Mailbag: Are the Hawks Cup contenders?

Time to empty the mailbag:

Q: With the additions the Hawks have made so far do you see them as a serious contender this year for Stanley Cup? -- Jim (Burbank, Ill.)

A:Yes, I do but I probably would have thought that unless they really just messed the whole roster up which they didn’t. I’m vanilla on those fourth-line guys but love Andrew Brunette so unless he’s just lost it he’s enough for me to like the offseason moves. Basically, I think there is enough character and talent getting a long summer to refuel the engines for next season to contend.

Q: I know rosters aren't set but let’s say we take care of Chris Campoli and Michael Frolik. List what you think the lines would be and why? -- Jon (California)

A: To start the season -- and that’s key to remember -- only to start but not necessarily to finish, I think it looks like this:

Patrick Sharp/Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane

Andrew Brunette/Dave Bolland/Marian Hossa

Ben Smith/Marcus Kruger/Michael Frolik

Bryan Bickell/Jamal Mayers/Dan Carcillo/Viktor Stalberg

Until we know more about Rastislav Olesz, I’ll make him the extra forward along with one of those fourth-line players. Bolland would move down to the third line and maybe Kruger up at some point or if Kruger can’t handle it maybe he moves down and Sharp moves to center eventually. But to start the season, I think it looks something like that with Olesz as the X factor, barring any roster trimmings. I just think they like Kruger a lot and want to give him a shot while Sharp is better at wing. Bolland deserves a real chance in an offensive role since we know what he can do in a defensive one.

Q: So with a variety of options now available for fourth-line wingers what with Carcillo, Mayers, Stalberg, John Scott, who do you think is likely to get the most playing time? Any chance they use Stalberg in the top six again occasionally like they did last season? He was serviceable there, though not great by any means. --Jen (Rockford, Ill.)

A: Yes, I think Stalberg might get a look in the top six here and there but not often unless there is an injury. Scott will work on defense to start the season so Stalberg, Mayers, Bryan Bickell and Carcillo seem your best options, at least at the outset. Again I’m not sure where Olesz fits in but let’s assume it’s not on the fourth line. In my opinion I think Stalberg and Bickell still have something to prove to Joel Quenneville.

Q: Should the Hawks try to play Scott on the power play during training camp and the preseason and use him as a screen and maybe he could get some garbage goals we so desperately need? -- John (Vernon Hills, Ill.)

A: I don’t see why not. It's training camp. I know Quenneville likes him on the ice, and he wouldn’t be the first big guy to stand there as long as he can show some hands, which he hasn’t to this point. The power play has some openings with the loss of Brouwer and even Tomas Kopecky as well as Brian Campbell. I do think Brunette will end up being the guy in front of the net as well.

Q: Jesse, you're doing a great job, pal. So, do you feel Jimmy Hayes has a legitimate shot at a fourth-line spot out of camp? He seemed like a man amongst boys at prospects camp. -- Peter (South Side)

A: No way, but I always leave a “but” in case Quenneville or another bigwig really falls for a guy. I think that was Kruger at last year's prospect’s camp so you never know. But the numbers just aren’t there. Now, they could open a spot for him by trade or other means, but right now I’m sure he needs some seasoning in Rockford.

Q: Can we finally silence the notion of Bolland moving up to center line two after Bowman's comments about Sharp being a viable option in the middle? I love Bolland, and I do think he is better offensively than most third-line centers in the league, but his ability to get in the heads and the way of the oppositions top forwards is far more valuable than that. -- Luke (Deerfield, Ill.)

A: I think we have to be careful in taking someone’s comments as an absolute. I wrote earlier that I believe Sharp will start at wing but can always move to center. Bolland was coming on offensively before his concussion last season. I think they play with that for a while on the second line while they develop Kruger. It doesn’t mean Bolland and Hossa will never face other top lines, but it will be as the second line. Then come playoffs, Bolland probably goes into lockdown mode.

Q: Do you think Kyle Beach has a chance to make the team this fall? -- Steve S. (Kenosha, Wis.)

A: No, but there is always a chance he has the camp of his life. Bowman indicated recently he needs to round out his game, and they’ve brought in some guys on one-year deals that would play his role so one more year in Rockford is probably his destination for this season. Then he gets a big chance next season if he’s still with the club, etc.

Q: Can you give us your top five prospects based on the camp this past weekend? (Based on being close to NHL-ready). -- Keith (Waupaca, Wis.)

A: That’s a tough one because as Bowman put it, this was more of a “developmental” camp as opposed to an “evaluation” one, but I guess I can do the evaluating. One caveat: I wasn’t there every day, but I would say Jimmy Hayes is getting there. I liked Dylan Olsen going back to last season. He’s closer. Mark McNeill, Brandon Saad and Phillip Danault all impressed me. Danault might be the sleeper of the group, if a first-round pick can be.

Q: I know Gary Bettman is on a mission to destroy the NHL, but how can he possibly consider moving Detroit to the East? Not only would he split up the Hawks and Wings, but five of the Original Six would be in one conference. So long to Original Six games for half the hockey fans on the planet. All this so Detroit fans can be tucked in at a decent hour? Come on. He can't be that clueless. -- Adam (Chicago)

A: As long as they don’t move Vancouver to the East I think things will be OK. I would bet more and more fans couldn’t name the Original Six teams if you spotted them half the teams. Yes, the Hawks and Wings rivalry is still great, but I’m not totally opposed to change. If you’re a Wings or Blue Jackets fan, those West Coast games are starting at 10 or 10:30 p.m. Hawks fans would go nuts if that was the case here, so I can understand why they want to move and why they might be accommodated.

Q: Where do the Hawks go if they can't come to terms with Campoli? Without him and Campbell they really lose that advantage of having some defensemen to move the puck. Also provided Frolik returns, do you see him playing wing or center? He showed some signs of playing a center roll well, but played even better as a winger with Bolland in the last four games of the playoffs. -- Alex O. (Chicago)

A: It’s a very good point about Campoli. Maybe his camp knows the Hawks need him even more now and are looking to use that leverage. I agree that Campbell/Campoli exchanged for Montador/O’Donnell (he’s next in line) would affect their transition game more than anyone would want. They would absolutely have to bring in another defenseman, but it’s starting to get later in the summer and it will certainly be late by the time his arbitration hearing is here. Not sure what they would do to be honest. I still don’t think we’re there yet though.

Q: With the recent acquisitions, I have been trying to figure out who is going to be the "odd man out". Olesz (if healthy) will his contract be bought out Aug. 1? Kruger, Smith? Leaves very little chance for any of the boys in camp to make the team right? (i.e. Beach, Morin, LaLonde, McNeill). Johnny B. (Jakarta, Indonesia)

A: The Hawks have made no indication they are doing anything with Olesz except bringing him to camp. Maybe that will change, but they haven’t even wavered for one minute on that thought. You make it sound like it’s a bad thing if Morin or any of these guys don’t make the team. Smith and Kruger are good players. I’d want the best 23 to make the team, so if that includes Lalonde or anyone else, great. The competition in camp will decide that. Guys can be traded or sent to the minors to make room for others so on paper anything is possible. But it is a longer shot for any of them to make it.

Q: At what number do you think the Hawks would walk away from Campoli after the arbitration hearing? And even if the number were higher than the Hawks hope, with the cap space available, wouldn't it be better to lock him in for a one-year deal and move him later? -- Erik (San Francisco)

A: I’m guessing $3 million is definitely too much, but I doubt he’d get that. Hard to say what that number would be, but you bring up a good point. This time I think they will keep him either way. They don’t have to trade him. Let him play the year and try to work something out or wait until next offseason or move him as you say. I think that was the point Bowman was trying to make to me recently when he said Campoli was different than Antti Niemi. Niemi, they simply had to let go, but Campoli they can keep and save in other ways or work around it.

Q: Why have the Hawks not addressed their need for a second-line center? Bolland is not the answer there (great third line/playoff guy) and neither is Kruger. Is there anyone out there that they are considering? -- Mike (Chicago)

A: It doesn’t sound like they are considering anyone right now. I haven’t heard of anything new on the trade or free agency front. You may not agree with the thinking but it’s pretty simple: the Hawks felt there was no one they wanted at the price that was out there. They didn’t want to overpay or give extra years when they feel their system is on the verge of producing centers. It makes sense if you believe they might have enough for this year come playoff time and those prospects are for real. Plus, they should have a few bucks to spend near the trade deadline if it becomes a major issue.

Q: Where's the buzz on Morin? I thought he showed a lot of skill in the limited time he had with the Hawks. -- Mike D. (Naperville, Ill.)

A: I still think he’s a good prospect but with Smith and Kruger there, he isn’t getting as much attention. If I’m him, I like that. The coaches will notice if he should be here. I suspect he’s first up from Rockford if he doesn’t make the team which I don’t see happening but camp will decide all that of course.

Q: Let's talk defense. What do you think the defensive pairings will look like next season with or without Campoli? I'm having a hard time seeing where Nick Leddy fits in with the acquisition of O'Donnell and Montador. Is he trade bait? -- Josh

A: I believe the Hawks when they say they want big numbers on defense or have players ready to come up from Rockford so I definitely do not see a trade. I think they will mix and match based on who is playing well. Opening night I see O’Donnell as the odd man out, but that’s just an educated guess. I see Keith and Seabrook paired along with Hjalmarsson and Campoli with Montador and Leddy the third pair but that bottom four could be jumbled. Hard to know right now. I know they liked Campoli with another puck mover like Brian Campbell so maybe he is paired with Leddy and they go Montador and Hjalmarsson. I could see that as well.