Breaking down Crawford vs. Emery


Breaking down Crawford vs. Emery

Here we go again. The Chicago Blackhawks are revisiting the dreaded goalie controversy.

We think. Well, were not sure. And after talking to coach Joel Quenneville on Friday, he may not be, either.

Corey Crawford started this series with the Phoenix Coyotes beautifully, helping the Blackhawks to a 1-1 series split in Glendale. But a funny thing happened on the way to playoff retribution: Crawford gave up two really bad, soft goals in the past two games. And that could be overlooked somewhat, if they werent both game winners.

So as the Blackhawks headed to Arizona on Friday, where theyre facing elimination down 3-1 in this Western Conference quarterfinal series, the inevitable question arose: is Crawford your goaltender for Game 5?

Were talking about that, Quenneville said.

And there you have it. The door has been opened and the possibility is there. On the brink of a first-round dismissal for the second consecutive season, the Blackhawks may be thinking about Ray Emery in net.

So is going with Emery the best solution for this conundrum? Lets have a look at each choice.

Go with Emery

The backup goaltender, who the Blackhawks extended through 2012-13 earlier this month, has come in and done well in these instances before. When Crawford was struggling through two significant periods this regular season, Emery was strong. He got the Blackhawks through those times, and looked pretty good doing it.

Any semblance of that serious hip injury that nearly ended his career seem gone. The one thing he showed during Crawfords down time was poise. He didnt stray far from the net, didnt make erratic moves around it. He was square, solid and, especially at home, reliable.

The call for Emery may also be the spark the Blackhawks in front of him need. The Blackhawks know they have to be better, and that especially goes for their top players. They know they have to be better. It wouldnt be the first time that a goalie change is as much for the other starters as it is the one in net.

And Emery has playoff experience, too. The veteran has been through it all. So getting thrown in for a must-win Game 5 would just be par for the course.
Go with Crawford

Its easy to put all the blame on Crawfords shoulders, and theres no doubt that, as a goaltender, thats just part of the gig. Youre the last line of defense; and his defense against Mikkel Boedkers last two winning goals was awful.

But to put heap everything on Crawford is unfair. The Blackhawks power play, once again, has been invisible. Theyve made life easy on Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith, talking traffic non-stop but never putting it on front of him on a regular basis. If the Blackhawks arent waiting for the final two minutes of every game to get traffic, get those ugly goals on Smith to force overtime, then the onus isnt on him a the end.

The Blackhawks continue to back both their netminders.

We have confidence in both our goalies, said defenseman Duncan Keith, who is aware of the pressure on them. Goaltending is a position somewhat like defensemen. Were the last line of defense, and hes the very last line of defense. You can be a hero one day and a goat the next. Coreys been great for us, had his best games in the playoffs last year when we were facing elimination.

Its going to be a tough call for Game 5. And whatever that call is, how much does is say how the Blackhawks feel about each goaltender moving forward?

Results didn’t show Fire’s progress against Rodriguez’s “three-year plan”


Results didn’t show Fire’s progress against Rodriguez’s “three-year plan”

Early on in his tenure as Chicago Fire general manager, Nelson Rodriguez said he thinks teams in Major League Soccer need a group of several core players to succeed in the league.

“We believe that in order to succeed for sustained periods of time at championship level within MLS you need seven-to-nine steady starters, year in and year out,” Rodriguez said in January.

As a result of that line and his continued stated belief in needing a key core group of players, every time local media is gathered with Rodriguez he is asked about that and where the team stands on that front. After all, Rodriguez also said, “Our hope would be that at the end of this season that we start to approach that number.”

So when Rodriguez hosted local media on Tuesday at Toyota Park, he was again asked about the core players and how he believes the team has progressed in that area.

“We have a core that we’ve built on,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s five, six solid players and then three or four others that could be in and out of that 11 if you want to just use that 11 as a guide. But if someone else comes along and presents an opportunity where we think we can improve that core, we will do so.”

Rodriguez wouldn’t bring up names that he believes are part of the core, but it’s believable to think Michael de Leeuw, David Accam, Johan Kappelhof and perhaps younger players like Matt Polster and Jonathan Campbell are somewhere in that mix. In the offseason Rodriguez said the Fire had four core players and mentioned Polster and Harry Shipp as two more he believed could become part of that group with continued development. Shipp was traded about a month after that comment while Polster made 24 starts this season and played for the U.S. Olympic qualifying team.

[RELATED: Disappointed in 2016, Rodriguez believes Fire have opportunity in offseason]

Results-wise, this season was not what Rodriguez had in mind in terms of progress. The Fire remained last in the league and earned just one more point than in 2015, but Rodriguez said that doesn’t change anything.

“It doesn’t alter our plans, it doesn’t alter our approach,” Rodriguez said. “But I know today that the first five games of next year are going to be under a magnifying glass for all of us. We’ll deal with that. This may be the only time that I have this job. I know for me I make sure I do it in the way that I think is best, in the way that I think leads us to building a championship program.”

For a fan base that has seen the club miss the playoffs now six of the past seven seasons, believing Rodriguez when he says the club has improved its core may not be so easy. With that in mind, Rodriguez wouldn’t evaluate his team based on what happened before he arrived, saying 2016 was “the start of a new process.”

“I respect that from the fans it’s a different continuum,” he said. “Last season was a continuation of something else, or two seasons ago if you will. This past season was the first season of a three-year plan.”

As Rodriguez and the Fire head into the second year of his so-called three-year plan, Rodriguez admitted that the lack of results this season makes progress harder to see.

“I would have liked to have seen more results, more positive results that would certainly give more validity to what we’re doing,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s at a time when Pauno and I are trying to push standards, trying to push players out of their comfort zone, trying to push elements of the organization forward out of its comfort zone. When the results don’t accompany you, you don’t have the legitimacy that you’d like to have. So in terms of assembling talent, in terms of instituting our methodology, I think we’re OK. In terms of results I think we’re clearly behind.”

Kris Bryant earns prestigious Hank Aaron Award as NL's top hitter

Kris Bryant earns prestigious Hank Aaron Award as NL's top hitter

CLEVELAND - The World Series isn't over yet, but the awards are already rolling in for the Cubs.

Kris Bryant was named the Hank Aaron Award winner Wednesday evening, an accolade for the best hitter in each league. Aaron was on hand at the World Series in Cleveland to hand the award to Bryant.

Bryant led the National League with 121 runs scored while also slugging 39 homers and driving in 102 runs. He hit .292 with a .385 on-base percentage and .554 slugging percentage (for a .939 OPS).

“Well, it’s ‘Hammerin’ KB,’” manager Joe Maddon said. “Just be a young player in KB’s shoes, and to win that award and then have that particular man present it to you, it’s impressive. It’s very impressive at a young age to be considered and then win it. There’s a lot of great competition out there."

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

After winning Rookie of the Year honors last season, Bryant may also be in line for the NL MVP this year as the anchor of a 103-win Cubs team.

“An award like this for KB could absolutely galvanize his thoughts about himself as a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "It’s a great achievement for him. I’m very happy for him. And I know he will humbly accept it in the right way.”

Josh Donaldson was the American League winner last season while Bryce Harper took home the NL honors.

Bryant is the second Cubs player to win the award after Sammy Sosa in 1999 (the first ever Hank Aaron Award). That season, Sosa hit 63 homers with 141 RBI, 114 rusn and a 1.002 OPS.