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Blackhawks Thu Jan 29 2015

West Coast Swing a Tough Test for Blackhawks

Chicago BlackhawksAfter a nice break at the halfway point of the season, and whatever you wanted to call the display on ice in Columbus for the All-Star game, the Blackhawks laced up their skates for another long swing to the west coast. The last time the team logged this many miles across the Continental Divide, they collected 10 points in six games (5-1-0) and averaged 3.83 goals per game against some of the conference's best.

Coming into the game against the defending champion Los Angeles Kings Wednesday night, the Hawks were riding a warmed up Marian Hossa (one goal, one assist against Pittsburgh), a young Teuvo Teravainen gaining more confidence at the wing and even a few shifts at the dot, and a completely thermal Patrick Kane making a case for becoming the first Hart Memorial Trophy winner since Stan Mikita in 1968.

Unfortunately, for the Hawks, and those who stuck with them on television until the wee hours, the end result was a little too familiar in games that were in hand but squandered in the third period.

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Jim Crago / Comments (0)

Fire Tue Jan 27 2015

Chicago Fire: Pieces Falling Into Place

Chicago FireEven as a hard, gritty snow falls like windblown sand in the faces of earthbound Chicagoans, it grows continually hard to deny that, with every day, spring is creeping ever nearer. For supporters of the Chicago Fire that feeling has accelerated over the past few days with the finalizing of several very large and important moves.

The team and front office have made such strides over the offseason that the air swirling around the coming season has recently been rather sweetly scented with an aroma of cautious optimism, but there were still some stray notes of uncertainty. There was the matter of the team's jersey sponsorship with Quaker, which expired at the start of the 2015 season. Then there was the matter of the lingering, will-they-or-won't-they dance between the club and Wigan Athletic midfielder Shaun Maloney who expressed interest in joining the club only to see negotiations stall. Finally, a television deal had yet to be reached or announced.

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Benjamin Cannon / Comments (0)

Cubs Wed Jan 21 2015

Cubs Gain Great Flexibility and OBP in Fowler Trade

Chicago CubsThe Cubs needed a leadoff hitter. They needed someone to get on base, maybe run a little bit here and there, and most importantly, man the outfield with a history of playing some center. And if they were getting greedy, said player would be on a short contract as to not hold up prospects they like. Dexter Fowler checked every possible box.

The cost: Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily. Straily was the "third" player in the deal that sent Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija to Oakland for Addison Russell and Billy McKinney. Straily pitched a bit at Wrigley last season, but struggled in his seven National League contests, and was among the Cubs glut of back-end starters that might not be good enough to pitch every fifth day. You could trust him for two weeks if a starter got hurt, but you didn't want to lean on him for more than that. On a great team, he's a seventh or eighth starter, and the Cubs were fine sending him out with Edwin Jackson, Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Eric Jokisch all still around to fight for the final rotation and long-man spots.

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Chad Ruter / Comments (0)

Blackhawks Tue Jan 20 2015

Blackhawks Hold Team Meeting as Break Nears

Chicago Blackhawks The last 10 games for the Blackhawks haven't necessarily been the best defensively for a team that looked to be on a mission at the start of the season. Going 5-5-0 during this recent stretch might not seem too alarming unless you've watched how each game unfolded along the way.

The team has been playing a little uncharacteristically as of late: a seemingly calmed Dan Carcillo received a six-game suspension after an illegal cross-check on Winnipeg's Mathieu Perrault; Patrick Sharp, channelling his days with the Flyers, got into a scrape with the Stars' Shawn Horcoff, prompting everyone to yell, "Not the face!"; poor defense, allowing too many shot attempts on Corey Crawford, resulted in the Hawks being outscored 33 to 32 during this time frame.

Certainly not time to panic by any means, considering the All-Star break is this coming weekend, but it was deemed necessary by some of the veterans on the team to address a few holes after 45 games played.

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Jim Crago / Comments (0)

Bears Mon Jan 19 2015

Bears Go Safe With John Fox Selection & That's OK

Chicago BearsPicking a coach was the biggest decision Ryan Pace had to make in his professional life. This was his one and only shot to be a general manager in the NFL. If he fails here, there will be no second chance. That's why when a veteran coach with a long history of success and respect became available, Pace didn't hesitate.

In John Fox, Pace gets a guy that he knows won't be a complete embarrassment. That's already a step ahead of his predecessor, and is a great way for Pace to ensure that he won't get fired in a couple years for making a terrible mistake at such an important spot. Is it the best the Bears could do? Obviously that question can't be answered right now, but it's probably safe to say they could've done better.

Pace was rushed immediately into the Todd Bowles interview with the ink barely dry on his own contract with the Bears. Maybe if he had more time to prepare, or came back around a second time to discuss the job, Bowles might be the coach. It's also possible that Pace didn't want to risk his own backside with someone who had no prior experience. Can you blame him after taking a look at the dumpster fire he inherited?

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Chad Ruter / Comments (1)

Fire Fri Jan 16 2015

Chicago Fire Take Two at MLS SuperDraft

Chicago FireThere was a time when the annual Major League Soccer SuperDraft meant something, to the league, to its constituent clubs, to its players. But somewhere after 2012 the wheels started to come off and things have shifted. The event had logos designed for it each year that echoed other leagues' All-Star events, and it was even broadcast on television, usually on ESPN2. Since the 2012 SuperDraft the event has been relegated in a sense, falling to ESPN News and ESPN3, with this year's being solely streamed live on YouTube; there hasn't been a new logo for the event since 2013. This is not to be construed as doomsaying, just that the event -- which took place this Thursday in Philadelphia -- felt like a labored gasp from a player allocation system wearing out its usefulness.

The prevailing wisdom regarding player development in soccer is that the academy is king, developing players fit to operate within a system that is tightly plotted from the club technical director on down. This approach is one that has born fruit in the past few years, as MLS clubs' academies have finally begun to see their products come of age and get signed to their club under the auspices of being a "homegrown" player. This gives an even greater sense of accomplishment for clubs, as they have not simply gone and bought the best players in the league, but carefully scouted and developed talent on their own.

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Benjamin Cannon / Comments (0)

Cubs Tue Jan 13 2015

Cubs Fans Outside of Chicago in TV Limbo

Chicago CubsIt took much longer than most people thought it would, but after the Cubs and WGN came to an agreement last week on the remaining 45 games where the Cubs lacked a television partner, the near-term future of watching the team was put to rest. That is, if you live in Chicago.

When I was growing up in rural Shannon, Illinois -- a couple hours west of our fair city -- I became a Cubs fan because of their hats: blue with a red C, matching up perfectly with my favorite colors and the first letter of my name (lay off me -- I was 5). But the only reason I got the opportunity to see them was because of their unique television contract with WGN the superstation. It's how countless people in every corner of the country came to love a team that really wasn't very good.

Fast forward to now, in a day and age where almost every major league team carries a high majority of their games on regional cable networks to guarantee their team's games can be seen by a wide audience, the Cubs are going in the opposite direction because they lack negotiating power.

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Chad Ruter / Comments (2)

Bears Sat Jan 10 2015

Strong Takes on New Bears GM Are Foolish Ones

Chicago BearsThe youngest general manager in football is the leading football man for the Chicago Bears. A fact like that, or anything you've read about the history of 37-year-old Ryan Pace, shouldn't invoke massive amounts of excitement or despair. The only things we truly know about him are the bullet points on his résumé.

You may be impressed by his stoic look, his deep voice, and his command of a press conference, but you shouldn't be. You don't get one of the 32 NFL GM jobs without having an interview presence. Phil Emery looked and sounded impressive his first day too -- preaching the same gospel of Bears football that everyone who sat in the chair before him did.

You may be upset that he lacks previous experience in the role he's taking over, the checkered history of decisions he's been involved in, or his youth in general, but you shouldn't be. General managers who fail in their first job rarely get a second crack at it. The best GMs in the league grow old with the team that hires them because there is no incentive to move elsewhere. And since he lacked the power of making the final call on players in New Orleans, we have no idea what decisions he agreed or disagreed with. There's no data on which to judge him.

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Chad Ruter / Comments (1)

Review Fri Jan 09 2015

Review: 73-0! Bears Over Redskins: The NFL's Greatest Massacre

BearsBook.jpgIt was 28 days before Virginia Halas's 18th birthday, and her father, Bears owner and head coach George Halas, was about to lead his team onto the frigid field of Griffith Stadium in the nation's capital to battle Washington for the league title. The country was at a tipping point and about a year away from entering another World War, while the economic decline of the previous 10 years that crippled so many families was slowly beginning to reverse.

The world was a little different back then, but with the exception of leather helmets and god knows what other flimsy protective equipment was available on the gridiron 75 years ago, the game of football still remains the same today: 11 men on each side of the ball, trying to cross the pigskin across the goal line for six points, all within the span of 60 minutes. That and a little trash talking.

The Bears were 8-3 and already had three world titles under their belt from 1921, 1932 and 1933. Washington was 9-2 and previously had beaten the Bears earlier in the regular season by the final of 7-3. Redskins owner George Preston Marshall made the mistake of running his mouth after the game, calling Halas's crew a bunch of whiners and crybabies. What happened next is captured perfectly in Lew Freedman's new book, 73-0! Bears Over Redskins: The NFL's Greatest Massacre.

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Jim Crago / Comments (0)

Blackhawks Tue Jan 06 2015

Patrick Sharp Picking Up Shot Tempo for Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks It's that time of year again when the Hawks and most other teams in the league tend to drift into a bit of a mid-season funk and create cause for concern. The latest evidence of that is the Hawks' tendency to play from behind by giving up soft- to not-too-difficult shots, most of which fly past Corey Crawford's glove side.

To the Hawks' credit, however, they've found a way to claw their way back into each game and salvage a few points here and there in the process. It makes for exciting hockey, for sure, but certainly isn't clearing the grey away from coach Joel Quenneville's mustache.

The Hawks have been giving up more shots lately, which translates to less puck possession and more goals against. So how to fix such a problem if the defense isn't there? Shoot more yourself, and the Hawks have Patrick Sharp to thank for the recent uptick in firepower.

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Jim Crago / Comments (0)

Bears Tue Dec 30 2014

Phil Emery & Marc Trestman Rightly Get Axed by Bears

Chicago BearsThe fans made their voices heard by not showing up. More than 6,000 tickets remained unused for each of the last four Bears home games, with the number topping out just shy of 11,000 in their penultimate Soldier Field game against the Saints. George McCaskey and the McCaskey family heard the boos from the few fans who did attend, and responded to those who were too fed up to watch the misery live by firing general manager Phil Emery, head coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer yesterday morning.

Don't worry, Mel Tucker and Joe DeCamillis will be gone in due time too, but they're still under contract and were coordinators who didn't drive a bus over the team's highest paid player. I doubt the Bears will stop them from interviewing for positions elsewhere.

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Chad Ruter / Comments (0)

Blackhawks Mon Dec 22 2014

Blackhawks Filling All-Star Roster for 2015 Contest

Chicago Blackhawks It's been a few years since fans have had a chance to watch an NHL All-Star game due to a shortened season in 2013 and Winter Olympics last year. The exhibition may have been put on ice, but it makes its triumphant return this Jan. 24 in Columbus, OH, and features a lot of Blackhawks players already in the mix from fan voting.

The last time the league's elite was on the ice, they were entertaining fans back in 2012 in Ottawa. That was when Team Chara beat Team Alfredsson by the final of 12-9. Marian Hossa scored a goal and had two assists while Patrick Kane chipped in for one assist for the winning team and pulled off a Superman-like move in the skills competition.

A lot has happened between then and now -- another Cup and what should have been another Cup -- so who is on the short list to make the trip to Columbus this time around for the Hawks?

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Jim Crago / Comments (0)

Fire Fri Dec 19 2014

Chicago Fire Winter Transfer Season Breakdown

Chicago FireSnow is a phenomenon often taken as a given in wintertime, but it really often relies on a rather specific set of circumstances falling into place before things come tumbling down from the skies. The conditions, from low-pressure weather systems to the presence of atmospheric particles that act as ice nuclei around which crystals form, are many and complex. So too, then, is the situation the same for Major League Soccer in the winter transfer season, that it relies on a confluence of events happening at just the right moment to produce something wonderful, though it can often end up ruining things just the same.

Take the MLS season, for instance, which is one of a handful of domestic leagues in the world that doesn't adhere to the FIFA calendar. That schedule, set by the sport's international governing body, sees a majority of countries leagues play their season from August to May, with several week-long breaks implemented to allow for international team play. MLS operates on a schedule that runs from March until November, and does not always allot space for international games along the way. More discussion on that will be had later, though.

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Benjamin Cannon / Comments (0)

Bears Thu Dec 18 2014

The Wrong Bear Is Losing His Job

Chicago Bears"As long as Jay is healthy, he'll be playing quarterback for us."

That was Marc Trestman 10 days ago. He was fully behind his much-maligned quarterback, who as the highest-paid player in the NFL this season, had back-breaking expectations. After another terrible performance against the Saints following a week where his offensive coordinator ripped him anonymously, and then admitted to it without any repercussions, Trestman decided to turn his starting quarterback into a scapegoat by benching him for Jimmy Clausen.

Don't get me wrong, Cutler has been terrible this season. He leads the league in turnovers. Among QB's who have played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps, Cutler ranks 23rd out of 29 according to Pro Football Focus. They don't take into account whether he's checking into or out of plays correctly because they have no clue. They simply rate each play based on his accuracy, decision-making (throwing to the correct/open receiver), and results. It's as bad on paper as it's looked on the field.

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Chad Ruter / Comments (0)

Blackhawks Wed Dec 17 2014

Mumps Outbreak Could Sideline More in NHL

Chicago Blackhawks When you hear the name Sidney Crosby and the word viral in the same sentence, it's usually synonymous with an amazing goal that's been replayed over and over again through Social Media. Unfortunately for Sid the Kid and a handful of others in the NHL, the only thing viral these days is located in the parotid gland and is in the form of mumps.

Mumps is one of those infections that harkens back to a time when, as a kid, you were sent to friend's house to become exposed to chickenpox followed by three weeks of homework in bed. That's why anything not referred to as "shingles" for adults seems unthinkable to be contacted, especially those who are considered to be in the best of shape.

Crosby is being monitored by team doctors as he rests, and Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said he's being watched "on a regular basis." But with the infection beginning to spread across the league, questions are being raised as to how this started, what's being done to eradicate it and, for Hawks fans, who on the team might have been infected?

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Jim Crago / Comments (0)


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