Every now and again, I appeal to the Blackhawks fans in my Twitter universe to stuff my bag with queries. Here are some of the questions from the Twitter and email machines.
Joe from Rockford - "How good can Brandon Saad be? He's been on of the best and most consistent Hawks all season long."
JZ - I agree. Saad has been absolutely awesome since jump street. I find my self astounded by the little things he does. The other night, he and Marian Hossa were on the ice together. Had Hossa been on the ice with Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, he surely would have had his stick on the ice, waiting for a pass. Instead, Saad put this impossible pass right on what would have been his tape, but Hossa missed it because he didn't, in his wildest dreams, imagine the puck could get to him from that angle. The only thing he's missing is that "finish." Once he converts on his great chances, he'll be talked about in the upper echelon of forwards, and could find himself on Team USA's Olympic Roster.
RP from New Lenox - "With the Olympics coming up this season, do you think Coach Q will start resting vets?"
JZ - It certainly wouldn't be the worst idea in the world, but he's shown no sign of resting vets yet. He hasn't even really reduced the minutes of any of the big stars. There are two Hawks I worry about. Toews and Hossa. Toews has a history of concussions, while Hossa was this close (I'm holding my fingers really close to each other) to back surgery this past summer. In my opinion, the Hawks can't make a long playoff run without either of them.
Dave from Crown Point, IN - "What have you seen from Brandon Pirri's game so far? Does he have a chance to win the second line center job?"
JZ - Well, Pirri has 5 points in 8 games, but all of those points came in 3 games. When I look at a young player, especially a young player thrust into a top 6 role, I ask myself, "Does he look out of place?" I don't think he does. Obviously, his two-way game has to improve, and that's why Quenneville has been hesitant to give him big minutes. Offensively, he looks like he belongs, and I love what I've seen from the Saad / Pirri / Kane line. If he's going to be on the NHL roster, he needs to play in the top 6. There is no point in him centering the 4th line.
Wayne in Chicago - "Why has the Hawks powerplay been better so far?"
JZ - There are a few factors, in my opinion. It's been much more aggressive. They are in "attack" mode rather than "pass it around" mode so far. One change I've really like is the addition of Nick Leddy on the point. He's a great puck handler and mover. For as great as Duncan Keith is, I don't love him on the powerplay. I'd have no problem giving a big chunk of Keith's powerplay time to Leddy.
Everyone on the planet with Twitter, Facebook, mySpace, J-Date, Friendster, or SnapChat - "When will the Hawks dump Khabibulin and bring up Antti Raanta?"
JZ - There is no doubt Khabibulin has been pretty bad this season. His stat line (4.74 GAA, .818 save percentage) reads like someone playing NHL 14 on easy mode. He has to be better, and I think he can be better. Like I tweeted last night, the Hawks are good enough to overcome an average Khabibulin, but not an awful Khabibulin. He's been awful. Stan Bowman is an extremely patient GM. I'm confident that he'll give Khabibulin another handful of starts to redeem himself. If his poor play continues, the Hawks will have to bring Raanta.
However, the Hawks can't simply "release" Khabibulin. He is on a one way deal, and would require a trip through waivers before they could send him down. There's little doubt he would clear waivers, but it complicates things organizationally. The Hawks want Raanta getting starts in Rockford, not riding the pine behind Corey Crawford...at least not this season.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the mailbag. I'll do a couple more as the season goes on. If you'd like to participate, or just email me, use HawksRedLightDistrict@gmail.com, or follow me on Twitter. I do my best to write back to everyone who writes me on Twitter.
-- SOUTH SIDERS -- Halloween Night (Thursday), Hawks winger Ben Smith and I will be at Quigley's in Oak Lawn, right at 111th and Pulaski (formerly Reilly's Daughter). We're there with Bud Light. Come on out to meet and talk with Ben. We'll be there from 7pm-8:30pm.