Neil Milbert on the Blackhawks

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I was looking over the Blackhawks roster the other day, and I noticed that about 80 percent of the Blackhawks "core" players are severely in the minus department. Is that a product of the bad defensive system that Brian Sutter runs, or is it just bad luck on the players' side, i.e. Berard and Ruutu? Seeing as Berard wasn't dealt at the deadline, is there a chance that once the collective bargaining agreement is hammered out, the Hawks will re-sign him? --CJ Keller, Prattville, Ala.

The reason many members of the Blackhawks' core are deep in the minus category is because the Hawks have lost twice as many games as they've won and have given up about twice as many even-strength goals as they've scored. Thus, the only way they could avoid being in the minus category is if almost all of the losses were by a margin of one goal and all of the victories were by a margin of three or four goals. Some players sometimes do have "bad luck" and are on the ice for a goal-against that they were in no way responsible for. However, the same applies to "good luck" in the goals-for category.

Tuomo Ruutu is a rookie and his minus rating reflects some rookie mistakes. Bryan Berard is very good at moving and shooting the puck but he often turns it over, leading to opposition goals. I don't think Brian Sutter's defensive system has anything to do with the bad plus-minus ratings. None of the teams below .500 have good ratings and some of them have very good coaches. When a lot of players are not very good, neither are the plus-minus ratings on that team. In answer to your last question, the Hawks want to re-sign Berard. Their power play has improved dramatically in the second half of the season and his offensive skill is the main reason.

I am a fan of college hockey and follow the St. Cloud State Huskies of the WCHA, where current Blackhawk Tyler Arnason played for three years. While at SCSU, Arnason was great at scoring goals and getting into trouble with head coach Craig Dahl. It appears as if this is the case in the NHL for him as well. Do you see the Hawks giving up on him anytime soon, or are they going to stick with him? --Andy Moll, Sauk Rapids, Minn.

I see the Hawks sticking with Tyler Arnason. He played with Ruutu and Eric Daze on the first line during the last two months of the season and that was the Hawks' only effective line. Being with good wingers brought out the best in him and he wound up having a strong finish and being the team's leading scorer. Since this was only his second full year in the NHL, the Hawks' high command believes he is just starting to achieve his potential.

Neil, do you think the Hawks will keep Brian Sutter as coach next year? Or, better yet, do you think Sutter wants to be the coach next year? --Andy Burns, Darien, Ill.

I don't know if the Hawks will bring back Brian Sutter as the coach next season. When teams have losing records the coach often is the scapegoat. I do know he wants very much to return.

Please explain how Adam Munro, a first-round draft choice in 2001, doesn't get signed by the Hawks and returns to the draft but doesn't get selected? Is that bad scouting by the Hawks? He then went to training camp with the Ottawa Senators but didn't make the team. He somehow makes it to Norfolk and survives two 25-game tryouts there. And now he is playing in the NHL? What's the deal with this kid? --David Kohn, Chicago

For some inexplicable reason, former general manager Mike Smith was unable to sign Adam Munro after he was drafted in the first round in 2001. Therefore, he went back into the draft pool and nobody wanted him, which suggests Smith's assistants overestimated his potential. However, Munro is proving that he really has the right stuff to play in the NHL.

When the Hawks started shuttling Craig Anderson and Michael Leighton back and forth from Norfolk to Chicago because of Jocelyn Thibault's injury--and then lost Steve Passmore to an injury--they needed a backup in Norfolk, which explains the two 25-game tryouts. Munro looked good in Norfolk and, because the Hawks didn't have a prayer of making the playoffs, they brought him to Chicago to play some games. He's only 21, and Brian Sutter considers him to be more advanced than Anderson and Leighton were at the same age.

With the Hawks in a major "youth movement," why is management talking about signing expensive free agents? --Tim Clark, Niles, Mich.

Yes, the Hawks are in a youth movement, but they desperately need some more talented veterans to play with the seven or eight young guys who look like they have the potential to be high quality NHL players. No, the Hawks don't want to sign "expensive" free agents. They believe that the new collective bargaining agreement will produce a salary cap, and that will enable them to sign talented free agents at bargain prices by today's standards.

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