Mayers' return brings about questions for Blackhawks

739286.png

Mayers' return brings about questions for Blackhawks

With our Tracey Myers confirming that Jamal Mayers will return to the Blackhawks for a second season, one question is answered, while also creating others.

The coaching staff and management loved what Mayers provided making him the best veteran acquisition from last off-season, along with Ray Emery. Thats further reason to take Joel Quenneville at his word that he was just looking to try something different after Game 3 versus Phoenix, hoping Brendan Morrison might provide a little more of some much-needed offense after getting himself in his best shape since his serious knee injury more than a year earlier. And Morrison played his best three games as a Hawk. It unfortunately came at Mayers expense, and it was evident it cut into his pride after he consistently did what was asked of him the previous six months.

Whatever hard feelings there may have been, bygones are now bygones. So if Daniel Carcillo and Andrew Shaw are lineup regulars, that pair and Mayers return to provide next years squad those edgesandpapertoughness ingredients if not overwhelming size.

Now it also leads one to wonder about where that leaves Mayers on the fourth line and Marcus Kruger on the depth chart. If Patrick Kane does, indeed, become the second-line center, and Dave Bolland remains a part of this team, Kruger either centers the fourth line with Mayers at wing, or becomes a wing himself somewhere in the lineup.

Either that, or Stan Bowman might be looking to wheel-and-deal for some roster changes. There are 13 forwards on the roster now, not including restricted free agent Brandon Bollig, or Brandon Saad, who may very well be worthy of an opening night roster spot. Include them, and thats 15 to fill 12 spots.

They dont have a lot of maneuverability, either, factoring in the money theyve already committed with about 6 million in salary cap space at the current cap, which could very well shrink whenever a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

The unrestricted free agent list isnt particularly sexy in terms of depth or the money the Hawks could currently spend. So maybe there could be some moves or departures on the horizon as this puzzles pieced together this off-season.
Working off the Latest Template

Every sport -- and every league -- is a copycat league. Two years ago, when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, it created a philosophy that de-emphasized elite goaltending if there was enough competency in the crease and excellence around it to capture hockeys Holy Grail.

As we get ready for this Kings-Devils Stanley Cup Final, we encounter one franchise that greatly altered its philosophy with the hiring of a head coach Dale Tallon fired in Florida.

The Devils now move. They forecheck relentlessly, almost to perfection these last two rounds, and each of Peter DeBoers players are on the same page on what to do when their aggressiveness is set in motion. And that old-man goalie might not be great anymore, but hes still very, very good and allowed himself to adjust his style within this new system.

The other is a team that couldnt buy a goal for most of the season, but a coaching change, a couple of call-ups and its massive size have worked in combination with stellar goaltending to steamroll its way through three rounds. The Kings post-season began with absolutely nothing to lose as an eighth seed. Theyve evolved into a monster thats been the best team in hockey over the past six weeks.

The teams the Devils and Kings defeated the Rangers and Coyotes - each made it through two rounds by committing to their respective systems that often suffocated opponents who had some pretty good firepower.

So, looking at the conference finalists, how much will other teams around the league try to use that template and attempt to create a similar style? How far do the Blackhawks go in seeing those elements as the secret to this years post-season success? And if theyre so inclined to try to get closer to that style, how much would they need to change, personnel-wise? If not, do they have the personnel in place to overcome those styles next season?

Style and systems have trumped seedings in this years quest for the Cup.

Bears QB Jay Cutler: 'You can't' replace Matt Forte

Bears QB Jay Cutler: 'You can't' replace Matt Forte

Jay Cutler spent his first seven seasons in Chicago with Matt Forte lined up behind him, but his eighth one will be a little bit different.

The 33-year-old quarterback reported to training camp in Bourbonnais on Wednesday knowing Forte isn't on his side anymore and knows it will take a collective effort to help ease the loss of a two-time Pro Bowler.

"You can't," Cutler responded when asked how you replace Forte. "Just his knowledge and him being here for so long and experience on the field, experience playing with me. Most times I didn't have to tell him something, I just look at him and he knew exactly what I was thinking, so you can't replace him.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!]

"We've got a good group of young backs that we're going to develop and we're going to put as much time as we can into those guys, and they'll get there. It's a good group, it's a talented group, so we're still excited about what we have."

With the departure of Forte, Cutler knows he's become one of the most experienced players on the team, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

"I was looking at the roster weeks ago and I feel like there's been a major shift in experience, especially on the offensive side," Cutler said. "I'm at 11 (seasons in the NFL) and then you look down, there's a couple 9s, a couple 8s and then mostly it's five and under, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

"I think a new town, new guys in the building is new energy, new attitude, so I've embraced it, I've enjoyed it. I think the coaching staff has done a great job of getting all these young guys up to speed. It's a good group right now."

Check out the video of Cutler's interview from training camp above.

Notre Dame unit preview: Searching for the next go-to WR

Notre Dame unit preview: Searching for the next go-to WR

With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp approaching fast, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field in primetime Sept. 4 against Texas at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. 

Depth Chart

W (Boundary)

1. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)
2A. Miles Boykin (Redshirt freshman)
2B. Alize Jones (Sophomore)
3. Chase Claypool (Freshman)

Z (Slot)

1A. C.J. Sanders (Sophomore)
1B. Corey Holmes (Redshirt sophomore)
2. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)

X (Field)

1. Equanimeous St. Brown (Sophomore)
2A. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)
2B. Kevin Stepherson (Freshman)
3. Javon McKinley (Freshman)

Hunter has the ability to play all three receiver positions, which is why he’s listed as the “backup” at the Z and X. He’ll probably take most of his reps, though, at the W, where Corey Robinson was in line to play before he retired due to suffering multiple concussions. 

Despite only catching 28 passes for 363 yards last year, Hunter is Notre Dame’s leading returning receiver, which is more a nod to the production lost from Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle. But Hunter took command of Notre Dame’s wide receivers during spring practice — despite barely getting any sleep due to his football, baseball and academic workload — and emerged as an offensive leader in March and April. 

Outside of Hunter, there’s plenty of young, untapped potential in this group. Coach Brian Kelly has raved about St. Brown from the day he set foot on campus, and Notre Dame believes his combination of blazing speed and good size (6-foot-4, 205) will make his a dynamic receiving threat as soon as this fall. Sanders flashed his playmaking ability by returning a kick and a punt for a touchdown last year, though surgery on his hip flexor knocked him out of spring practice and could slow him during preseason camp. 

Holmes and Stepherson both impressed at times during spring practice, too, and are set up to carve out roles in the Irish offense. And Jones is the wild card here — he worked a bit at the W during spring practice and his athletic 6-foot-4, 240 pound frame could create some matchup nightmares if he slides over from tight end. 

Biggest question: Who becomes DeShone Kizer/Malik Zaire’s go-to target?

Fuller became a get-out-of-jail free card almost immediately for Kizer last year, with that 39-yard game-winning heave at Virginia sparking a rock-solid season for the new Irish quarterback. Brown, too, used his savvy skills to make some big catches, like his touchdown at Fenway Park against Boston College. 

But with both of those guys gone, Kizer or Zaire will need to figure out who that reliable pass-catcher is. The good news is Notre Dame has had one every year of the Kelly era, from Michael Floyd to Tyler Eifert to T.J. Jones to Fuller. 

Hunter is the most experienced one of the bunch, though St. Brown or Jones could very well emerge as that guy, too. But given Notre Dame’s track record, wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock deserves the benefit of the doubt here. 

Youthful impact

McKinley and Claypool both were four-star members of Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class. There are some questions about whether or not Claypool, who was listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds on signing day, could someday move to tight end, but for now, he’ll get a shot as a receiver, probably on the boundary. 

Stepherson, a three-star recruit, was roundly praised by coaches and teammates for how quickly he picked up the Irish route concepts and offense during spring practice, and his ability to catch the ball at a full sprint over the middle makes him a candidate to contribute as a freshman. 

Notre Dame hasn’t shied away form playing freshmen receivers in the past, and without much experience in this group, there could be opportunities for all three first-year players to get on the field this fall. 

They said it

“There’s a lot to be gained from playing baseball, but you have to be a special individual, especially at this level. I think the gains are competitiveness, discipline and the maturity that he shows and his ability to handle it.” — Brian Kelly on Torii Hunter Jr., who was drafted and signed by the Los Angeles Angels this summer

Comcast unveils new technology for Rio Olympics

Comcast unveils new technology for Rio Olympics

Comcast is rolling out new technology that will give Olympics fans a unique viewing experience. 

The X1 platform will give users access to more than 6,000 hours of live, on demand and streaming Rio Olympics events. Fans can follow athletes, nations and teams with ease throughout the Rio Games, and also record or view on demand. 

The ability to customize the Olympics experience will give audiences an unlimited scope and make it easy to watch what they want, when they want.