The mail-bag is full once again. Let's lighten it some:
Q: Maybe it's just my hope to see the Captain in an Indian head for his whole career, but is anyone else even a little nervous that the Thrashers' move to Winnipeg could hurt the Hawks when Jonathan Toews' current contract is up? -- Jeff (Dallas, Texas)
A: I don't think it becomes an issue unless Toews and the Hawks are parting company anyway. Winnipeg might then become a destination. But under this regime, I can't see any scenario where Toews would leave, unless it's at the end of his career. Mike Modano left the Stars for Detroit and we've seen many other players do similar in their waning years. I still don't see Toews leaving, but no one can know what a decade from now -- or even five years -- will look like for him or the Hawks. I wouldn't be too worried.
Q: What kind of workouts do the players participate in during the offseason? I know there are on-ice and off-ice workouts. Can you give us an example of what they work on, both on- and off-ice? --Erik (San Francisco)
A: Typically, each player has an off-ice workout regiment designed specifically for him. Sometimes it might be a general workout which keeps him in shape throughout the offseason, or it might be focused on one aspect they want to improve on, like upper body strength. On the ice, players kind of do their own thing to get in (or stay in) skating shape, but again, if they want to improve on something specific, like speed, they will work through a weekly routine. Most players take at least a month off after the season before they start getting ready for the next one.
Q: What happened to Kyle Beach? I know he plays with some attitude but what held him back from ever making the team? -- Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
A: He's still around. This will just be his second year, so it's not like his time has passed, but his issue seems to be the same as it was coming up through juniors: maturity. The Hawks just didn't feel he was ready for the NHL, and when he wasn't recalled to be around the team during the playoffs, it spoke volumes. I suspect he could be part of discussions in trade talks, but if he matures he could be in the mix as a gritty disturber -- if it comes together for him.
Q: Lately, I've been hearing that a few teams (i.e. Rangers) are very interested in Patrick Sharp. He made it clear at the end of the season that he wants to stay in Chicago, and we all know he's a major part of our core team. Please tell me that there's no way the Blackhawks will let him go when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. -- Kelly (Evanston, Ill.)
A: I could never say never. Not with a team up against the salary cap on a yearly basis. If Sharp is reasonable, and the Hawks are as well, he will stay. If, for example, Sharp says he wants more than Patrick Kane or he's walking, it's a different story. At this point, any big money guy has to check his ego and the team has to be creative with his contract. If both sides make it a priority then it's much easier to figure out. Antti Niemi is a good example of a player that wanted to stay and was willing to be somewhat reasonable, but it didn't happen because the team didn't make him a priority and couldn't (or wouldn't) get creative. From what I know of Sharp, he seems to be a guy that wants respect but won't be overly demanding. He should be here but nothing would be a shock.
Q: With the salary cap going up $5 million, what sorts of things will the Hawks be able to do with that extra cash? --Mark (Lockport, Ill.)
A: I know a lot of people are wondering the same thing. First and foremost, it allows them to sign their own free-agents with less angst. At first look, Troy Brouwer might not have been affordable with a cap closer to $59 million but at $64 million they should be able to take care of him, as well as Michael Frolik and Chris Campoli. It also gives them that chance to take on one good free agent, and if they open up some more room with a trade, that free agent could be a $3-5 million guy. So the wiggle room the extra $5 million provides could be significant. However, the other teams bidding on top tier free agents also have more room as well, but in the end, for any team up against the cap like the Hawks, this allows for some breathing room.
Q: What would you say are the chances that Brian Campbell gets traded this offseason, and if so, to who? -- Jeremy P. (Deerfield, Ill.)
A: I can't tell you the chances, but if ever Dale Tallon wanted to re-acquire the guy that he signed to big money, this would be the time. Campbell does have some say in where he goes, but maybe he would be willing to go to South Florida to become the key ingredient of the Panthers defense, especially on the power play. Tallon has loads of cap space and will need to get to the salary floor. Campbell can certainly get him closer. The other, smaller chance might be Toronto, if the Hawks take a bad contract or two in return. I'd say there is a chance at a trade, but with so many years and so much money left on his deal it's stilll less likely than more, but it's better than it has been. Especially considering his lofty plus/minus rating (plus 28) this past season.
Q: With the cap likely to be around $64 million, giving the Hawks around $9-10 million to play around with, what are the chances of Brooks Laich actually rocking the Indian head sweater next season? -- Amy (Joliet, Ill.)
A: I still think the Hawks won't be able to afford him unless he simply wants to come here and will take what they have to offer. There are plenty of teams that can make him a huge multi-year deal at big money. I don't think the Hawks are one of those teams. He's just too desired at this point. But the Hawks have turned themselves into a destination for free agents, so based on that there is always a chance.
Q: Is there any chance that the Hawks keep Viktor Stalberg next year? He's much better than his numbers show and could probably be signed for a small amount because of the role he was forced to play last season. And if he were to be brought back, is there any chance that he would get a shot as the true top-six forward that he is? --David (Libertyville, Ill.)
A: Absolutely I could see him coming back, but it might be difficult to crack the top six. He's good insurance there though. As last season wore, he provedhe could handle a fourth-line role and provide some energy. It's a role he's never done before and instead of sulking, he hung in there. I could also see him as trade bait, because I don't think he's ahead of a young guy like Ben Smith or even Jeremy Morin if he's ready. I still think there was enough in his game that if he's on the opening night roster it isn't a bad thing.
Q: What are the chances of John Madden or Brent Sopel returning to the Blackhawks? Also, what other free agents might the Hawks look at? -- Steve (LaGrange, Ill.)
A: I know Madden would love to come back and would do so for cheap, so it's up to the Hawks if they want him. I could see Sopel returning if they moved a defenseman and he was willing to play for near-minimum type money. His family stayed in Chicago even after his trade to Atlanta, so I suspect money wouldn't be an issue, but right now there is little room on the blue line. However, the Hawks could find $500,000 if they wanted and use him as insurance. Like Madden, it's probably moer about how the Hawks feel about Sopel than the other way around. The Hawks will no doubt look for grit in the free-agent market. The cheaper the better, but they can't miss on that player. Jake Dowell wasn't the answer they were looking for. Replacing Adam Burish, and to some extent Ben Eager, should be a priority and there are some names available that might fit the bill.
Q: Who do you think makes the team out of Jeremy Morin, Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith, Igor Makarov, Kyle Beach, Dylan Olsen, Kevin Hayes, Evan Brophey, Brandon Pirri, Brian Connolly, Shawn Lalonde? -- Jeff (Elk Grove Village, Ill.)
A: I don't think there is any doubt Smith proved himself late in the year. Unless he takes a step back, he has to be the frontrunner among those players. I know they still think highly of Kruger. I would like to see him put on some weight, but I think he makes the team for sure. Morin would be first up from Rockford is my guess. Unless they trade a defenseman, it will be hard for one of those young guys to make it on the blue line. I've always liked Olsen but I'm not sure he's ready. A new year means new surprises. Last year, Makarov impressed in camp but never got recalled. I think there are issues with him. He recently switched agents and it wouldn't surprise me if Makarov has fallen well behind others.
Q: I have not looked into the draft at all. Are there a few players that the Hawks may be targeting, or expect to be around when their pick comes up? Gary (Wauconda, Ill.)
A: This is a very inexact science because teams obviously don't want to show their hand when it comes to potential picks. But some names around No. 18 might include wingers Nicklas Jensen, Joel Armia and Brandon Saad along with center Mark McNeill. One or more of those players should be available for the Hawks to grab.
Q: Will the Hawks chase any tough guy forwards? And if so, who? -- Barry Hoggle (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
A: I can't give you specific names, but think of a player like Zenon Konopka. He's the prototype, though he might be too much of a “bully” as he was described to me by someone in hockey. I think they want to err on the side of “too edgy” rather than “not edgy enough”. I mentioned Jarkko Ruutu during the season before he was traded to Anaheim. I'm not sure what he has left in the tank but that's the kind of edge they should and will be looking for.