After a season full of questions about whether the Blackhawks were a tough enough team to play against, coach Joel Quenneville came about as close as it gets to saying they were not on Thursday.
"I think there's something to that," Quenneville said. "Whether it's team toughness or across the board tougher to play against is something, whether we address as personnel or as a team, that's an area we want to make sure that we definitely are harder to play against."
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This doesn't mean general manager Stan Bowman needs to go out and acquire a Matt Cooke-like headhunter, but as skilled as the Hawks are on the first two lines and throughout their defense, it's a team that needs more size and jam to help protect the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith.
At least two Hawks -- Kane and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson -- agreed there is a need for perhaps at least one more big, physical player in the lineup for 2011-12.
"I think it would be good to maybe get one tougher guy," Hjalmarsson said.
"It's always nice to have someone that can fight and someone that's a force on the ice that can also play," Kane said. "I think going forward that would be nice to have."
While there certainly won't be as much roster turnover as last season when the Hawks needed to shed bodies because of the salary cap, Bowman admitted there would be changes.
But he stopped short of saying there was a need for more physical players. He also didn't say there wasn't such a need.
"What we have to do is assess our season, and we're in the process of doing that," Bowman said. "We'll meet with the coaches and find out what areas do we need to improve on in order to move further next season.
"At this point it's probably premature to say exactly what we're going to do. We'll make an assessment on what areas we can be better at. There's a number of things you could throw out now as possibilities."
This is going to be a different summer for Bowman than when he had to face serious salary-cap issues a year ago after winning the Stanley Cup. Whereas Bowman spent most of the off-season in 2010 shedding payroll, his task now will be deciding which pieces to add.
"Fortunately for us we're not in the crunch we were a year ago," Bowman said. "We still have decisions to make, and there's going to be some changes. You're not going to bring the same group back. We need to bring in a few new faces and some faces will move along and some new players will come up.
"Really, right now the piece of the puzzle is to find out how we want to structure the team, what types of different elements we need vs. this year," Bowman said.
"That's going to dictate what players you go after, whether it's through a trade or free agency. We want to make some improvement to our group, but we don't have the mandatory moves which we did a year ago."
Managing the cap still will be tricky for Bowman. With 14 players already under contract (if you include Ben Smith, Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger), it leaves about $11.3 million remaining to spend, assuming the cap goes up $3 million as speculated.
The tricky part is fitting restricted free agents Corey Crawford, Michael Frolik and Chris Campoli into that $11.3 million and having enough money left to sign three to four more players.