I heard somewhere that Detroit may be interested in acquiring Alex Zhamnov to relieve their problems at center with the loss of Sergei Federov. As someone who definitely thought trading Jeremy Roenick for Zhamnov was a bad idea, I would like to see the Hawks jump at the chance to unload the production-challenged Zhamnov. What do you think, and what do you think the Hawks would want for Zhamnov? --Kevin Hanlon, Indianapolis

Kevin, before Mike Smith was fired, I would say that there was no chance Zhamnov would be traded. Now? Maybe. If the Hawks get to March and are out of the playoff picture, I can see him being moved to a team that is looking for that one extra ingredient. The question now, though, is how Zhamnov comes back from his back injury. The injury, plus the fact his contract is up at the end of the season and any lengthy work stoppage may end of his career, means the Hawks wouldn't be able to get much for him. Maybe a draft pick and depth player or mid-level prospect?

Bob, what are the chances of the NHL consolidating to bring the level of competition up? Rivalries are dead in the NHL. It's tough to get excited about the Hawks versus the Hurricanes, or the Thrashers, or the Lightning... need I go on? What will it take to get rivalries back? Thanks. --Tony Reina, Calabasas, Calif.

Tony, contraction, or consolidating, is something that I think the league seriously needs to consider. At 30 teams, the team is too large from a competitive and financial standpoint. There just aren't 30 markets that can sustain a franchise. I would like to see the league get back down to 24 teams, four divisions of six and a return to divisional playoffs. I would also like to see 10-12 games against each team in your own division and scrapping the conference setup.

I think the league should adapt a schedule more like the NFL, where one division would play another instead of trying to play everyone. That being said, the Original Six teams should play each other in a home and home format. After the divisional playoffs, the four winners would then be seeded 1-4 for the semifinals, instead of West vs. West and East vs. East. Trimming the schedule somewhere to between 70-80 games would help too. The six teams that I would drop would be: Anaheim, Atlanta, Tampa, Carolina, Nashville and Pittsburgh. But, alas, I am not the Commissioner and Gary Bettman, who is, is adamant against expansion and divisional playoffs. Perhaps a letter-writing campaign to him would be in order?

Doesn't it seem apparent that Hawks fans in Chicago won't and can't relate to a team that is almost half European? Really, no offense to foreigners, but it seems like the average Hawk fan refuses to relate to the European players, much less actually go to the home games. --Brent Ray, New York

Brent, I'm not sure Chicago fans can't relate to foreign players as much as not relating to foreign players who don't win. Would they draw more if they had nothing but North Americans? Maybe, but ultimately, a team has to win. I think when a team doesn't win, saying that it has too many Europeans is a convenient excuse to blame on the lack of attendance. Tuomo Ruutu, from Finland, plays as if he were born in Western Canada.

Bob, what is the status of Zhamnov's back operation? Did it go well? Is he working out lightly or is he flat on his back? Is he on track to return in the 6-8 week timeline first given? It is hard to find any information on him anywhere. Thank you. --Gord Hoffman, Kelowna, British Columbia

Gord, all indications are that Zhamnov's surgery went as planned. He hasn't started working out yet, just doing whatever rehab he needs. The timetable is still for early Dec., but you never know with those types of injuries.

Mr Foltman: I enjoyed watching the Hawks play the Sharks [Oct. 23]. I hope that Mr. Karpovtsev is healthy after his injury. I could not help notice the lack of resistance in the neutral zone. This surprised me because coach Sutter's teams are usually great at forechecking. Is this a chronic issue? What should be done about it before the Hawks return to San Jose in November? Thank you for your time and consideration of my question. --Jerome, San Jose, Calif.

Jerome, I will pass along your good wishes to Karpovtsev--perhaps he'll give me a shrug of recognition. Like just about every team in the NHL, the Hawks employ some sort of neutral zone trap--hence the lack of resistance. Whether they execute it as well as other teams is open to debate, but forechecking is something that isn't seen as much any more.

If the Hawks go along and leave Fox Sports as reported and join a Chicago sports network with the other teams in the city, won't Wirtz have to televise local games? The problem with only showing road games is that so many early-season games are with teams west of Chicago and the games start later. By the time they play teams of interest (Red Wings), they are going to be out of the playoff picture. --Bob, Crystal Lake, Ill.

Bob, without having him tell me this, I feel safe in saying that the home-blackout policy won't be changing no matter where the games are televised. Maybe I'm wrong, and I hope I am, but as long as the team remains under the current ownership, that policy isn't going to change.

Recently, coach Sutter said that Tyler Arnason has the chance to be a "special player." Do you agree with him? I see him as a Tony Amonte type player, but special, I don't know. --CJ Keller, Prattville, Ala.

CJ, first off, this must be the first hockey question ever from Alabama, congrats and thanks. I tend to agree with Sutter--Arnason certainly has the talent to be a special player. The question with Arnie is: Does he want to be a special player? Sometimes you wonder and that's what frustrates Sutter.

Bob, why do the Hawks play the same type of defensive minded, "stay close to your own zone," dump-and-chase style of play when clearly they aren't that good at it and don't have the horses like the Devils to pull it off? Opening up the offense and having a few 6-4 wins or losses would be fun for the fans and they might put up a few more wins. --Dick, Highland, Ind.

Dick, I don't have a problem so much with the dump and chase. Against a trap, that's the only way to advance the puck. But it takes commitment to bust your hump and get in and play physical to get the puck back. The Hawks don't have a lot of players that are A) big enough to play that way and B) want to play that way. The dump and chase and New Jersey's style are two different things.

The "stay close to your own zone" defensive mind-set is one that has been hoisted onto the league by coaches that want to continue to make millions of dollars. If teams played run and gun, 6-5 games all the time, people may feel they don't need to pay coaches so much. So they make themselves valuable by instituting "systems" and "defensive schemes" and when a coach like Jacques Lemaire wins two Stanley Cups with it, the copy cats come out and the entertainment value suffers.

So I guess the answer is--aside from losing six teams and having more good players on each team--get rid of all the coaches.

What is the deal with Karpovtsev? Since his arrival, the only asset I see in this guy is he can block shots. Too bad he doesn't stay healthy enough to do it for 70-80 games a season. Why don't the Hawks trade this clown for a bag of pucks or a late draft pick? He seems to float on the ice and if I remember right, he still will make close to $3 million. I'd rather have Anders Ericksson back instead of this guy. --Ian P. Keane, Bloomfield, Ind.

Ian, I'd debate you on this if I thought you were wrong. So I won't. This is Karpovtsev's last year on his contract. Come March, he might be valuable to a team at the deadline. With his contract being up, don't be surprised if he plays more games this season than in the past. I'll leave that up to you as to whether that's a good thing.

Bob, I keep hearing this rebuilding argument. What [I think] will happen with this young talent is that after three years of developing, they will want to make more money and therefore play for another team, win the Stanley Cup and then return with two years left in their career. Do you think we'll actually retain these young players once they develop? Who was the last franchise player we kept? Sorry about the sarcasm, just a little frustrated from this rebuilding that we fans have to keep hearing about. Thanks. --Jim, Chicago

Jim, no need to apologize. Your scenario is certainly a possibility, although the Hawks might argue that under a new labor system, keeping players wouldn't be as difficult. The other scenario is that these kids don't develop the way they hope and they wouldn't mind unloading them. But those answers won't come for another couple years.