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Hawks really feeling the squeeze, draft steals, and more mail topics

While the Ilya Kovalchuk Watch drags on, we return to the mailbag, which is still brimming with your queries and concerns.

I love Doug Wilson! What a brilliant move to sign Niklas Hjalmarsson. He should win executive of the year for inflicting that kind of damage on his chief conference rival.-- Alex Wilcox, Az

Executive of the year, eh?I think you might want to introduce yourself to the offseason of Florida's Dale Tallon, but I'm only too happy to tip my hat to the genius of Wilson. Signing Hjalmarsson to that offer sheet was a no-lose proposition. If the Hawks had declined to match, the Sharks would have surrendered a pair of draft picks for a solid second-pairing defender who could help fill the shoes of the now-retired Rob Blake. The Hawks match, and Chicago falls into the ninth circle of salary cap hell as they try to absorb a contract that they never would have initiated on their own. Either way, Wilson has weakened his primary opponent in the Western Conference.

Now that the Hawks have matched San Jose's offer sheet [for Hjalmarsson], what happens next? Has to be another big name on the way out, right? I trust what Stan Bowman's trying to do, but I hope this move didn't just cost us Patrick Sharp.-- Shana Hannigan, Ill

The dominoes are only beginning to tumble. On the plus side, the Blackhawks now have three of their top-four defensemen locked up for an extended period. (The fourth, Team Canada's Brent Seabrook, is free at the end of this upcoming season...but don't worry about that now.) On the negative side, Chicago is gonna need those blueliners, especially since Corey Crawford could be their starting goaltender next season.

That scenario isn't all that far-fetched. As it stands, the Hawks have a little more than $100,000 to spend and only 15 players signed. Cristobal Huet will be farmed out, but that still leaves Bowman with less than $6 million to spend. A good part of that could be eaten up by Antti Niemi, who stands to earn a considerable raise over the $827,000 he earned last season, especially if he goes to arbitration as scheduled on July 29.

Expect Bowman to press Niemi hard to take a low-dollar, short-term deal for the good of the club. Don't expect Niemi to take it.

Even a reasonable award, say $3 million, might be too much for the Hawks to bear. That could lead to the team walking away (yeah, it's possible) and leaving the netminding to Crawford and an affordable veteran (Jose Theodore?) OR it might mean the imminent departure of another veteran forward. Chicago fans don't want to hear the name Patrick Sharp bandied about here, but if there's another option, I'm not seeing it. Sharp has the skills and the contract to be an easy move, and he'd bring some value (likely in the form of young, affordable prospects) in return.

Sharp or Niemi. It's a lady or the tiger conundrum for Bowman. But hey, at least that 49-year Cup drought is over, eh?

Any truth to the rumours that the Islanders are kicking the tires on Brian Campbell?-- Xander Peterson, Ill

That would be a dream come true for Hawks fans, but I don't think there's any truth to it. Easy to see where this starts -- Chicago needs to dump salary and the Isles need to add some dollars just to get to the cap floor -- but it doesn't add up. Campbell is clearly a useful player and he'd make a great short-term acquisition. But dealing for him would only create a long-term headache for New York.

Campbell counts for $7.143 million against the cap (second-most among defenders) and he'll do it for the next six years. That's okay for this season, but what about next summer when the Isles have to re-sign franchise building blocks Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey? And the summer after that, when John Tavares comes due? If GM Garth Snow has been paying attention, he's seen the havoc that Campbell's contract has caused in Chicago. Hard to imagine he'd ignore that lesson without significant sweeteners attached.

I'm not hearing a peep about Alex Frolov. He has his blemishes, but he's young and has lots of talent. I could see him making a big difference for a team like Pittsburgh that really needs wingers. Any scoop on his situation?-- Jayson San Filippe

Pittsburgh could use his talent -- shoot, they could use any talent -- on the wings, but with around $2 million bucks left under the cap, it's more likely they'll look to re-arm closer to the deadline when they don't have to take on a full year's salary.

A couple of teams have considered Frolov as an option, including the Rangers, Kings and, reportedly, Devils if they're unable to convince Ilya Kovalchuk to return. The thing with Frolov is that no team considers him a Plan A-type player. Talented, no doubt, but it's not like teams are blind to his wild inconsistency. He has his moments, but there are long stretches where you wish he'd wear a bell just to help you locate him. Frolov had three streaks of at least nine games without a goal last season, and his total of 19 was off about 40 percent from the year before when he scored 32. Basically, he's a faster version of Michael Ryder. Feel free to ask Peter Chiarelli how he feels about the $4 million he has invested in that guy.

Word is that Frolov wants to stay in North America, and no doubt there are a few teams waiting him out. But unless he's willing to lower his sights, say, to $3 million on a short-term deal, he might be forced to consider the overseas option.

In your last mailbag you said we won't really know about the draft steals for three or foru years. So who were the biggest draft steals and disappointments from three or foru years ago?-- Shane Bauman, Ark

I dug into the notes from the 2006 Entry Draft and found a quote from one scout (still employed, for the record) who suggested that that Robin Figren, Jeff Zatkoff and Daniel Rahimi could emerge as the steals of the day. Hey, it's still early, but considering that the three of them have combined for as many games in the league as you and I, well, it illustrates how tough it is to pick the hidden gems only moments after the fact.

Today, it looks like the Thrashers might have dug deepest to land a player when they selected defender Arturs Kulda 200th overall. He should earn a full-time spot on the roster this year. Derek Dorsett might not have the same upside, but the feisty winger already has more than 100 NHL games -- and 255 penalty minutes -- to his credit with the Blue Jackets. Not a bad return on the 189th pick. The Canucks might have something in Sergei Shirokov (163rd). At 24, he's running out of time to prove himself, but he has the top-six skill level to grab a job in Vancouver. It remains to be seen if he can handle the other responsibilities of the job.

Cal Clutterbuck at 72 and Steve Mason at 69 --third rounders, both -- look like excellent values.

It's still too early to call the steals of the 2007 draft, but the Stars look brilliant for calling Jamie Benn 129th. San Jose might have gotten lucky with center Nick Bonino (173rd, later dealt to Anaheim), and the Leafs look like they found a player in Carl Gunnarsson (194th). Keith Aulie (Calgary 116th, later traded to Toronto), might be an even better bet...but until he hits the NHL ice, he's just another long shot.

Over the next year or two, count on a few more names to emerge and make everyone who called Mark Santorelli and Casey Pierro-Zabotel "the guys who'll force scouts to explain themselves" look silly. Okay, maybe that was just my sage forecast.

Don't know if you remember this, but year or so ago I called into a talk show about possible NHL rule changes to ask what you thought about eliminating the rule that allows a team to ice the puck while killing a penalty. I just heard the NCAA almost did just that, but voted against it at the last minute. Do you still think it's possible that this could happen in the NHL?-- Stephanie DiBazzio, British Columbia

I actually do remember your call because, as far as rule change ideas go, this has seemed like a no-brainer to me. I just can't justify the logic that allows a team the right to break one rule as a reward for breaking another.

I believed for a while that the NCAA might actually put all those book smarts to good use by legislating the free dump-out of the game, but the no-change element carried the day when it came down to a vote last week. The stumbling block? Apparently college coaches feared that removing icing would lead to fatigue and injury. Not sure I buy the injury angle,though it sure makes for a nice sound byte, but isn't fatigue kind of the point? Fewer guys on the ice means more work. More work leads to exhaustion. Exhaustion leads to mistakes. Mistakes end up in the net...and that's the price paid for taking the penalty in the first place.

And let's face it: icing isn't just a ridiculous option...it's a boring play. A no-skill play. Removing it would lead to skill development. Sure, there'd still be the occasional chip out of the zone, but you'd also see a heavier reliance on breakout plays. Or the red light would highlight the shame of the penalized player. Either is fine by me.

To their credit, the NCAA didn't abandon the idea completely. They'll use it during preseason in each of the next two years and then evaluate the results. A bit conservative for my liking, but at least the concept will get some consideration, maybe even by the NHL once they get a look at it in action.

And if they won't get rid of icing, maybe they'll at least consider the removal of the trapezoid...

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