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Joel Quenneville says Blackhawks are better equipped, questions remain

Chicago Blackhawks Vs St. Louis Blues 3rd-Period action. Blackhawks No.10 Patrick Sharp was back line up Wednesday night. Sharp battles

Chicago Blackhawks Vs St. Louis Blues 3rd-Period action. Blackhawks No.10 Patrick Sharp was back in the line up Wednesday night. Sharp battles with St. Louis Blues No.28 Carlo Colaiacovo April 6, 2011 | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 12, 2011 4:58AM

You could say Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has a welcome mess on his hands in figuring out who plays with whom this season.

But would he say his current team is better than the one that faced the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs after trading Brian Campbell and Troy Brouwer and signing physical veterans?

“We’re better equipped going forward for all our needs,’’ Quenneville said Monday. “We think we have a great core, and the guys that we brought in this year really complement the core. . . . Compared to exactly a year ago, we fulfilled our needs this year and addressed things.”

Yet, like last summer, there are a ton of questions, signings that still need to be completed and needs that have to be addressed. It has been another busy summer for the Hawks. Here’s a look at the road ahead:

The RFAs

General manager Stan Bowman remains hopeful that he’ll re-sign his remaining restricted free agents, winger Michael Frolik and defenseman Chris Campoli.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re still talking, which is a good sign,” Bowman said. “We’re trying to look at different options in terms of term and dollar amounts. . . . We’re hopeful it’ll get done.”

Bowman would like to avoid the scheduled arbitration hearing with Campoli on Aug. 3.

“I don’t think the agents like arbitration, either,” Bowman said. “The only good thing is that at least you know there will be a [salary] number eventually.”

In the middle

The Hawks’ lack of depth at center could be problematic, but they say they’re content in giving rookie Marcus Kruger more time and using versatile forwards Patrick Sharp and Frolik in the middle. In other words, additional free-agent signings are unlikely.

“People always want to say Patrick Sharp isn’t a center, but he’s done it the last couple of years,” Bowman said. “I don’t know what he has to do to prove he can play center.

“You’re right when you mention that [Dave] Bolland and [Jonathan] Toews are the two stalwarts at center ice, but we’ve got other guys who have done that role and are going to be able to fill that role. I’m confident going in.”

Soup’s gone

Replacing Campbell won’t be easy. As Quenneville said, “You lose something with [Campbell]. He definitely brings some puck-moving ability out of our back end and some offensive flow.”

But Quenneville is happy with the depth the Hawks were able to build on the blue line, which only gets better if Campoli signs, by unloading Campbell’s hefty contract and bringing in Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell.

“You can never have enough defensemen,” said Quenneville, who would like to see Campoli return and considers enforcer John Scott part of the defensive corps.

“You like to be nine or 10 deep with experience if you could.”

Gone camping

Bowman remains committed to giving winger Rostislav Olesz, who was part of the Campbell trade, a chance to prove himself in training camp.

He expects Olesz, who has a history of injuries, to be healthy by the time camp starts. He won’t be bought out.

“He’s a player that needs a fresh start,” Bowman said.

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