Hawks - Coyotes first-round expectations

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Hawks - Coyotes first-round expectations

The Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes first-round matchup doesnt elicit the storylines of some of the Hawks recent postseason series. Its missing the animosity that comes with the Vancouver draw. Theres no goalie then-and-now comparison that you get with San Jose. And theres no deep history, as there would be if the Hawks wouldve played Detroit.

But hey, the playoffs are all about creating those stories, those subplots Blackhawks-Canucks was a big bag of who cares four seasons ago. So while we wait to see what this series brings, lets look at what each team brings:
Follow the leader

The Coyotes have been looking up to their reliable captain since 2003. The Blackhawks, in the wake of their captains injury, have looked to another for leadership.

Shane Doan is the prototype captain, a dependable player who has been with the WinnipegPhoenix franchise his entire professional career. Doan has long put up the points he has 318 goals and 470 points for a career 788 points. And this season, Doan finally got his first career hat trick.

Patrick Kane doesnt have the 'C' on his sweater, but in Jonathan Toews absence Kane has taken part of that role. Kane has been impressive as the Blackhawks No. 1 center, and his play and leadership down the stretch is a big reason the Blackhawks have surged again this spring

Thorn in opponents side

Which of the Blackhawks has been the Coyotes biggest headache? And vice-versa? The answers to each are wily veterans who are a combined 77 years old: left wings Andrew Brunette and Ray Whitney. Brunette has 42 career points against the Coyotes (14 goals and 28 assists). The 38-year-old was hampered by a foot injury as the regular season ended. But coach Joel Quenneville said Brunette, who was part of a successful top line with Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, should be ready for the playoffs.

For Phoenix, the 39-year-old Whitney has been stellar against Chicago, with 39 career points (12 goals, 27 assists). Whitney played all 82 games this season and put up some of his best career numbers during it. His 24 goals, 53 assists (77 points) are exactly the same as his 2008-09 numbers with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Goaltenders

Corey Crawford has gone through his ups and downs this season, and once again there was talk of a goaltending controversy. Would the backup become the No. 1 guy for the third consecutive season? But as the Blackhawks got closer to the playoffs, Crawford got closer to the form he had last spring. Since coming in relief and pulling out a shootout victory against the St. Louis Blues on March 13, Crawford has gone 8-1-2.

Mike Smith has gone through a renaissance with the Coyotes. Seemingly finished when he languished in the Tampa Bay minor-league system last season, Smith is now among the leagues best goaltenders and should be a Vezina Trophy candidate. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Smith has turned it on entering the postseason, allowing just two goals in his last five games (190 saves on 192 shots).
Knowing coaches

Joel Quenneville and Phoenix coach Dave Tippett are both familiar with each other. The two are longtime friends, and in their playing days were teammates in both Hartford and Washington. Theyve also carved their successful coaching niches. Quenneville has the most victories among NHL coaches (624) and two Stanley Cups, including one as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche.

Tippett, who has 406 victories, has led the Coyotes to three consecutive playoff appearances and, on Saturday night, their first division title in franchise history. He also won the Jack Adams award in 2010.

Bears OTA's: Observations from the first all-team practices

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Bears OTA's: Observations from the first all-team practices

The sessions are not mandatory, meaning that Alshon Jeffery’s continued absence from Halas Hall is simply disappointing for the Bears and not yet quite in the realm of Martellus Bennett’s pointed stay-away’s last year.

But as the Bears continue through their allowed quota of organized team activities (OTA’s) this week and through mid-June minicamp, it is evident already that a handful of aspects are different in 2016 from one year ago at this time.

One is a sense of urgency, a practice-speed tempo surprising for this time of year but emblematic of changes within the roster and coaching staff from even the end of last season. Coaches were driving the intensity and competitions, if not technically permitted under collective-bargaining rules, were very much in evidence, unusual for a hot day in May.

The offense is under Dowell Loggains, promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator with the exit of Adam Gase to coach the Miami Dolphins. That is involving an element of re-orientation even within an are still grounded in the same philosophies. Position changes are afoot and even with veterans, there is a learning curve that coaches and players are fast-tracking.

“It’s become clear the last few days it’s a lot different when you’re lined up in the spring and there are trash cans across from you, and then when you’ve got these big, fast D-linemen across from you,” said Kyle Long, doing his own orientation back inside from right tackle to right guard. “There’s going to be a bit of a learning curve. We’ve got to gel. You talk to a lot of guys who have been on good teams before and they’ve said, ‘We didn’t really gel until the end of training camp,’ or ‘it took us until training camp.’ So there’s going to be some time to get some of the rust off from a technical standpoint, from a live football standpoint, but I think we’ll be all right.”

Besides Jeffery, linebacker Pernell McPhee was at Halas Hall but not practicing following offseason knee surgery. Defensive lineman Will Sutton was not practicing, but fellow D-lineman Ego Ferguson was practicing after an aggressive rehab program following season-ending knee surgery of his own.

Without Jeffery, Kevin White was No. 1 through the lines for individual reps, and a scramble is developing down the wideout depth chart with rookie speed blurs Daniel Braverman (seventh-round draft choice) and Kieren Duncan (tryout player who earned a roster look with repeated highlight plays in rookie minicamp) getting looks in a group that includes nickel receiver Eddie Royal, Josh Bellamy, Marc Mariani and Marquess Wilson, all with NFL experience but few anywhere close to roster locks.

“The effect [of no Jeffery] is that someone else is getting an opportunity to get some reps and that’s a good thing,” Loggains said during rookie sessions. “We all wish Alshon was here. We’re in constant communication with him. He knows how we feel about the situation and him. But it is an opportunity for some of these different receivers that we like to get opportunities and we’ll find out more about them.”

Adam Eaton's defense has forced White Sox to change plans for Avisail Garcia

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Adam Eaton's defense has forced White Sox to change plans for Avisail Garcia

Adam Eaton’s outstanding defensive play in right field has altered the team’s original plans to give Avisail Garcia some playing time there.

Through 47 games, Eaton has played at a Gold Glove-level for the White Sox. He leads all major league defenders with 14 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), according to fangraphs.com, which has made it impossible to play Garcia in the field. That has White Sox manager Robin Ventura considering other ways to get Garcia on the field, including taking fly balls in left.

“The emergence of Adam out in right field has made it different,” Ventura said. “It’s a different spot for (Garcia). Eventually he’ll be back out there, but right now, what works for us is Adam in right field.”

“Adam has been above and beyond what we really thought he would be in right field.”

Garcia, 24, has nearly been relegated to full-time duty as the team’s designated hitter in 2016. He has a total of 16 innings played in the outfield.

Last year, Garcia started 129 games in the outfield. But his collective struggles — Garcia produced minus-11 DRS in 2015 — with Eaton’s forced the White Sox to look for a defensive-minded center fielder this offseason. Whereas last year the White Sox outfield was 26th of 30 with minus-22 DRS, this season they’re fifth overall at 7 DRS with Austin Jackson patrolling center.

The team’s defense has been a critical part to the club’s early success, which makes it nearly impossible for Eaton to sit. Garcia could see time in right field on days when Eaton needs to rest. But he’s more likely to force Melky Cabrera to the bench for a day or two and has worked to prepare for such an occasion.

“He’s getting some fly balls out there,” Ventura said. “That’s probably going to be really the rotation starts coming in for him to be able to get out there and get on the field. Or if something comes up with Adam or we want to DH. I even thought of that the other night during the DH. Again, Adam feels like he’s good enough to keep going.”

Bears sign former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace

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Bears sign former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace

The Bears announced on Wednesday they have signed former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace.

Grace attended Bears rookie minicamp earlier this month as a tryout player. 

Grace appeared in 32 games with the Fighting Irish and notched 78 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss. Grace was named to the Butkus Award Watch List prior to the 2014 season, but ultimately missed the whole year while recovering from a broken leg he suffered against Arizona State in 2013.

Following the 2015 season Grace expressed interest in applying for a sixth year waiver from the NCAA, but didn't fit the league's requirements, as CSNChicago.com Notre Dame Insider JJ Stankevitz highlighted.

To make room for Grace on the 90-man roster the Bears waived linebacker Danny Mason.

Mason spent parts of the 2015 season on both the Bears and Denver Broncos practice squads, but never appeared in a regular season game.