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Thursday, June 28
Updated: July 23, 3:09 PM ET
Coaches change, but 'Hawks stay the same

By Sherry Skalko

The Chicago Blackhawks' 2000-01 season can be summed up with a simple question: Who's in charge here? Sometimes the answer isn't general manager Mike Smith.

2000-01 by the numbers
29-40-8-5, 71 points
(T22nd overall, T12th West, T4th Central)
Man-games lost to injury:
147 (T23)
Goals for:
210/2.56 (21st)
Goals against:
246/3.00 (T23rd)
-36 (21st overall)
20-goal scorers:
Steve Sullivan (34), Tony Amonte (35), Michael Nylander (25), Eric Daze (33)
50-point scorers:
Sullivan (75), Amonte (64), Nylander (64), Daze (57)
Smith, who was promoted from manager of hockey operations at the start of the season, preached patience during 2000-01. With a European style in place under new coach Alpo Suhonen, Smith refused to delve into his bag of prospects to trade for a high-end player, even when it was clear the team needed help. His reasoning: One player wasn't going to make the difference.

Oddly enough, one player did. On the verge of cracking the top eight in the Western Conference, the 'Hawks lost center Alex Zhamnov to a fractured larynx in late January. Without anyone to compensate in the least bit, the 'Hawks went 7-8-2-1 without him and missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

Looking at next season
So much for patience in the coaching department. After being criticized for their style of play and watching attendance figures sag, the 'Hawks have changed directions once again for 2001-02. After Suhonen was placed on medical leave with a heart condition in March, Smith (or was it president Bob Pulford?) hired former Calgary-Boston-St. Louis head coach Brian Sutter, whose no-nonsense style is in direct contrast to Suhonen's laid-back manner in which the players policed themselves.

Sutter places a premium on effort, attitude and accountability. However, he's been criticized for his hard-nosed nature and has yet to lead a team past the second round of the playoffs. He missed the postseason in his three seasons with the Flames.

The financial line toed by the Wirtz family allowed Smith to play a limited role in the bidding for many free agents. However, Smith misjudged what it would take to acquire center Doug Weight from Edmonton and let who would have been their No. 1 center go to St. Louis for basically a song.

As a result, the 'Hawks' biggest offseason moves -- signing stay-at-home defenseman Jon Klemm and feisty two-way forward Steve Thomas -- have been more for attitude than ability.

The addition of Klemm, 31, from the Cup champion Avalanche, replaces the disinterested Stephane Quintal, who was traded to Montreal for a draft pick after taking advantage of the relaxed environment instead of providing leadership. The 'Hawks are hoping Klemm's experience and work ethic will rub off on players like Boris Mironov, who had the worst year of his career offensively and was accused of taking the night off more than once. Then again, what defenseman wasn't? With Jamie Allison, Alexander Karpovtsev and Jaroslav Spacek, Sutter at least will have a capable, although aging, corps of defensemen.

Jocelyn Thibault returns as the No. 1 goaltender next season. Though he set a career high in wins (27), shutouts (6) and games played (66) last season, he admittedly struggled with consistency -- he sandwiched two shutouts around four losses in December. However, he carried the 'Hawks often enough to earn a three-year, $8.3 million contract. After discovering Robbie Tallas wasn't a suitable backup, the Hawks re-acquired Steve Passmore, who was Thibault's backup in 1999-2000.

Despite the return of three forwards who had career offensive years -- Steve Sullivan, Michael Nylander and Eric Daze -- the Blackhawks are still woefully thin. Beyond the line of Tony Amonte, Zhamnov and Daze, there isn't much for Sutter to work with.

At right wing, the Blackhawks have plenty of numbers. Amonte and Sullivan, who led the league in shorthanded goals (8) and parlayed a career year into a three-year, $9 million contract extension, are a legitimate one-two punch. Thomas and Igor Korolev, a restricted free agent acquired from the Leafs for a draft pick, provide depth.

But the 'Hawks need help at center and left wing. Nylander joins Zhamnov as the top two pivots. The others? Steve Dubinsky, an unrestricted free agent who has yet to re-sign or score 20 points in his eight-year career, and youngsters Kyle Calder and Mark Bell, who can also play left wing and whom the Hawks hope can contribute at the NHL level.

After Daze, who's a restricted free agent, Bob Probert (19 points) and Jean-Yves Leroux (8) are the only left wingers still listed on the roster from their final game last season.

Though Klemm is the only addition on defense, it's an area that can easily be improved with discipline and hard work. Sutter will certainly see to that. However, that philosophy won't be enough to save the offense. Unless the 'Hawks add talent to their forward lines, there is no reason to expect that any amount of patience will change their fate next season.

Sherry Skalko is the NHL Editor for ESPN.com.

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