It’s Monday, which means it’s time to answer the mail. The Hawks are off until Thursday, when the non-Olympians will begin to practice. Plenty of exciting hockey to watch until they get back, that’s for sure.
What are the non-Olympic Hawks doing during the layoff? What types of downtime (when they get back) do you expect if any of the Hawks make it to the finals?
Most are on a warm beach somewhere. Some went home. They’ll have five days of practice before a game to shake the rust off. As for the Olympians, I think there is a good chance if they are in the gold medal game, or even if they just miss out, Joel Quenneville will let them take the Islanders game off next Tuesday if they want. There’s a precedent for it, and it does make sense. They start a homestand after that, including playing the next day, so it’s possible a few Hawks won’t make the trip to New York.
Do you think if the Hawks have the option to pull the trigger for Tomas Vokoun -- giving up Cristobal Huet, Corey Crawford, and Kris Versteeg -- they make that trade? Especially with Voukon's contract coming off the books after next season?
Brent Zartler (Tinley Park)
Yes, if they could do that trade I think they would, but I do not think that trade is in place or will happen. They have interest in Vokoun, as well they should, but I don’t believe Florida wants that package. My informed opinion is they make a play for him, but it won’t involve Huet, but Vokoun is absolutely attractive.
Your recent article on a potential trade involving Vokoun got me thinking. And I'm thinking that any trade that doesn't send Huet back to Florida makes zero sense. Sure, it probably also means the Hawks are sending Versteeg and a prospect or two as well, but the Hawks need to shed salary, and optioning Huet to Rockford isn't really the answer. Especially when it could have a serious impact on how the Hawks are able to negotiate with other FAs in future seasons.
First off, I’m not sure how optioning a player to the minors has any negative effect on future negotiations with free agents. I don’t believe it would. Second, getting Vokoun is the key. How you get him shouldn’t matter much, unless of course, you are breaking up your core, which the Hawks will not do. I don’t believe Florida wants Huet, so if the Hawks can get Vokoun a different way, they should do it and deal with the consequences later.
Given that none of the Hawks' Olympians are particularly lighting up the score sheets, which one do you think is most frustrated by his individual performance so far?
It’s hard to get inside their heads, but I’m sure Brent Seabrook might be a little surprised playing less than double digit minutes per game. He and Duncan Keith were brought in as a tandem, and they aren’t getting big minutes together. And you know Patrick Kane is the type who wants to see his name in the box score, because that is how he contributes -- with points. He has a goal, but I’d expect he’d want more after three games.
Do you think there will be any negative effects on the chemistry between the American and Canadian Olympians when they return given the huge upset that occurred? Or are they too professional to let any resentment from that tournament affect their NHL season?
Not only too professional, they’re all good friends. Think about beating a good friend, fair and square, at something. They don’t hate you afterwards. No resentment at all. Just bragging rights.
I was wondering what the plan is once the Hawks clinch the division. Rest stars? Go for the first seed?
I’m not sure they will use clinching the division as a “benchmark.” I think it will come down to what kind of a lead they have for the two seed, and where they are in terms of that one seed. I do think there will be some reduced minutes in March and early April, but it’s hard to say where/when that will come. The division will matter, but you won’t see a huge change just because they locked up at least the three seed.
What is the general attitude of the players off the ice currently? With dropping some games that should have been wins -- like St. Louis and Phoenix -- and having lost the top spot in the West, do the guys still have that sense of swagger they had early in the year when all things were clicking?
Jonathan (La Grange)
I don’t know about swagger. I think the grind of the season catches up with everyone and evens things out between the good teams and the bad ones sometimes. I’m pretty sure you’ll see a resurgence in March. At this time of year, as long as they’re winning their fair share of games -- and they are -- I don’t think style points matter. They have a great record and are maintaining their No. 2 spot while also pushing San Jose, so it’s pretty much all you can ask for.
Argue for me why the Sharks are better than the Hawks and will be the last team standing.
Steven (South Side)
I think the season series proved the Hawks have the matchup edge. It looks like the Hawks are quicker than the Sharks, and that’s not something San Jose can just fix. The Sharks do have a size advantage, so in a seven-game series, it could be interesting to see if the Hawks wear down on defense and if their puck possession game diminishes. Evgeni Nabokov can steal a game, no doubt about it, so combine that with a long series and it could be how the Sharks win. Plus, they are strong on special teams, so if the refs play a part, the Sharks can match the Hawks.
I know you don't feel a change is needed or will happen in terms of the goaltenders. For argument’s sake, can the Hawks send Huet to Rockford and have him come off the cap? I know they would still owe him his salary, but they would gain cap relief -- correct?
You are right. They would get cap relief but still have to pay him his salary; that is if he clears waivers. I wouldn’t rule anything out, but his numbers don’t scream “send him to the minors” as much as the fans may think they do. It’s obvious the Hawks aren’t sure who their playoff goaltender is yet, but sending him down is long shot.
Thanks for keeping us current with all things Hawks. Matt Walker's robustness made him a useful presence last year during the playoffs for Chicago. Do you think, for all of their current success, the Hawks miss that physical element this year? Do you think they will bring in a player of that type, and who might that be?
Dave Morris (Ottawa, Canada)
Yes, I think they miss it, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot when you have the record they’ve earned. Would they have more wins if Matt Walker were still here? Probably not, but we’d all feel better about a little protection for the stars I suppose. I kind of like Andy Sutton of the Islanders. He’s got some toughness to him, but I haven’t heard great reports this season. At this point, with the addition of Kim Johnsson, they seem pretty set. He’s one of those, “would be nice to have guys,” but not 100 percent necessary.
Love all the great insight you provide to the team! In your honest opinion, how much has the presence of Jonathan Toews helped Kane as far as developing as a player as quickly as he has? Given the fact that here's someone the same age who's providing a great example of discipline and motivation, I figure Toews has probably played a significant role. If nothing else, just providing peer competition and motivation such that Kane doesn't just feel content to settle for his already high level of play.
I don’t think there is any doubt Toews’ competitiveness has rubbed off on Kane, who is much more laid back. It would be hard not to draw the conclusion that what Kane did this offseason to get better had something to do with his pal. They locker next to each other, and Kane sees how serious Toews is about hockey. Like I said, it would be hard to imagine that not having an effect.