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Original Issue

24 Chicago Blackhawks

Coach Brian Sutter, an exacting man who took over the job last
spring, has both a pessimistic side and a gift for hyperbole,
traits that led him to arrive at training camp last month and
declare, "There is nothing that has gone on here that is

Sutter wasn't referring to his team's history, which was quite
acceptable as recently as the 1996-97 season. Since then,
however, the mismanaged Hawks have failed to reach the playoffs
and have had eight coaches. Nothing has worked. Two years ago,
under blustery coach Lorne Molleken, the goon-heavy Blackhawks
beat the tar out of everyone, amassed the second-highest
penalty-minute total in the NHL and lost 39 games. Last year,
under soft-tempered Alpo Suhonen, the Hawks treated opponents too
gently, allowed a conference-high 246 goals and lost 40 games.
Says general manager Mike Smith of Suhonen's brief reign, "We
were an easy team to play against."

That also means "not hard to beat," a description the Blackhawks
will fit again. While Sutter has reintroduced a hard-hitting
style ("Recess is over," says right wing Tony Amonte), Chicago
did little to improve in the off-season. Only a nifty collection
of skilled forwards that includes Amonte (34 goals last year) and
right wing Steve Sullivan (34) provides any reason for optimism.

Goalie Jocelyn Thibault, 26, has eye-catching acrobatic skills,
but his inconsistency resulted in an .895 save percentage last
year, the worst among full-time starting goalies. Once again
Thibault will try to overcome an inadequate defense, a Hawks
weakness that was underscored by their off-season signing of Jon
Klemm, formerly of the Avalanche. Klemm brings the rough
checking style that Sutter favors, but he has difficulty
clearing the puck and is better suited to a supporting role than
to being the linchpin Chicago wants him to be. The Hawks have
less confidence in Boris Mironov, who last year bumbled to a
five-goal, 17-assist, -14 performance. As Chicago's season
unraveled, fans heckled Mironov mercilessly. Sutter tried to
come to Mironov's defense last month but could muster only what,
at best, was a backhanded compliment: "Boris was no worse than
the rest of the team last year."


COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Tony Amonte, Blackhawks

Fast Fact

Since the beginning of the 1997-98 season, the Blackhawks have
had eight coaches, the most in a five-year span for any team
since the Blues had eight from '70-71 to '74-75.



FORWARDS 15 Top six have tons of ability; then a big
DEFENSE 26 Klemm will help, but still not enough talent
GOALTENDING 28 Thibault must control rebounds better
SPECIAL TEAMS 21 Plenty of firepower, but PP needs a
MANAGEMENT 18 New coach Sutter should get underachievers