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Mailbag: Keith's best days behind him?

The mail-bag is full once again. Let’s lighten it some:

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.

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.