Roster gains and labor pains


Roster gains and labor pains

The teams that have ruled the roost recently in the Central Division finished in third and fourth place this season, and theyve been sent home after one round.

As the Blackhawks go forward into another long summer after that glorious short one a couple of years ago, management, the personnel and scouting departments and head coach Joel Quenneville probably have a wish list on how to get better. Beyond that, they probably have a secondary - perhaps more realistic - plan.

As we speak, St. Louis and Nashville have passed up them and the Red Wings. The Blues and Predators could very well square off in the Western Conference Finals to determine who plays for the Stanley Cup. Stan Bowman - as the man whose job it will be to set this team up to aim even higher than the 101 points they earned this year - left the impression in his season-ending press conference that drastic change isnt necessarily coming. That doesnt mean there wont be changes, but the ones he makes with what might be limited roster flexibility will be crucial.

If Michael Frolik and Bryan Bickell remain, theyll have to play the first six months like they did the last 2 12 weeks for this team to get better. Likewise, if Viktor Stalbergs still here, how much more upside does he have after the statistical strides he made this year?

Like Nick Leddy, Marcus Krugers next step needs to be accompanied by some more bulk to provide an offensive bump. So, when all of us amateur lineup-makers start scribbling down lines and defensive pairings, the spots start to fill up pretty quickly if you toss in Andrew Shaw and Daniel Carcillo. After all that, where do Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Saad, Jeremy Morin or Brandon Pirri fit in, if at all? Do they stay with the organization, or are one or two packaged to provide what each of you think is missing? Is Dylan Olsen the guy who will provide size and nastiness despite his relative inexperience?

It would seem there would have to be a new face or two, maybe one up front and one on the back end. But then theres this: free agency begins July 1, but the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) doesnt expire until Sept. 15, about the same time training camps would be opening. Can teams really be that aggressive on that first day of July if they dont know what their salary cap will be -- especially if that number might actually shrink from the 64.3 million theyre allowed to spend now?

If the salary cap stays exactly the same, indicates the Hawks have about 6.8 million to spend outside of their committed contracts. Detroit has roughly 20 million. The only potential free agents of their own currently earning more than seven figures is deadline pickup Kyle Quincey. The future of Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom are up in the air amidst rumors theyll pursue Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.

Those Preds need to re-sign Suter, Shea Weber and Alexander Radulov, but have 32 million to spend. And St. Louis is in shape at 28 million of cap space with potential free agents T.J. Oshie, David Perron and Chris Stewart. All are currently earning salaries between 2 and 3 million.

With Donald Fehr now running the union, he knows all too well how his leverage improves the closer a season gets - arguably coming off what might be the most successful, money-making season in NHL history. If these negotiations that havent even begun extend into September (and why wouldnt they?), we could be looking at a mad roster scramble like we saw in the NFL last August - working by whatever that new salary cap is - once a new deal is done. Who knows? If it goes down, some teams may have to actually shed salary to get to that number.

Since there are no games and matchups to worry about, Blackhawk fans may well have to wait until the matchup -- and games -- between Bettman and Fehr are over before seeing what changes come for 2012-13.

Tracy Abrams pours in career-high 31 points as Illini cruise past Central Michigan


Tracy Abrams pours in career-high 31 points as Illini cruise past Central Michigan

Tracy Abrams lost each of the last two seasons before they even got started, his would-be senior year wiped out with preseason injuries. Healthy for the 2016-17 campaign, though, Abrams is making the most of his senior season, now that it's finally arrived.

Saturday, the Illinois point guard exploded for a career-high 31 points, going 7-for-8 from behind the 3-point line as the Illini cruised to a 92-73 win over visiting Central Michigan in Champaign.

It was also a career day for forward Leron Black, who scored 21 points in the victory.

The Illini burst away from a 16-15 deficit with 17 straight points — eight from Abrams and six from Maverick Morgan — to build a huge 16-point edge midway through the first half. That lead hit 19 before Central Michigan rattled off 13 straight points to chop it down to six, but Illinois had a double-digit edge at halftime and opened the second half on a 22-6 run to reach its biggest lead of the game at 26 points. Abrams and Malcolm Hill each accounted for five points during that 22-6 spurt. It was a waltz to the finish line from there.

Illinois was hot shooting the ball, hitting on 53.1 percent of their shots from the floor. Abrams and Black were the stars, going 10-for-12 and 9-for-13, respectively. The Illini held a big rebounding advantage, 49-25, and scored 34 points in the paint, statistical positives that helped atone for the 15 turnovers, which led to 20 Central Michigan points.

Abrams' 31 led the way, and Black was next with his 21. Morgan finished with 11 points. Hill had 10. And Mike Thorne Jr. was a basket away from a double-double with eight points and 11 rebounds.

The win sent Illinois to 8-3 on the season and extended its winning streak to four. It was the second-highest scoring output of the year for the Illini, who have two non-conference games remaining against BYU and Missouri before the beginning of Big Ten play.

Dominant second half pushes Badgers past Marquette in rivalry win


Dominant second half pushes Badgers past Marquette in rivalry win

Wisconsin's stereotypically low-scoring ways were nowhere to be found Saturday in Milwaukee.

The Badgers were red hot in the second half of a rivalry showdown with Marquette, scoring 58 points on 64.3-percent shooting after halftime en route to a 93-84 win over their in-state foes.

Wisconsin trailed at halftime, 40-35, after Marquette's Katin Reinhardt scored 13 first-half points with four made 3-pointers. The Eagles went on a 24-12 run over the final nine-and-change minutes of the first half to build that advantage before the break. Both teams shot great in the first half, Marquette at 48.3 percent and Wisconsin at an even better 51.9 percent.

But the Badgers blew that mark — and simultaneously their opponents — out of the water over the final 20 minutes. Buoyed by the second-half return of big man Ethan Happ, who missed almost the entirety of the first half after picking up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game, Wisconsin erased the gap in a hurry and sprinted off on a 16-0 run over an approximately five-and-a-half-minute stretch. That was part of an even bigger 24-5 run that gave the Badgers their biggest lead of the game at 18 with under seven minutes to play. Happ and Nigel Hayes combined for 11 of those 24 points during that stretch.

Marquette chipped Wisconsin's lead back to eight multiple times over the final minutes but never got any closer.

The Badgers were a remarkable 18-for-28 from the floor in the second half, going 5-for-8 as a team from 3-point range. Nineteen of their 33 rebounds also came after halftime and only two of their nine turnovers.

On the game, Wisconsin shot a scorching 58.2 percent from the field and scored 22 points off 12 Marquette turnovers. The Badgers had 42 points in the paint and assisted on 20 of their 32 made field goals.

Bronson Koenig finished as the high man with 18 points, 12 of them coming on four made triples. But there were plenty of high scorers for the Badgers, who were just seven points away from hitting the century mark. Hayes had 17 points and nine rebounds. Khalil Iverson had 16 points off the bench. Vitto Brown finished with 15 points, and Happ and Zak Showalter each scored 11 points.

The win boosted Wisconsin to 9-2 on the season, the only losses coming against top-10 North Carolina and Creighton teams. The Badgers have won five in a row, that streak including wins over name opponents Syracuse, Oklahoma and Marquette. Wisconsin has two more games before the start of non-conference play.