Bob Foltman on the Hawks

Is Tuomo Ruutu actually any good or is he just another 4th line grinder that the Hawks draft? Other teams' highly touted rookies seem to occasionally make an impact in games! --William Downie, Carson City, Nev.

William, I think it might be too early to tell on Ruutu. I think he has the potential to be a very good NHL player. He's the best passer on the team right now, but he doesn't have too many people to pass to. I don't know if he's going to be as good as he was billed, but I think it may be too early to write him off.

Bob, with a high possibility of a lock-out next year, what do you see in the future for the NHL? Less teams? A completely different league or virtually the same thing as now? I personally hope that the NHL gets rid of at least 6 teams and brings back the charisma that this league once had. --Bobby, La Grange, Ill.

Bobby, I'm with you on trimming six teams. I think a lot depends on if there is a lockout and how long it lasts. If there's a new deal before the current collective bargaining agreement expires, I don't think there will be any change as far as the number of teams or the way the game is played or structured. If there is a long lockout, some teams may have to fold, which may require a different way of doing things.

Hey Bob. Offensively speaking, Berard will immediately be our most aggressive defenseman. Does his penchant for joining rushes limit Sutter's ability to play youngsters prone to mishaps like McCarthy or even Babchuk alongside Berard? We know he's great for the power play, but how much will we see him five-on-five? --Mitch, Chicago

Mitch, I think you'll see Berard quite a bit five-on-five. His aggressiveness will be costly at times, it already has been. But the upside is higher than the downside in my opinion. When Jon Klemm was here, he was the stay at home partner. Now it looks as if Berard will be paired with Stephane Robidas, so we'll see.

Bob, do you think Dale Tallon is the man turn the Hawks organization around? --Brian Rogers, Ala.

Brian, another question from Alabama! It depends on how you define "turning the franchise around." I think Dale has the potential to be a very aggressive GM, if he's allowed to do what he wants. That always seems to be the issue with the Pulford/Wirtz regime. If Tallon is allowed to do what he wants--when he becomes GM--I think he'll put together some entertaining teams.

Bob: I hate to say it, but I think Mike Smith got a raw deal. He was brought here to rebuild the franchise by restructuring the scouting system and filling the farm with talent. He did both and got the boot! The Hawks are finally seeing the first real returns on their Mike Smith investment and they show him the door? Do you think Smith asked out? The reason I ask is the timing seemed odd. Plus, for most of the players, it was a surprise. --Al, Pensacola, Fla.

Al, I know Mike didn't ask out. As far as the players are concerned, they know only what they need to know and stuff like that may not filter through the locker room. As far as getting a raw deal, perhaps. But a case could be made that most of the draft picks were players that Dale Tallon scouted and recommended and, thus far, none of them have set the league on fire. Maybe they will. I think the case against Smith comes from the NHL trades he's made. You'd be hard-pressed to find one that worked to the Hawks advantage.

With the recent change in management to a more North American aligned GM, will we see the Hawks make some more moves similar to the Berard signing to bring in more North American players? One such player currently sitting out there is Mike Comrie. He has refused to return to the Oilers and he could be the type of young North American center the Hawks could use. --James Armstrong, North Bay, Ontario

James, I think you will see a focus on more North American players but I'm not sure Comrie will be one of them. It seems as though the Hawks feel they are OK at center. That's questionable, but for whatever reason, they don't seem very interested in Mike Comrie and I'm not sure why.

I read your comments about playoffs, poor competition, and home TV. The league doesn't seem to get it that a following is built up if people get interested in the product. If kids can't see the Hawks, and can't afford tickets, will the NHL become a minor league business? I remember when the Hawks were sold out, and lines were there for tickets and they still didn't have great teams, but the competition was better. What NHL team has the best marketing? --Greg, Bloomingdale, Ill.

Greg, that's a good question. It seems like winning is the best marketing strategy, but a team like Los Angeles sells out a lot of their games and they haven't won much. Certainly the Hawks can do a better job of marketing than they have done, but that's starts with home TV and that doesn't appear to be on the horizon.

Two questions. Were the Hawks in first (11/5) because they're a legitimate (and surprisingly) good team, or have they just snapped off a few wins over bad teams? Secondly, what are the chances of them moving the perpetually injured Daze and/or the perpetually soft Zhamnov, two guys they've won without? --Ryan Tennant, Orion, Ill.

Ryan, first question--I think more of the latter. I think the Hawks, like a lot of teams, are pretty fragile and have to be on top of their game to win. At best, they can contend for the eighth spot.

Second question--If Zhamnov comes back and shows he can play, I think he can be moved to a team that thinks it can win the Cup and is looking for that one extra veteran center--probably near the trade deadline. I think there are too many questions about Daze's back in order to move him, or at least move him and get some value in return.

Great questions, thanks.