Mailbag: Kruger figures to surprise

The mail is piling up so it’s time to answer it:

Q: Thoughts on Marcus Kruger and his ability to help fill the role up the middle? -- Lauren (Deerfield, Ill.)

A: I’ve been asked this more and more as I guess people realize there isn’t going to be a new center brought in from the outside. I am a fan of Kruger and a big fan of what he could be. He’s been able to hang in there despite being asked to do more than his experience, size and age would dictate. The reason is he’s smart. Very smart. Probably smarter than most realize. And he’s committed. He’s as hard a worker as you’ll find, but he’s quiet so it’s not shoved down everyone’s throat. I have no idea what kind of a player he will be this year, but I would not be surprised if his growth from last year takes another leap. I think he could already handle a third-line role and in a perfect world Dave Bolland would grab the second line and Kruger the third. But Bolland doesn’t seem in line for it. Unless something changes, I think Kruger starts on the second line and probably surprises the naysayers although I don’t know if he’s ready to burst out for 50 points. But he’ll get more than he did last year. At least that will be progress.

Q: Is this finally the year that Kyle Beach makes the team? -- Denny (Irvine, Calif.)

A: I can’t see it unless he simply lights up training camp and the preseason. I mean it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how many guys he’s fallen behind, including a fifth-round pick from last season. Beach was a first-rounder in 2008 and yet guys like Andrew Shaw have flown by him. But it’s not about draft status anymore, it’s about production and contributing. Shaw, Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Bollig, for example, did that last season. They get first crack as probably a few others do ahead of Beach.

Q: The Hawks have plenty of young talent not on the main roster (regardless of the standings in Rockford last year). Saad, Smith, Pirri, Morin, (kind of) Beach, McNeil, Olson, Clendening, and now Teravainen. Why don't the Hawks trade their average/below-average players (Frolik, Bickell, Hjalmarsson, Montador) for simply a draft pick or two? That way, they can make room for another youth movement while still having a strong core group of players. -- Tony (Chicago)A: I think it’s more complicated than you portray. First of all, someone has to want to take on those salaries and trade the draft picks, but you’re right, I’m sure it can get done, at least for some of them. However, they need to decide who is ready and also how many rookie type players they want to employ on the roster. This year it’s about Saad and Shaw and maybe Hayes and Olsen learning their trade over a full season. You’re not going to add McNeil to that mix plus Clendening. It’s a delicate process of trying to win now and develop to win later so the point is they have enough youth -- at least for this year. And those other guys will get their chances through injuries, etc. If there is some hotshot rookie waiting to break out, and Michael Frolik is in the way, they’ll find a way to move him or what not. But for now, it’s one thing --or one rookie at a time.

Q: What are your thoughts on Ray Emery this year? Does he get 20-plus starts or do we see a young player make it into the backup role? -- Matthew (Roscoe Village, Ill.)

A: He should get about 20, give or take a few. Unless Corey Crawford is just a machine, I don’t see him playing in more than 60-65 games. Carter Hutton is a man on the rise, so I wouldn’t put a ceiling on him just yet. However, unless major unforeseen things happen, I think he gets a full year in the minors and Emery and Crawford are with the big club all season. There is always a chance performance can change all that, but that seems like the sensible plan until if/when someone really falters, etc.

Q: How apparent is this whole Joel Quenneville vs. Stan Bowman rift that you write about all the time? I think the last thing this team needs is a whole lot of change to both the front office and the coaching staff. Two summers ago we were flaunting off the Cup, and although everyone likes to hit the panic button because we got bounced in the first round the past two seasons (to the best team in the West and an extremely hot goalie) we are still a very good team. -- Chuck (Seattle)

A: Good stuff. I’ve written about it a few times over the months because it is there. Doesn’t mean they can’t get a job done, but it’s more about when things go south, how will they react? They didn’t react well last year. Stan/Scotty overstepped their boundaries --according to many in hockey -- when they sent Barry Smith to the ice. Quenneville tried to put on a good face about it, but it was clearly not to his liking. I’m not on either side, I think Q had a bad year. But I also think he’s either your coach and you support him fully or you don’t. Anyway, I agree with you that they can get it back. A re-energized coach and better special teams will do it. And both are more likely to happen than not, though I’m also in the camp that thinks the younger Bowman could be doing more to help his coach.

Q: In your opinion, did Crawford have a good year, or can you chalk it up to bad defense? A combo? What do the Hawks need to change defensively to allow Crawford to be successful? What does Crawford need to do better to make life easier on his defensemen? -- Curt (Chicago)

A: Whether the defense contributed or not, it would be hard pressed to say Crawford had a good year. His numbers and watching him simply don’t present that case. The defense hung him out to dry early in the season with some really bad open side goals and then as well on the penalty kill where they neither blocked shots or moved players out of the crease. But Crawford is supposed to bail his defense out as much as he can. He didn’t do it enough. He’s supposed to steal some games. He didn’t do it enough (no shutouts). If the Hawks knew how to kill penalties, that would help Crawford. And Crawford just needs to turn the corner mentally to be more successful. I don’t think it’s physical with him. And it’s not unheard of for second- to third-year netminders to have these mental problems and come out better on the other side. It doesn’t mean he will, but I think he can.

Q: First thank you for doing a awesome job of covering the Hawks. I read you every day to know how the greatest team in hockey is doing. What is the market for both Bolland and Hjalmarsson in trades? Does the recent signings mean that Dylan Olsen is trade bait? – Robert (Cleveland, Tenn.)A: There is definitely a market for both, but I don’t believe each alone brings the Hawks back what they might want or need. Both together might get them a center, and I think the Hawks explored that with Pittsburgh, for example. But right now they are both probably more needed on the Hawks than what they could fetch in a trade. I think the Hawks like Olsen a lot. And he would step in with more playing time if Hjalmarsson is moved, so I don’t think he’s trade bait. The only way Bolland is moved is if the Hawks get a center back -- a second-line center. But again, that is way easier said than done. And he doesn’t get it done by himself.