Garza, Samardzija building blocks for Cubs rotation

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Garza, Samardzija building blocks for Cubs rotation

Matt Garza's default setting is blocking out the trade rumors. Between here and the July 31 deadline, his name will be all over the Internet. But the way he's wired, he'd probably be worried if people weren't paying attention.

Garza showed why he could be so coveted in Thursday's 8-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. He was one out away from a complete-game shutout before fielding a groundball and launching the throw into the seats behind first base.

Manager Dale Sveum pulled Garza after 119 pitches and got booed by however many of the 36,311 fans remained at Wrigley Field.

"I'm pissed off at myself," Garza said. "But, man, we played one hell of a game. When we smelled blood, we really went out there and got it."

That killer instinct - Garza apologized for screaming outside the interview room after he was taken out of the game - makes him perfect for October.

If team president Theo Epstein and his crew lives up to the hype, the Cubs will need people who aren't afraid of the big stage.

It might not be six months from now. But Garza will remain under their control through the end of the 2013 season, and both sides have said they'd be open to a long-term contract extension.

Before the game, Epstein said the team's record (now 2-5) will not impact what the Cubs do with Garza.

"Any time you're contemplating significant personnel moves," Epstein said, "you have to look at the organization as a whole and where you're going. One week's worth of performance, let alone one season's worth, doesn't necessarily impact that significantly.

"Some decisions, some issues are best examined up close, from 10 feet away, and some are best examined from 10,000 feet away. That's probably one that falls into the latter. It's sort of a big-picture issue."

Epstein - who said over the winter that most of the Garza trade speculation was media-driven - also made a point to add this: "I'm just responding to your question. I'm not making up proclamations."

Between Garza and Jeff Samardzija - who almost threw his own complete game last Sunday against the Washington Nationals - the Cubs could already have the top of their rotation in place.

"(Samardzija's) been on a mission for a long time now," Epstein said. "From the day I met him, we had a meeting and he talked about wanting to start and told me what he was going to do to prepare and what his daily schedule was going to be like in Arizona.

"(He explained) how he was going to accomplish it and get himself ready and why he was able to do this. He's done nothing but go out and do exactly what he said he would do, which is really impressive, physically, mentally, fundamentally in terms of his preparation.

"He's got the raw components of a top-of-the-rotation starter. Now there's a lot that goes on before that can actually occur. The consistency that you have to develop is the art of it. But I wouldn't put anything past him because he's a very dedicated guy."

Samardzija (1-0, 1.04 ERA) will be tested Friday afternoon opposite Adam Wainwright at Busch Stadium, where the St. Louis Cardinals will kickoff a weekend-long celebration.

"I don't know if it's tough to watch," Sveum said. "You give anybody respect for winning the World Series. (There's) got to be one team every year that wins it and gets their rings and raises a banner like that. So you give everybody the respect that they deserve. They're the best in the world right now. They're the best team in baseball. They're the world champions.

"You know you're going to be out there. You're going to have to watch it. But, hey, you want other people watching you do it someday, too. It's a fun day. There's no question about it."

Garza (1-0, 1.23 ERA) looks at Samardzija and the increased rotation depth and calls that "the jumping point." They are great talkers, big personalities who bring some swagger into the room. They wouldn't be blinded by the bright lights of October.

"I can't really see in the future," Garza said. "I think if we just play hard until the last out's made, good things are going to happen.

"We got guys who can pitch. It shows you (when) a guy who - (during his) first start in a couple seasons - almost throws a complete game his first time out. We got guys who are hungry and want to throw, so I think we're going to be all right."

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

When the Blackhawks found Artemi Panarin, they found a talent who was NHL ready from the start, who found instant chemistry with Patrick Kane and earned a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. It was also a tremendous panacea for a team that couldn’t pull off a deal to keep Brandon Saad, who was the power forward that fit in beautifully in the Blackhawks’ top six.

On Friday, the Blackhawks brought Saad back and dealt Panarin to do it.   

Saad returns to the Blackhawks, who also acquire goaltender Anton Forsberg, in exchange for Panarin and Tyler Motte. The Blackhawks also get the Blue Jackets’ fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft and the Columbus gets Chicago’s sixth-round pick from this weekend’s draft. Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the deal. The Blackhawks inherit Saad’s deal, which has four years remaining at a $6 million cap hit. Panarin was about to enter his current deal, which is two years with a $6 million cap hit. This is key for the immediate future; when Panarin’s latest deal is up, if he keeps up at his current pace, he’ll likely sign for a lot more.

[MORE: Blackhawks deal Hjalmarsson to Arizona]

The Blackhawks have missed Saad terribly since his departure. The team has struggled to find consistent line mates with Jonathan Toews, especially at that left-wing position. They did fairly well with Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik flanking Toews this season but it wasn’t as strong as the Saad-Toews combination. So it looks like the Blackhawks’ top line will be solidified again.

Now, what about the second line? As good as Toews and Saad’s chemistry was, Panarin’s and Kane’s was dynamite. The two had their respective skill, which they flashed often, and their ability to read each other was evident from the start. The Blackhawks’ second line was as consistent and steady the past two seasons as the top line was during Saad’s time here.

So, there are changes. The Blackhawks will absolutely miss what Panarin brings. But as far as bringing back a former Blackhawks player who could help in the present, getting the 24-year-old Saad back will be very beneficial. 

Blackhawks pull off stunner, trade Niklas Hjalmarsson to Coyotes

Blackhawks pull off stunner, trade Niklas Hjalmarsson to Coyotes

Niklas Hjalmarsson has been part of the Blackhawks’ renaissance since the rebuild began in the mid-2000s, a longtime steady presence on the blue line who has had some clutch moments in the Blackhawks’ three Stanley Cup runs. But on Friday, the player with one of the Blackhawks’ best contracts was sent packing.

Hjalmarsson was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for defenseman Connor Murphy and center Laurent Dauphin on Friday morning. With Hjalmarsson, the Blackhawks give up a tremendous defenseman with a winning pedigree.

“Niklas’ contributions to the three Stanley Cup championship teams are well known but his dependability as a teammate, selfless attitude and the way he represented the Chicago Blackhawks on and off the ice are what made him such a beloved member of the organization,” said Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement. “He made his debut in Chicago in 2008 and quietly established himself as one of the toughest competitors in franchise history. We wish he and his family continued success.”

The 30-year-old defenseman has two years remaining on his current contract, which carries a $4.1 million cap hit. The 24-year-old Murphy has five years remaining on his current contract ($3.85 million cap hit). Dauphin is in the final year of his current entry-level contract ($745,000). According to CapFriendly, if Dauphin plays for the Rockford IceHogs this season, the Blackhawks can save $250,000 in cap space.

But this isn’t about money as much as the Blackhawks needing to get younger on defense. Murphy has played all four of his NHL seasons with the Coyotes. Last season he had two goals and 15 assists in 77 games.

Still, giving up Hjalmarsson is a tough one. Hjalmarsson has been a strong, steady presence for the Blackhawks. He once again led the team in blocked shots (181). Plenty of bumps, bruises and pain come with that job description but despite that, Hjalmarsson hasn’t missed much time. Since the 2012-13 season Hjalmarsson has missed just 12 games, and just four of those have been due to injury (suspected back injury last season).

The Blackhawks’ defense looked older and slower in their brief postseason run against the Nashville Predators, and they certainly have to start moving toward the future. But with Hjalmarsson playing at the level he has the past few seasons, his absence will hurt.