Blackhawks free agency plan remains a mystery


Blackhawks free agency plan remains a mystery

Thursdays NHL announcement that the salary cap is -- at least temporarily -- going up about 6 million dollars to 70.2 million leaves the Blackhawks with roughly 8 million to spend when free agency begins Sunday at 11 a.m., if Stan Bowman so chooses.

He can exceed it for the time being and worry about shaving money off with trades as the offseason progresses. The other concerns involve what that cap number will be once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, and how teams will react once the initial wave of free agency is over as labor negotiations get underway. Its anyones guess, but most surmise if the cap does go back down, it wouldnt be a significant amount for this season in the event talks drag into mid-September and beyond.

We heard rumors heading into last weekends draft about the availability of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador -- and their combined 6.25 million cap hit. Something could still happen with them or anyone else on what is a full roster the vice president and general manager can deal from, along with a fully loaded system of prospects. So, the start of free agency may give a more clear indication on how much movement there will be for the club the rest of the summer.

As we check around the league at this new cap number, the Hawks have the second-least amount to spend, slightly less than San Jose. Boston is currently tapped-out. Elsewhere around the West, Los Angeles has just below 12 million it can spend, Calgary about 13.5 million and Vancouver 14.5 million. Everyone else in the conference has even more.

Dennis Widemans contract with Calgary was great news for the defenseman likely to get the second-richest contract from free agency. The Flames signed Wideman for an average of 5.5 million, a significant bump from the 3.9 million he made for a Washington team for which he provided 11 goals -- two shy of his career-high.

Florida will allow Jason Garrison on the market, and likely lose him after the 27-year-old with the booming shot scored nine of his 16 goals on the power play. Thats certainly a Hawks need in their quest to improve that unit, but he might get 6 million or more now for a team believing he can consistently duplicate those numbers after doing it once, getting set up by Brian Campbell. Another veteran blueliner with a Stanley Cup ring went off the market when Nashville re-signed Hal Gill Thursday.

It remains unclear how much interest Bowman has in those types of defensemen, and how far its shrunk his pool of options, if at all. The current roster composition, and allowing himself some salary cap wiggle room, would seem to indicate trades would have to be made in order to create change. But in recent interviews, hes spoken more about growth from within from players on that roster.

Improvement from Corey Crawford. Improvement on special teams. Perhaps counting on the next step taken from home-grown products like Dylan Olsen, Marcus Kruger, Nick Leddy, Bryan Bickell, Jimmy Hayes and perhaps Brandon Saad all factor into Bowman's thinking. But no GM reveals his hand through the media. Theres also plenty of time to make any moves he may want to, at the right price, and with the right return. Blind change just for the sake of change often doesnt work out.

Lets say Hjalmarsson is dealt. For all the criticisms he has received in the wake of his post-Cup, four-year contract, one element he provides that would be missing is his shot-blocking an area where many feel the Hawks can improve. While Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya are also among the league leaders in that category others would need to pick up that slack, or the Hawks would ideally get a player or two to fill that void. And it wasnt necessarily the numbers, but the timing, and whos doing it.

There could be some sacrifice from forwards out front. And while you can find just one member of the Coyotes on the first page of blocked shots leaders from last season they were suffocating their share of shots in the first-round playoff series. The same goes for other successful playoff teams this spring like the Rangers, Capitals and Devils. Thats some of the sacrifice Joel Quenneville seemed to allude to when he spoke with reporters last Friday in Pittsburgh.

When I asked Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland about their Coach Q's comment about needing greater competitiveness at a golf outing Monday, they didnt disagree.

Listening to an interview with Kings GM Dean Lombardi the other day, hes already going with the little bit of improvement from within line when asked about roster changes and his team's chances of repeating. It might be easier with Jonathan Quick, but its also more difficult after just reaching the top of the mountain. Just ask the Hawks from two years ago. Im thinking that will be a tough sell in L.A. next season as we head into a 15th year without a repeat champ.

Quenneville also spoke of the fine line between teams throughout the league these days, especially down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs. Think about it: The Hawks led the NHL in mid-January. The first five games of their playoff series went into overtime despite inconsistent goaltending and poor special teams.

But well get a better idea, starting Sunday morning, about how much the Hawks decision-makers feel the need for change, heading into a crucial and perhaps crossroads year for the organization.

Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Week 8

Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Week 8

We're living in a bizarre age of fantasy football.

Each week we're questioning whether or not we should start players such as DeAndre Hopkins and Todd Gurley. At the same time, we're making room in our lineups for Jacquizz Rodgers, Ty Montgomery and Terrelle Pryor.

Down is up and up is down.

If you have any questions, hit us up on @CSNFantasy and tune in to our weekly Fantasy Fix Facebook Live show every Thursday.

Let's get right into the Week 8 Start/Sit and as always, Liam Neeson has a message for you:


Devontae Booker, RB, DEN (vs. SD) - With the news that C.J. Anderson is likely done for the season with a torn meniscus, Booker has turned into a must-own/must-start running back. The rookie out of Utah is averaging an impressive 4.8 yards per carry in limited time, and now moves into the starting role in Gary Kubiak's running back friendly offense which ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing attempts per game. Booker is a no-brainer this weekend against a Chargers defense which has allowed the fourth-most rushing touchdowns in 2016. (Scott Krinch)

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, NYJ (@ CLE) - I'll get criticism for this prediction, but Fitzpatrick should be a firm QB1 in Week 8. The Browns are always on the fantasy radar as a friendly opponent for quarterbacks, which is the team Fitzpatrick draws on Sunday. Cleveland hasn't allowed less than two passing touchdowns in any game this season, and have given up three scores to opposing signal callers four out of the last five weeks. This is a layup for Fitzpatrick owners. (Krinch)

Ty Montgomery, WR/RB, GB (@ ATL) - Fantasy players were given an early stocking stuffer when Montgomery was granted running back eligibility in the majority of leagues. It doesn't matter which position you want to insert Montgomery in, he just needs to be in your lineup at all costs. With 20 receptions on 25 targets and 12 carries for 66 yards in his last two games, Montgomery is turning into one of the league's most valuable fantasy commodities. The Packers opponent this weekend, the Falcons, have allowed the second-most receptions to running backs. Look for Montgomery to take advantage in that area. (Krinch)

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear here]


Alshon Jeffery, WR, CHI (vs. MIN) - Jay Cutler's thumb has mysteriously healed and it's time for Jeffery to become a Top 10 wide receiver, right? Not exactly. I like Jeffery's outlook for the remainder of the season, but for this week and this week only, I'm staying clear of him. The Vikings defense presents a major mismatch for the Bears offense, and Jeffery will be in for a long night against a Vikings which ranks No. 2 against opposing wide receivers. (Krinch)

Matthew Stafford, QB, DET (@ HOU) - Stafford is having an MVP-caliber season and in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career so I know I'll get a lot of flack for benching him. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big Stafford fan and think he's one of the best fantasy bargains in 2016. I just expect him to be more of a game manager against a stingy Texans secondary. Look for Stafford to keep the turnovers at a minimum and for the Lions to establish a ground attack, limiting Stafford's fantasy value for this week. (Krinch)

Jonathan Stewart, RB, CAR (vs. ARI) - The forgotten man in most fantasy circles — despite routinely finishing each season as a Top 20 running back — is going to keep that label this weekend. The Cardinals front seven has been a nightmare for opposing running backs, and I expect it to be no different on Sunday. If the Cardinals get up big — a very good possibility — it's going to be a game of catch-up for the Panthers offense which will limit Stewart's touches. (Krinch)

Adjusting to bench role, Nikola Mirotic made big defensive play to seal Bulls win

Adjusting to bench role, Nikola Mirotic made big defensive play to seal Bulls win

Anytime Nikola Mirotic is on an island defensively in a crucial moment of a game, there’s a general sense of nervousness and doubt that’s palpable inside the United Center.

So imagine everyone’s surprise when Mirotic defended Boston Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown well enough to force a travel in the final minute of the Bulls’ 105-99 win Thursday night.

With the Celtics down two, Brown started his drive from the top of the key and pivoted back to his right. When he rose up for a jumper or pass, Mirotic was right in his face and Brown, a talented rookie playing in his second NBA game, didn’t know where to go.

He came back down with the ball still in his hands for a traveling violation, and the stage was set for Dwyane Wade’s closing heroics.

Wade, the closer was set up by Mirotic, the stopper—well, let’s not go that far just yet.

“I tried just to play good defense, to make him drive the ball because we want him to shoot a contested shot,” Mirotic said. “It was big-time defense. We needed that one. After that, Dwyane Wade has huge stop and made that 3. It’s a team job, team defense. I was just trying to be a part of that. I’m very happy about the game.”

In all fairness, Brown is a rookie and the Bulls would rather not see Mirotic in a one-on-one situation late in games defensively. But it appears as if Fred Hoiberg will give him the opportunities to close games so Mirotic will find himself in instances where he’ll have to make plays on both ends.

Hoiberg called it the defensive play of the game, and agreed with the assessment of Mirotic being an underrated defensive rebounder despite his struggles on that end of the floor.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“It just goes to show you even when your shot isn’t falling, you can still have a positive impact,” Hoiberg said. “I loved his attack. He was getting in the paint and got some offensive rebound tip-ins as well so just overall solid game.”

Although Hoiberg had to make the decision to insert Taj Gibson as a starter at power forward over Mirotic, it’s not hard to see scenarios like Thursday where both are together to close games—Mirotic will be needed to spread the floor for Wade and Jimmy Butler to create shots in one-on-one situations.

Mirotic missed five of his six 3-point shots but was flawless inside the line, scoring 15 with nine rebounds.

“To be honest, I didn’t feel very comfortable with my 3-point shot,” said Mirotic, although Hoiberg said Mirotic’s attempts were good looks. “I tried to find a way to score, make an impact on the game---rebound the ball, play unselfish. My goal was to play good defense because I know that’s the next step.”

Getting over the idea of losing a starting job many believed would’ve been his given the composition of the roster seems to be behind Mirotic, who was a starter last season before acute appendicitis forced him out of action before the All-Star break.

“It doesn’t feel right to be honest. But no disappointment. It is what it is,” Mirotic said. “I want to not think and be focused and play my game. Now that I come from the bench, it’s like, ‘All right, figure out how you’re going to do that, how you’re going to help your team and play well.’”

Gibson and Mirotic were the only Bulls to shoot over 50 percent, as Gibson’s strong preseason play carried over to the opener. Make no mistake, if the Bulls are to exceed modest expectations, Mirotic will have to step up, as his production is no longer a luxury.

“It’s going to be a long season. But I told Fred it’s no problem,” Mirotic said. “I respect your decision. Taj is an amazing player. He’s playing so good. He’s in great shape. He deserves to be the starter. He has played a lot of years here. So I respect that. I’m cool with that. What I want to do is play my game, improve this year, make my team win more games. That’s all I can do.”