seemed like a man amongst boys at prospects camp. -- Peter (South Side)

A: No way, but I always leave a “but” in case Quenneville or another bigwig really falls for a guy. I think that was Kruger at last year's prospect’s camp so you never know. But the numbers just aren’t there. Now, they could open a spot for him by trade or other means, but right now I’m sure he needs some seasoning in Rockford.

Q: Can we finally silence the notion of Bolland moving up to center line two after Bowman's comments about Sharp being a viable option in the middle? I love Bolland, and I do think he is better offensively than most third-line centers in the league, but his ability to get in the heads and the way of the oppositions top forwards is far more valuable than that. -- Luke (Deerfield, Ill.)

A: I think we have to be careful in taking someone’s comments as an absolute. I wrote earlier that I believe Sharp will start at wing but can always move to center. Bolland was coming on offensively before his concussion last season. I think they play with that for a while on the second line while they develop Kruger. It doesn’t mean Bolland and Hossa will never face other top lines, but it will be as the second line. Then come playoffs, Bolland probably goes into lockdown mode.

Q: Do you think Kyle Beach has a chance to make the team this fall? -- Steve S. (Kenosha, Wis.)

A: No, but there is always a chance he has the camp of his life. Bowman indicated recently he needs to round out his game, and they’ve brought in some guys on one-year deals that would play his role so one more year in Rockford is probably his destination for this season. Then he gets a big chance next season if he’s still with the club, etc.

Q: Can you give us your top five prospects based on the camp this past weekend? (Based on being close to NHL-ready). -- Keith (Waupaca, Wis.)

A: That’s a tough one because as Bowman put it, this was more of a “developmental” camp as opposed to an “evaluation” one, but I guess I can do the evaluating. One caveat: I wasn’t there every day, but I would say Jimmy Hayes is getting there. I liked Dylan Olsen going back to last season. He’s closer. Mark McNeill, Brandon Saad and Phillip Danault all impressed me. Danault might be the sleeper of the group, if a first-round pick can be.

Q: I know Gary Bettman is on a mission to destroy the NHL, but how can he possibly consider moving Detroit to the East? Not only would he split up the Hawks and Wings, but five of the Original Six would be in one conference. So long to Original Six games for half the hockey fans on the planet. All this so Detroit fans can be tucked in at a decent hour? Come on. He can't be that clueless. -- Adam (Chicago)

A: As long as they don’t move Vancouver to the East I think things will be OK. I would bet more and more fans couldn’t name the Original Six teams if you spotted them half the teams. Yes, the Hawks and Wings rivalry is still great, but I’m not totally opposed to change. If you’re a Wings or Blue Jackets fan, those West Coast games are starting at 10 or 10:30 p.m. Hawks fans would go nuts if that was the case here, so I can understand why they want to move and why they might be accommodated.

[+] EnlargeChris Campoli
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesChris Campoli had four goals and 17 assists for the Hawks.
Q: Where do the Hawks go if they can't come to terms with Campoli? Without him and Campbell they really lose that advantage of having some defensemen to move the puck. Also provided Frolik returns, do you see him playing wing or center? He showed some signs of playing a center roll well, but played even better as a winger with Bolland in the last four games of the playoffs. -- Alex O. (Chicago)

A: It’s a very good point about Campoli. Maybe his camp knows the Hawks need him even more now and are looking to use that leverage. I agree that Campbell/Campoli exchanged for Montador/O’Donnell (he’s next in line) would affect their transition game more than anyone would want. They would absolutely have to bring in another defenseman, but it’s starting to get later in the summer and it will certainly be late by the time his arbitration hearing is here. Not sure what they would do to be honest. I still don’t think we’re there yet though.

Q: With the recent acquisitions, I have been trying to figure out who is going to be the "odd man out". Olesz (if healthy) will his contract be bought out Aug. 1? Kruger, Smith? Leaves very little chance for any of the boys in camp to make the team right? (i.e. Beach, Morin, LaLonde, McNeill). Johnny B. (Jakarta, Indonesia)

A: The Hawks have made no indication they are doing anything with Olesz except bringing him to camp. Maybe that will change, but they haven’t even wavered for one minute on that thought. You make it sound like it’s a bad thing if Morin or any of these guys don’t make the team. Smith and Kruger are good players. I’d want the best 23 to make the team, so if that includes Lalonde or anyone else, great. The competition in camp will decide that. Guys can be traded or sent to the minors to make room for others so on paper anything is possible. But it is a longer shot for any of them to make it.

Q: At what number do you think the Hawks would walk away from Campoli after the arbitration hearing? And even if the number were higher than the Hawks hope, with the cap space available, wouldn't it be better to lock him in for a one-year deal and move him later? -- Erik (San Francisco)

A: I’m guessing $3 million is definitely too much, but I doubt he’d get that. Hard to say what that number would be, but you bring up a good point. This time I think they will keep him either way. They don’t have to trade him. Let him play the year and try to work something out or wait until next offseason or move him as you say. I think that was the point Bowman was trying to make to me recently when he said Campoli was different than Antti Niemi. Niemi, they simply had to let go, but Campoli they can keep and save in other ways or work around it.

Q: Why have the Hawks not addressed their need for a second-line center? Bolland is not the answer there (great third line/playoff guy) and neither is Kruger. Is there anyone out there that they are considering? -- Mike (Chicago)

A: It doesn’t sound like they are considering anyone right now. I haven’t heard of anything new on the trade or free agency front. You may not agree with the thinking but it’s pretty simple: the Hawks felt there was no one they wanted at the price that was out there. They didn’t want to overpay or give extra years when they feel their system is on the verge of producing centers. It makes sense if you believe they might have enough for this year come playoff time and those prospects are for real. Plus, they should have a few bucks to spend near the trade deadline if it becomes a major issue.

Q: Where's the buzz on Morin? I thought he showed a lot of skill in the limited time he had with the Hawks. -- Mike D. (Naperville, Ill.)

A: I still think he’s a good prospect but with Smith and Kruger there, he isn’t getting as much attention. If I’m him, I like that. The coaches will notice if he should be here. I suspect he’s first up from Rockford if he doesn’t make the team which I don’t see happening but camp will decide all that of course.

Q: Let's talk defense. What do you think the defensive pairings will look like next season with or without Campoli? I'm having a hard time seeing where Nick Leddy fits in with the acquisition of O'Donnell and Montador. Is he trade bait? -- Josh

A: I believe the Hawks when they say they want big numbers on defense or have players ready to come up from Rockford so I definitely do not see a trade. I think they will mix and match based on who is playing well. Opening night I see O’Donnell as the odd man out, but that’s just an educated guess. I see Keith and Seabrook paired along with Hjalmarsson and Campoli with Montador and Leddy the third pair but that bottom four could be jumbled. Hard to know right now. I know they liked Campoli with another puck mover like Brian Campbell so maybe he is paired with Leddy and they go Montador and Hjalmarsson. I could see that as well.

Hawks working to build cost-effective roster

June, 27, 2011
6/27/11
9:59
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Make that 13 Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks from the 2010 roster who have moved on, after Tomas Kopecky was traded to the Florida Panthers on Monday. And that number doesn’t include Cristobal Huet, who won’t play another game for the Hawks, or Jordan Hendry, who might not either.

It could be the biggest turnover of a championship roster in just over a year that the NHL has ever seen. The difference between this summer and the last one is general manager Stan Bowman isn’t being forced to make these moves, as he was a year ago. He’s doing them willingly.

The three latest players who left, Kopecky, Troy Brouwer and Brian Campbell, all conceivably would have been overpaid entering the 2011-12 campaign. Campbell’s situation is well documented and while Brouwer and Kopecky were nice players, they were due raises into the $2-million range and both could have ended up playing fourth-line minutes.

[+] EnlargeTomas Kopecky
Bill Smith/Getty ImagesAdd Tomas Kopecky to the long list of Cup-winning Blackhawks cut loose by the team in just over a year.
Kopecky getting dealt to Florida was a head scratcher from the Panthers' angle. He's set to be an unrestricted free agent come Friday, and while he had a decent season, he's hardly a player that will instigate a bidding war. Panthers GM Dale Tallon gave up a pick for him when he could have gotten him for nothing at the end of the week. And Tallon has more cap money to spend than anyone in the league. Bowman must have wondered what the catch was for a moment before agreeing. Kopecky has some leverage now, because if he doesn’t sign with Florida, Tallon will come out of it looking bad.

Bowman is simply setting up his roster so he can get close to full value throughout. As the saying goes, this is business, not personal.

Just like last offseason, the Blackhawks who were jettisoned are talented, but don’t fit the team's plans at the prices they were commanding. With the news that Jake Dowell might not return, since the Hawks did not extend a “qualifying” offer to him, the shedding might be complete.

It’s time to add, starting with the re-signing of Chris Campoli, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg. Expect quick and bloodless negotiations, though the restricted free agents don’t have to be signed by Friday when free agency begins. It’s doubtful any will be extended an offer sheet as Niklas Hjalmarsson was last July.

As for Dowell, the fourth-line center simply didn’t live up to the gritty two-way player the Hawks envisioned. He’s not expensive, but the Hawks don’t want to be tied to a one-way contract as they explore rebuilding that trio. A two-way contract could be in the cards for Dowell if he doesn’t find another team to offer better.

Friendly faces

The relationship between the Hawks and their former front office employees has been interesting to watch, to say the least. Last summer, Bowman and Rick Dudley, then with Atlanta, pulled off the blockbusters. This time, it was Bowman and his predecessor, Tallon.

Tallon did the Hawks a huge favor by taking on Campbell’s contract. It’s doubtful anyone else would have. Listening to him at the NHL draft this past weekend, he sounded like a man still wanting to justify the money and years he gave Campbell in 2008 while he was the GM in Chicago and Campbell was a big-ticket free agent. But Joel Quenneville didn’t play him like a $7-million man, and maybe the Panthers will. Bowman and another former Hawks’ GM, Bob Murray, have also done business since the former took over the job in 2009.

For those pining for a return of some of the other championship pieces who exited, ironically, the Hawks now have money to afford some of them back if they desire. John Madden and Brent Sopel are available and both undoubtedly would love to return. Adam Burish is signed for one more year in Dallas and his cap hit is $1.15 million. That seemed like a king’s ransom a year ago, but it’s exactly in line with what the Hawks can -- and probably will -- spend to help rebuild their fourth line. Ben Eager is also available, and the Hawks already kicked the tires on reacquiring him last season before he was eventually moved to San Jose.

“Sometimes you target players, and we do have a little bit more room now to make sure we get guys that we value at that position,” Bowman said of the fourth line on Saturday at the NHL draft. “It’s an important thing.”

Reacquiring players who won the Cup just because they won the Cup is shortsighted and way too sentimental for an NHL general manager. But in the case of a few of these names, it might not be a bad thing.

Burish, Madden and Sopel are capable of providing some of what went missing last season, in terms of character in the dressing room. They also play a role which Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were weary of even before the latest trades: they’re all good interviews. Especially Burish.

Campbell, Brouwer and even Kopecky were all willing and able whenever a microphone was placed in front of them. Every interview they did was one less Kane and Toews had to do. And those stars appreciated it. Burish might talk too much for a coach’s liking, but if he takes pressure off other players, there is plenty of value in it. Of course, the Hawks would have to deal for him, but they have plenty of trading chips with the plethora of players they’ve acquired since last offseason..

New faces

Of course, there are plenty of other players that fit the Hawks’ needs and salary structure who will be available come Friday.

Zenon Konopka, Joel Ward, Mike Rupp, Jamal Mayers and Aaron Asham are some names that could fit the bill. Some might be too old, or not the right fit, but the point is the Hawks can pick and choose instead of being left with scraps. Maybe former Hawk Michael Handzus will get a look. Replacing one Slovak with another would make at least one Hawk happy.

A case could be made it was wrong for any of the players to be moved in the last three days, but the case for the trades is stronger. It starts and ends with the flexibility the trades provide the Hawks moving forward. The purge (part II) is over. Now starts the retooling.

Bowman reflects on a 'great day'

June, 25, 2011
6/25/11
5:50
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive

ST.PAUL, Minn. -- Usually a general manager who trades two pieces from a recent championship team and gets very little in return isn’t happy with his day. But that’s not the case for Stan Bowman. His moves have finally given him flexibility to do more of what he wants for the first since taking over the job in the summer of 2009.

“It was a great day for us, yesterday and today,” Bowman said at the conclusion of the NHL draft on Saturday. “In terms of the players we got as well as having more flexibility to spend in the right situation.”

We can argue all day the on-ice value Brian Campbell brings to a team but there is little argument that his salary didn’t justify his production. And in the salary cap world that’s a luxury few teams can afford.

“You saw our cap situation over the last couple years and that’s how its going to be for a while,” Bowman explained. “We have some really good players signed to big tickets and we’re always looking to the future. Obviously, Brian’s contract was one of the largest ones on the books for us. In our team structure the contract made it very difficult.”

Bowman and Panthers’ general manager Dale Tallon both admitted it was Tallon that convinced Campbell to waive his no-trade clause and he did it the same way he convinced Campbell to come to Chicago in the first place: by convincing him they were building a winner. This time in Florida.

“Why wouldn’t he trust me,” Tallon joked.

Bowman admitted the next few days will help determine the direction the Hawks take with their newfound money. Make no mistake, re-building the fourth line into a grittier, meaner trio, who is harder to play against, is a priority.

“We are going to do that, absolutely,” Bowman said without hesitation. “Sometimes you target players and we do have a little bit more room now to make sure we get guys that we value at that position. It’s an important thing.”

So this time around Bowman will have more than the league minimum $500,000 to use when they go fishing for that kind of talent. It should bring them better than Fernando Pisani and Jake Dowell.

The Hawks believe in Dave Bolland and to an extent Marcus Kruger, and despite the lack of major depth at center, they like what they have there at the moment. What they don’t believe in is anyone who occupied the fourth line last year.

“That’s probably the one place we didn’t have consistency not just in the line but the personnel was constantly juggling,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “In the prior year it was more predictable but this year it was a little uncertain.”

As for replacing Campbell on the roster, don’t look for the Hawks to sign or trade for a major name on defense. They won’t want to spend more on their blueline after just relieving themselves of a major headache. They’ll try to promote from within while the current crop of defenders moves up a notch, including big John Scott.

“He’s such a valuable part of our team in terms of being a popular player,” Bowman said of the sometimes maligned winger/defender. “Our players like to have him in the lineup for sure, have him on the ice for sure. He makes a difference that way. He’s an intimidating force. We’d like to get him some more ice time.”

For those worried about that last statement or how the Hawks ultimately replace what Campbell and Troy Brouwer brought to the team, Bowman asks for some patience.

“It’s a little early to have everything mapped out,” he said. “We had some ideas in case this happened but you never know until you make the trade and we just made it less than 24 hours ago. We’ll spend the next few days preparing how we’re going to change the lineup.”

After a dramatic draft weekend which will help reshape the Hawks for years to come, Blackhawks' nation will be watching closely.

Bowman puts Hawks in good position

June, 25, 2011
6/25/11
12:08
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive

ST.PAUL, Minn. -- Dramatic moves by Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman stole the headlines on Day 1 of the 2011 NHL draft.

Bowman dumped two salaries -- moving winger Troy Brouwer and defenseman Brian Campbell. In doing so, he shed close to $10 million in payroll for the Hawks -- that figure takes into account the raise Brouwer is due as a restricted free-agent who is arbitration eligible.

The Hawks will receive salary from Florida in return--Rostislav Olesz has a cap hit of $3.1 million for three more years--but they will no longer be handcuffed by Campbell’s gigantic deal.

Both moves were advantageous for Bowman and the Hawks; both players were underachievers for the salaries they were commanding or going to command. The fiscal flexibility allows the Hawks freed to make deals this offseason and beyond. They’ll need to replace Brouwer’s size but its more about being hard to play against than it is physical size. The Hawks know that and will attend to it.

[+] EnlargeCampbell
Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty ImagesBrian Campbell's contract had been hamstringing the Hawks.

As for Campbell, he didn’t play on the first power-play unit, didn’t play on the penalty kill, didn’t play the tough minutes against the opposing team’s best players, and put up mediocre offensive numbers. His transition game was top notch, but it wasn’t worth $7.14 million per year. Not even close. Fortunately, Dale Tallon and the Florida Panthers have to reach the salary cap “floor” of $48 million so taking on a big contract was as good for them as it was for the Hawks in shedding it.

Now Nick Leddy and Chris Campoli, when he’s re-signed, will move up a notch on the depth chart and don’t be surprised if John Scott has first crack at the No. 6 position on defense.

So what will the Hawks do with the extra money?

They will spend it on signing Patrick Sharp to an extension and filling out their fourth line with edgier players who can play the game as well. The Hawks know they missed that grit last season and now can address it without settling for minimum salaried players. If a center falls into their lap either via trade or free-agency they have the flexibility to be competitive in the bidding there as well.

Bottom line: The moves were good for hockey reasons and for monetary reasons. Yes, Brouwer showed flashes but as Bowman said Friday night “there comes a time when new faces have to get a chance.” Jeremy Morin is waiting in the wings and who doesn’t want to see if Ben Smith is the real deal coming off his end-of-season run?

It’s all about value. Brouwer and Campbell’s value is better to the Hawks on another roster. The Hawks do have to replace some of what they lost, but in a nutshell, they can do nearly what they want in the marketplace for the first time in a long time. With the adjusted salary figures the Hawks have 16 players signed at about $50 million. It leaves them plenty of room -- up to $14 million -- to sign six more players, including their own restricted free-agents. They’ll save some of that money for injuries and in-season moves but will have enough leftover to improve their team now.

They’re not ready for a Stanley Cup run just yet but the Hawks are better off today than they were yesterday. Can you ask your general manager for much more than that?

Source: Hawks trade Brian Campbell

June, 24, 2011
6/24/11
11:19
PM CT
LeBrun By Pierre LeBrun
ESPNChicago.com
Archive

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Chicago Blackhawks unloaded a huge contract Friday night, sending talented defenseman Brian Campbell to the Florida Panthers in exchange for winger Rostislav Olesz, a source told ESPN.com.

Read the full story.

Mailbag: Keith's best days behind him?

May, 24, 2011
5/24/11
5:39
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
The mail-bag is full once again. Let’s lighten it some:

Duncan Keith
Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty ImagesWas Duncan Keith's subpar season an exception or a preview of what's to come?
Q: I am concerned that Duncan Keith reached his pinnacle in 2009. The Keith we saw this season was disappointing to say the least. I think we should consider a trade involving Keith while his value is still pretty high and assuming we can get a fair value for him. What are your thoughts on Keith? – Kirk, Toronto

A:It’s a good question, and I’m sure one many Hawks’ fans are wondering. I don’t know if he’ll contend for another Norris Trophy, but this year proved he is actually human. The body and mind just can’t take all that was on him coming off the previous year. However, he admittedly did not prepare for the season the right way and then Joel Quenneville played him to near exhaustion. I think this season was the exception more than the norm. Look at what he did in the couple years before the Norris Trophy. He was very good. While it’s a disappointment, it’s not a complete shock he had an off year. I think he will be much better next season.

Q: Jesse, just how much of a raise did Andrew Ladd earn himself this year? I love his two-way play, and his departure last year was the toughest one for me to swallow. Any chance (realistically) the Hawks bring him back? I'm thinking we use the money that Kopecky was making and try and sign him to a three- to four-year deal worth $3-4 million per. -- Robert, San Antonio

A:Sorry, barring some unforeseen circumstances it’s just not going to happen for a Ladd return. First of all he’s a restricted free agent who made $2.3 million last season. He’s getting another raise, no question. There is no way the Hawks could pry him away from Atlanta without them matching or someone with more cap room swooping in. Second, he’s a winger, and they really don’t need expensive wingers. Third, the Hawks can’t afford him anyway. Any money they save on Kopecky or anyone else leaving will be used to cover new contracts for Michael Frolik, Chris Campoli, etc., plus they’ll use what money they do have on a second-line center more than likely. It’s just not going to happen unless it’s a trade, which is a longshot as well. He’s the Thrasher’s captain afterall. Of course, if he doesn’t want to play in Winnipeg and forces a trade, anything can happen at that point.

Q: Brian Campbell is the one player more than any other on the Blackhawks' roster whose production does not justify his salary. He is a nice contributor, but for being the second-highest paid blue-liner on the roster, he, in my opinion, needs to do more than just lead the team in plus/minus. So I can see why you say that if someone is going to be moved through a trade this offseason it will be him. If he does get moved, what kind of player will Bowman try to get in return? Will it be another top-four blue-liner or a second-line center? How feasible would it be to get a player like Dustin Byfuglien back? He's a player who, when given comparable ice time, had twice the offensive production as Campbell. – Jonathan, Savannah, Ga.

A:The reasons you stated are the reasons we won’t see a return of Byfuglien. He’s too valuable at a decent price, so why would Atlanta (Winnipeg) trade him for Campbell? The major scenario I see Campbell is being moved is to a team with a ton of cap room that is trying to get rid of someone that might not make as much as Campbell but they feel is overpaid, etc. I’ve speculated a Campbell-for-Phil Kessel trade would be a good starting point for a deal with Toronto. I agree with your assessment that the production doesn’t justify the salary which would be no big deal if there was no salary cap. But he eats up too much of it. They would miss his transition game, but just think, getting two $3.5 million players in his place or three making nearly $2.5 million. That might more than make up for his loss.

Q: Jesse, thanks for all your insights and comments this year. You add a lot of perspective. If all Hawks fans agree that some size and toughness up front is needed and a second-line center to boot, what about getting Ladd back from Atlanta? Trade No. 4 and Troy Brouwer. How about Eric Brewer from the Bolts? -- Tommy boy, McHenry, Ill.

A:It’s not a bad proposal for Ladd. Certainly should be more than enough for the Thrashers to consider. In fact it might be too much talent back if you think Niklas Hjalmarsson is still going to blossom. But it does help the Hawks salary-wise except a lot of it would be used to pay Ladd. I think center is where they will allocate the biggest expenditure this summer and from your question it sounds like you think Ladd can play there. I don’t think he can. Again, I think the door is closed on Ladd for myriad of reasons but never say never.

[+] EnlargeBen Smith
Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty ImagesBen Smith proved he has a bright future with the Blackhawks.
Q: Hey Jesse, what do you think the future holds for Ben Smith? I know I was impressed by his postseason play and grittiness, especially when he came back after seemingly destroying his leg. Will he start out in Rockford or do you think the organization believes he's a NHL-ready talent? -- Dom

A:I think it’s pretty obvious he’s got a job to lose once camp opens. Unless he’s a total flash in the pan I think the sky is the limit for Smith. There isn’t any one part of his game that is deficient. Obviously, he’s inexperienced, but he seems to have all the tools from his head to his skates. His hockey smarts and willingness to play in tough areas is impressive and it’s definitely not lost on Quenneville. Let’s see what the next step brings.

Q: Is it possible for the Hawks and Campbell to work together to defer some of the money on his contract to lower the cap hit? If so, I take it that Campbell refused to do it last offseason. I like Campbell, and I do not begrudge him for getting the contract he did, but it would be hard to find another $7 million defensemen in the league that does not play against the top line or on the No. 1 power play. Would have loved to see Big Buff in that Canucks series! Thanks Jesse. – Drew, Marietta, Ga.

A: No, they cannot defer money or change anything about a contract once it’s been signed. They can’t pay half his salary while another team they trade him to pays the other half. The salary, cap hit and everything else about the contract cannot be changed.

Q: What plans do you think the Blackhawks have for Jeremy Morin? He started strong until the World Juniors then had an injury. Do you think he will take a roster spot next season? – Daniel, Pekin, Ill.

A: I can’t tell you exactly what their plans are, but I assume he has a good chance to make it. Obviously, Smith may have moved ahead of him on the prospects chart, but he showed enough that I’m sure he’ll get a serious look. He could be trade bait as well. It’s all about the numbers, both where his salary fits in, and if he can play where they want/need him to play. That could be top-six or bottom-six. He showed enough grit that he doesn’t have to play on the top two lines to start his career in my opinion. We’ll see.

Q: Hi Jesse. If they're looking for a little bit of size and scoring, why trade Brouwer? I know he underperformed a bit, but doesn't he rank up there in terms of that total combo on the Hawks? – Matt, Cincinnati

A:On paper you’re right, but this might come down to money. They probably want to pay him like a bottom-six forward but I’m sure he’ll show the numbers you reference to an arbitrator asking for money in the $2 million range. I’m not sure the Hawks can afford that. In fact, I’m pretty sure they can’t. And he’s not enough of an impact player to make a priority. It reminds me of the Antti Niemi situation. They would like to have him back but aren’t going to move mountains to keep him. Like I wrote in another blog post, it’s 50/50 he’s on the opening night roster.

Q: Patrick Sharp had a career year this year, and is approaching a contract season. Realistically, can we re-sign him following next season, or if not should we consider trading him this offseason to free up some salary and get that second-line center our team is desperately in need of? – Jeff, Dallas

A: They can definitely re-sign him but it means making tough choices elsewhere of course. They have approximately $48 million tied up in 12 players going into 2012-2013 so there is room but it will be tight once again for the rest of the roster. Plenty of time between now and then to move money around, etc. but if they want him they can keep him.

Q: Other than Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Sharp, and Marian Hossa, what player(s) score 20-plus goals next year for Hawks? Also, have we seen the best of Hossa or will a longer offseason help him? – Jim, Lake Forest, Ill.

A:Smith would be a cool choice right? I’ll go with Frolik. I think he found his touch there at the end. He’s scored 20 twice before in the NHL so now a full season with this kind of talent around him, I’ll go that route. As for Hossa, I think we’ve seen his best, but I also think he can at least achieve that level still. Rest will help. I think a somewhat healthy Hossa -- if that’s possible -- still has some real good years left. I don’t think he’ll play better than what we’ve seen when at his best, but he can reach that same level again, easily.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Patrick Sharp
PTS GOALS AST +/-
78 34 44 13
OTHER LEADERS
GoalsP. Sharp 34
AssistsD. Keith 55
+/-M. Hossa 28
GAAC. Crawford 2.26