Fire lose Gargan in Phase 2 of draft

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Fire lose Gargan in Phase 2 of draft

The Fire was one of nine Major League Soccer clubs opting to make no selections in Fridays Stage 2 of the circuits re-entry draft. The Fire did, however, lose a good man when the San Jose Earthquakes claimed veteran defender Dan Gargan.
Gargan one of the Fires most popular players -- was the first of three picks by the Earthquakes, who won the Supporters Shield for posting the best regular season record in MLS in 2012.
A seven-season MLS veteran, Gargan was a last-minute entry into the re-entry draft a week ago. All 19 clubs passed on him in Stage 1, during which the only pick was by the Fire. The club took Maicon Santos, a forward who played for D.C. United last season.
As expected, there was more action in Stage 2. In Stage 1, a club is obligated to offer its selected player a 5 percent pay increase. In Stage 2 the club and player can negotiate a new contract. Each team has seven days to make an offer and, even if an agreement isnt reached, the club that did the drafting has the right of first refusal if another team makes that player an offer.
The Fire had three players on the re-entry list for the first stage but lost only Gargan to another team. Jay Nolly, the third-string goalkeeper, wasnt chosen and is now a free agent. Midfielder Corben Bone pulled out of Stage 2 shortly before the drafting started in anticipation of reaching a contract agreement with the Fire.
Nolly was targeted as the experienced backup for Sean Johnson, but Italian Paolo Tornaghi got the start in the first three matches when Johnson was at U.S. Olympic qualifying. Johnson started all 31 matches after returning, and Nolly rarely even made the 18-man game-day roster.
Bone, a first-round pick in 2010 SuperDraft, has seen little action with the first team but he did score goals in a 3-2 loss to the minor league Michigan Bucks in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and a 2-2 draw with Mexicos Santos Laguna in an international friendly last season. Bone, 23, played in just two MLS matches in 2012.
Gargan was another matter. The Fire got him from Toronto FC midway through the 2011 campaign and he was an immediate starter at right back. He also started early in 2012 but was eventually beaten out by second-year man Jalil Anibaba. Still, Gargan had 19 starts in his 22 MLS appearances.
The Fire now goes into the 2013 season slightly weakened in the back thanks to Cory Gibbs retirement and Gargans departure. Anibaba could play in the middle if Arne Friedrich or rookie-of-the-year Austin Berry arent available. Steven Kinney and Tony Walls are the likely candidates on the current roster to take Gargans spot. Neither got into an MLS match last season, and Kinney has been injured for most of the last two campaigns.
Head coach Frank Klopas and his staff have already made scouting trips to Europe and Argentina in search of fresh talent, and more will come in the MLS SuperDraft, scheduled for Jan. 17 in Indianapolis.
Fridays draft began with 49 players up for selection. Gargan was one of only 14 chosen. First pick was defender Danny Califf, formerly of Chivas USA. Toronto FC claimed him. The two-time defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy traded to get Chivas USAs second spot in the draft and used it to take ex-Houston midfielder Colin Clark.
Further down the list two ex-Fire players were chosen. Chad Barrett, with Los Angeles last season, was the third player selected, by New England, and John Thorrington, formerly of Vancouver, was claimed by D.C. United.
San Jose was the most active team in the draft, picking Ty Harden in the second round and Bryan Jordan in the third.
While the draft was in progress the Fire was starting its fifth annual open tryout at the Bridgeview Sports & Soccer Dome. Over 150 players showed their skills on the first day, and selectors from the Fire technical staff picked 34 to return on Saturday for the final session. Theyll begin at 8 a.m., with the last group of players taking the field at 1 p.m. One player will be chosen to participate in the first week of preseason training.
Only defender Pari Pantazopoulos, in 2011, survived the open tryout and went on to earn a roster spot with the first team.

In midst of career season, Artem Anisimov still not satisfied with overall game

In midst of career season, Artem Anisimov still not satisfied with overall game

In terms of points this season, Artem Anisimov is closing in on some career numbers.

His goal against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night was his 22nd of the season, tying a career best set with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013-14. One more point and he'll equal his career best (44) in that department from 2010-11, when he was with the New York Rangers.

And all of this is with 20 games remaining in the regular season. So is this Anisimov's best career regular season?

"Ah, no," Anisimov said recently. "Close to it, but not good enough."

Anisimov would list a few things he still needs to improve upon – we'll get to that later – but even "close," Anisimov has had another strong season for the Blackhawks, once again centering Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane. It's easy to focus on those two wings, given their dazzling play-making ability. But every line needs at least one blue-collar guy, the one who does more of the dirty work and perhaps takes the punishment in front of the net.

For the second consecutive season, that second-line guy is Anisimov, and his net-front play, especially, has led to more production this season.

"Arty's a smart player. He knows getting there, there [are] rewards for being around the net," coach Joel Quenneville said. "He finds his positioning. Sometimes he gets there at the right time and his arrival times are due to his anticipation with his wingers. [It's] the willingness; there's some abuse you have to take over the course of a regular season and it doesn't distract Arty from getting there."

Anisimov's game-winner against the Blues came the way so many others have this season: around the net. This one was off a slick pass from Panarin. Be it scoring goals like that, limiting a goaltender's vision or cleaning up rebounds, Anisimov's net-front presence has been steady. 

"He's coming up with pucks, gets those loose pucks to Kaner and Bread Man and they do their thing and create some magic there. Or you have Arty in front and you have Kaner and Bread doing their thing back and forth across the zone and you have that big body in front," Ryan Hartman said. "It makes it difficult, and not just when one of them are shooting. Sometimes the goalie can't see the pass because Arty's there and it's really deceptive and a big part of our team."

So the production has been there, no doubt. But where does Anisimov feel he's lacking?

"I just need to improve in all aspects: skating, back check, forecheck, stick position," Anisimov said. "All the little things have to be a little bit better."

Most players are never satisfied with where their games are. They're always looking to improve. Anisimov will keep working on what he thinks are some deficiencies but his constant net-front presence has filled what used to be an issue for the Blackhawks.

Bears reportedly won't franchise tag Alshon Jeffery, so what's next?

Bears reportedly won't franchise tag Alshon Jeffery, so what's next?

NFL.com's Insider Ian Rapoport dropped a news bomb in the middle of the night, Tweeting in the wee hours of Monday morning that the Bears will not sign receiver Alshon Jeffery to a franchise tag:

Jeffery played under the franchise tag in 2016, when he earned roughly $14.6 million. 

The Bears could still re-sign Jeffery to a longer deal in free agency, but the market on the 27-year-old receiver may climb out of their desired range.

The $17 million franchise tag was an awful lot of salary cap to spend on a guy who has missed 11 games over the last two seasons to injury and a PED suspension that stretched to four games in 2016.

When he was on the field last year, Jeffery turned in his worst stat line since his rookie season, catching only 52 balls for 821 yards and 2 TDs.

Still, his departure would leave a gaping hole in the Bears receiving corps as Cameron Meredith and Kevin White would emerge as the leaders of the group.

Meredith went undrafted out of Illinois State, but he has impressed in his two pro seasons, leading the Bears in receptions (66), targets (96), yards (888) and TDs (4) in 2016.

White was the Bears' first-round pick in 2015 (7th overall) but has played in just four games due to leg issues and has only 19 catches for 187 yards and 0 TDs under his belt.

David Kaplan believes if Jeffery does depart Chicago, it sends a bigger message about the state of the Bears: