4:55 PM EDT, May 5, 2006
John, that's the question I've been asking for the last couple years and it's even harder now because teams can no longer offer all the money in the world to free agents. I maintain that very soon--if they haven't already--all the general managers who were crying for a salary cap are going to regret it. It's the old saying, be careful what you wish for. If you are the Hawks or Columbus and you can only offer a player a maximum salary, and San Jose or Colorado or Philadelphia or even Toronto can offer the same amount, where is that player going to go? He's going to go to the team that has the best chance of playing in the post-season. Now, there may be other factors at work, such as more ice-time and a greater role within a team, that teams such as the Hawks can offer, but as much as I would like to see him come to Chicago, I don't envision Patrik Elias wearing the Indian Head next season.
So where do they upgrade? GM's are going to have to be more astute traders than in the past, and the draft may be more important than ever. Building through the draft, something I think the Hawks would really prefer to do, takes time and assumes teams can find those pieces while evaluating teenagers playing in juniors. That's something the Hawks have struggled with the past 10-15 years.
That being said, if the cap rises to $45 million and if the NHL continues to make money and the cap starts creeping toward the $50 million mark, then we're not very far off from where we were before the lockout, which means there are going to be teams--many of them probably--that won't be able to spend with the big clubs, cap or no cap. Which then begs the question, "What was the purpose of the lockout?"
Do you think the Blackhawks are going to leave Chicago? It looks like no one cares about them. I doubt anyone would even notice if they left town. Do you think the NHL might think this would be a good move to help improve the NHL? --Mark Ziccarelli, Downers Grove, Ill.
Mark, no, the Hawks are not leaving Chicago. First, this is the third-largest market and the NHL has to be here. Second, the Wirtz family will not sell the team and if it did, where would a new owner move them and why on earth would the league allow a franchise to move out of this market?
Now, that doesn't mean the league wouldn't mind the Wirtz's selling, even if it was a majority stake. No one will ever say it publicly, but you don't need to be a genius to figure out that the league can't be thrilled with what's happened here and how it hurts them as a whole to have a team in this size of a market ignored.
But what can they do? Whether you like the way the team is run or not, the fact remains that the Wirtz family owns the team and with that can run it as they see fit. There's not a whole lot the league can do and the only thing fans can do is not support them. Not a good option, but that's about all there is.
Hi, Bob, last week coach Yawney said that the Hawks have three players for the top 2 lines--Calder, Ruutu and Vrbata. So I miss Mark Bell, who has nearly the same numbers as Kyle Calder this season. Does this mean that Bell and Eric Daze are out? Will Daze announce his retirement? Keep up the good coverage of the Hawks! Greetings from Germany. --Martin Walter, Moenchengladbach, Germany
Martin, guten morgen, or tag. That's the extent of my high school German and that's probably wrong. First, yes, Eric Daze is likely finished. He's missed too much time and probably needs another surgery and that's not even guaranteed to help. It's too bad, he's a quality person and when healthy a great player who could have thrived with all the special teams play in the NHL now.
Mark Bell is the proverbial enigma wrapped in a riddle. Ideally, he should be a second-line center or winger. Yes, his numbers were comparable to Kyle Calders but, to be honest, I'm not sure either is a top-six forward. I'm not sure what to make of Calder's numbers since so many of those goals and points came after the Olympics--when the games meant nothing. When the Hawks needed production to stay in the playoff chase--the first two months of the season--he was nowhere to be found. Now, Trent Yawney will say that it took Calder a long time to adjust to the way the game was played and officiated. Perhaps we should give him a mulligan. But what if that's not the case? Depending on who the other two players are on the wing, Calder could play on the top two lines because of his work ethic and his ability in front of the net. He's not a sniper and probably should have twice as many goals as he does with the chances he gets, though.
Bell should have had 35 goals this season, no question. His problem is he's not the fleetest skater on the ice and there are too many times when you just don't notice him. I think there are times when he's not sure whether he should be a physical player or a finesse player and he becomes immobilized trying to figure it out. Yawney thinks he's at his best when he's physical, which means he may be better suited to the wing. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if one or both are offered in some sort of trade package this summer. Bell is asked about by a lot of teams. Calder is beloved by the Sr. VP, so it would have to be an unbelievable deal to get him. But I think both have to take that next step for this team to go forward. They are part of the so-called "core" group of players they want to build around. If this is as good as they are going to be, then they are probably third-line players on playoff teams.
Bob, have you ever thought about doing an article on all the ex-Hawks currently thriving on other teams in the NHL? You could probably come up with a true All-Star team. --Jim Johnson, Indianapolis
Jim, funny, I do think about that every time I see Ethan Moreau or J.P. Dumont play. Or Steve Sullivan. Or Steve McCarthy. Or Michael Nylander. Or Chris Chelios. Or Keith Carney.
Saw you mention to a fan in Colorado how he'll "always be a Hawks fan." Well here's one native Chicagoan who has permanently given up on the Hawks (but I remain a die-hard Cubs, Bears, and Bulls fan). I'm now a Sharks fan through and through. Here's a franchise that actually gives a hoot about the fans and strives to put a quality product on the ice at every opportunity -- something "Dollar" Bill Wirtz and his family haven't been willing to do for too many years. --Win Reis, San Mateo, Calif.
Win, I can understand your feelings for the Sharks, it is a first-class organization all the way with a bold general manager whom I believe spent some time in Chicago as a decent defenseman ... So you're saying then that if the Hawks ever turn it around and become an upper echelon team in the NHL, you will still renounce your former fandom? I don't believe it. It's been said there are only two things in life we can't change--our social security number and teams we grew up rooting for.
Perhaps one day that will be put to the test. Meantime, go Sharks, I wouldn't mind spending a week or so out there covering the Stanley Cup finals.
Bob, thank you for telling things like they are and not being in bed with the organization. What realistic chance is there that the ownership will change in the near future? Clearly, the Wirtz family can make more money elsewhere and has no idea what hockey even is, let alone how to run a team that is supposedly playing it. --Michael Pastko, Mundelein, Ill.
Michael, near future, meaning within the next 10 years? I would say zero. I think the big question that faces this organization--after, 'How do they become relevant again?'--is what happens when the children take over? The assumption is at some point, Peter Wirtz will inherit the presidency. What, if any, changes will he make? I honestly can't answer that question and I'm not sure anyone can. On many occasions this past season, I requested an interview with Peter--with whom I consider myself to be friendly--to do a "future of the Hawks" type story and every time I was told he was unavailable or out of town or whatever. Peter is very sensitive to doing anything that would upstage his father. So we really don't know what will change. I think, out of respect for Mr. Wirtz, nothing would change immediately, perhaps not even the TV policy. Some believe that Peter will bring a breath of fresh air and much needed changes, others think it won't be any different and that the same was said about Mr. Wirtz when his father passed and it turned out to be more of the same.
But I don't see any ownership change. I think the Blackhawks are a part of the Wirtz family. The only change I could envision is perhaps selling a majority stake of the team and retaining minority ownership and ownership of the United Center. But even that is many, many years down the road.
Now that another disappointing season has concluded, give us something to look forward to. Will the 'Hawks have the third pick in the draft and if so, is there an impact player available at that spot? --Rick Ramsey, Jacksonville, Fla.
Bob, again we're left with only the draft to keep us warm in Hawkland. If the Hawks win the lottery, do they take the consensus No. 1 Eric Johnson, even though they appear loaded at D? If they stay at No. 3 or 4, then a forward? Which one? --Gary U, Schaumburg, Ill.
Rick and Gary, you're questions are similar, so we'll tackle them both together. The Hawks will pick third in the draft and the general consensus is that there are four top players. People differ on the order but everyone seems to have Erick Johnson, the defenseman, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews and Phil Kessel among their top four. Kessel was the consensus No. 1 pick in midseason, but his stock seems to have fallen and the Central Scouting Bureau actually has him as the fifth-best North American skating prospect behind Derick Brassard from Drummondville in the Quebec Major Juniors.
So, let's assume that at No. 3, the Hawks are going to get a pretty good player, no matter who it is. Here is the major question they have to ask themselves: Are we going to get a player who can step in and not only play next season, but make some sort of an impact?
If the answer is yes--whether it's Staal, Toews, Kessel, Brassard or a European--then make the pick and pencil him into the lineup. (I think Pittsburgh is going to take Johnson because they need defensive help.) But, you better be very sure because no matter what happens, on that Sunday after the draft you absolutely, positively have to have at least one player who is going to be on your roster next season and making an impact. And if you don't think that player is in that third pick, then you need to put together some sort of package and trade the pick for a player who is.
The Hawks don't have the luxury of selecting someone and waiting two or three years to make it to Chicago and I'm not sure they will be able to fill all their needs via free agency. They need impact bodies now.
That being said, if Kessel is available, I would imagine the Hawks will take him and hope he's the player people projected as the top pick. The safe thing to do is to make the pick and hope it turns out. Sometimes doing the safe thing isn't the right thing, though.
Television commentators have driven me crazy talking about Nikolai Khabibulin's "terrible season." Has anyone bothered to take notice of the amount of goals scored on him during 5-on-3 and the other 50 million penalty situations the Hawks found themselves in this year? I find it hard to believe that any goalie would have a winning record playing behind a team that occupied the penalty box so frequently. I'm not sure the Hawks eclipsed the record for most penalties in a season, but I know they were bearing down on it. Nick admitted to playing poorly and everyone was saying how much pressure was on him because of the big contract. But give him credit for wanting to take the blame, and not putting it where it mostly belonged. To me it seems difficult to tend goal in the best of times. When you are short handed one period out of three for much of the year, it becomes close to impossible to win on a regular basis. --John R. McDermott, Irvine, Calif.
John, I'm with you. Here's the thing about goalies, they are an easy target. Yes, it's the most important position in sports and they can win games--and lose games--by themselves. But sometimes they also become a convenient scapegoat. Nik took too much of the blame for the Hawks' poor start. People pointed to his save percentage and said that many times he would give up a "soft" goal and it would be deflating. Please. We were told all last summer about the amount of character this team possessed. If that was the case, then they should have been able to overcome the occasional bad goal. Everyone expects the goaltender to bail out his team and "make the important save" but seldom does the rest of the team ever get called out to bail out the goalie. That's probably because few coaches are ever former goalies. Coaches are former forwards or defensemen and know it's hard to score goals, but have no idea what it takes to play goal, just that they need to make the saves. Was Nik at post-season ability last season? No.
This team's problems last season were that it couldn't skate, couldn't score and couldn't keep their sticks out of their opponent's waists (making them lazy). Nik was the easy fall guy and it was unfair. I get tired of hearing how it's always the goalie's fault. The favorite coach's saying is that the goalie "has to make one more save than the other guy." How about asking your forwards to score one more goal than the other team once in a while? There are times when I think coaches believe a 6-5 or 7-6 win is shameful.
On the Blackhawks Web site there was talk that Bob Pulford wants Dale Tallon and Trent Yawney gone. Is there any truth to this? A major shakeup is needed for this team from the Wirtzes on down. Savard and Cassidy should stay as assistant coaches, everyone else should leave. --Todd, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Todd, probably, until he then asks the question, "Who would I hire to replace them?"
I don't think there is any question that if he had his way, Pulford would have brought in his son-in-law Dean Lombardi to be general manager. And you know what, that's probably what the Wirtzes should have allowed him to do. Now, there are theories as to why it didn't happen, from the Wirtzes being afraid the media would have ripped them for nepotism--like being ripped by the media ever bothered them before--to the Wirtzes believing that Lombardi lied to them back when the Hawks traded Ed Belfour to San Jose when Lombardi was GM there.
But, and this is no disrespect to Tallon, Lombardi would have been a good hire for a couple reasons. First, he had a track record as an excellent general manager, building the Sharks into an elite team. Second, he might be the only person Pulford would trust and leave alone to do his job.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, Pulford gets rid of both Tallon and Yawney. Who comes in? There is no current or former GM who would take the job as long as Pulford has an office at the United Center. And if they did, they likely wouldn't be able to hire his coaches (i.e., Mike Smith being forced to hire Brian Sutter instead of his preferred choice, Bryan Murray). Who would take that position?
So we have what we have. The Hawks hope that Tallon turns out to be not only a qualified GM, but someone that can also work with Pulford and the constant tug-of-war that goes on between the Sr. VP, GM and coach that needlessly drains so much energy.
How can you stand being the Blackhawks beat writer? I love the Blackhawks and I'm a journalism major, but man I can't imagine covering this team day in and day out without wanting to shoot myself. The power play is pathetic, probably because we can't score any goals, and, boy, those free agents have really panned out, huh? Do you see any hope for the future of this team? I couldn't help but laugh when I saw Jack Skille celebrating Wisconsin's title. I don't think I'll ever see him lifting a Stanley Cup. --Derek, Lake Zurich, Ill.
Derek, there are days when I stand on the edge of my balcony and wonder whether it would just be easier to take the leap ... Seriously, though, look, this is sports, fun and games. I'm not dealing with the White House press secretary trying to get information on issues that involve actual life and death. Is it trying at times? Of course it is. But I love hockey, I get to travel around the country and Canada on someone else's dime, interact with truly first-class people on a daily basis and, for the most part, have my summer to myself. Do I wish the team was better? Of course. But only one team can win and there are many more teams--and writers--in the same situation as the Hawks and their press corps. Heck, the Detroit Red Wings ended up playing just six more games than the Hawks did this season and I guarantee Red Wings fans are as down on their team right now as Hawk fans are.
That's the nature of sports and it sure beats writing about Iraq, a driveby shooting of a child or trying to get past a Hollywood publicist to ask a self-absorbed actor about his latest movie--which will no doubt flop. Trust me, there are worse things to do that cover a struggling hockey team.
Who do the Hawks buy out at the end of the season, and will the they have to overpay to get players here in the offseason. And how much cap room will they have? --Charlie Spencer, Whitby, Ontario
Charlie, that's a good, and critical, question for what this team can do going forward this summer. They were supposed to have their organizational meetings the first week of May and the topic of potential buy-outs likely will be discussed. This is a franchise that history shows hasn't bought out players, but with the salary cap, it's critical that teams recognize their mistakes early and correct them and that may mean buying out a contract or two. The two likely candidates are Matthew Barnaby, who has only one year left on his contract, and Curtis Brown, who has two. Ideally Jassen Cullimore would also be a candidate, but he has two years left after this upcoming season and that may be too much to swallow. Plus there is also the belief that if Cullimore can come back from his double surgery, the Hawks may be able to move him in a trade at some point next season. Not sure of that, but we'll see.
It's my theory that in order for this team to seriously consider making the playoffs next season, then Barnaby, Brown and perhaps Martin Lapointe have to be fourth-line players. Maybe Brown and Lapointe can play on the third line, but that means Bell, Calder or Bourque are on the top two lines and if that's the case, where's the improvement? Now if Brown, Barnaby and Lapointe are on the fourth line, that's one of the most expensive fourth lines in the NHL and it also may not leave room for Mark Cullen and Milan Bartovic. Maybe Bartovic isn't a big loss, but he can do as much as Barnaby for a lot less and Cullen has shown he can play at the NHL level and, again, would come much cheaper.
So we'll know rather quickly what to expect this season by whether they elect to buy anyone out. They think they'll have around $9 million available for free agents. I would expect that to be closer to $7 million.
I know the 'Hawks have to start somewhere, but how are they going to find some "skilled" forwards without giving up top-notch talent along the blue line? Doesn't that leave us right back where we have been for 10 years? --Terry Graunke, Central Point, Ore.
Terry, it doesn't if you believe, like they do, that they have skilled forwards at the junior level ready to make the jump and that they can possibly add one via free agency and one through a trade that may not involve one of their current defensemen on the roster, but perhaps a junior prospect. The question is whether one of their junior prospects is ready to play in Chicago next season and, if so, are they truly offensive, skilled players, or another in a long line of third-line grinders?
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