Mayers' return brings about questions for Blackhawks

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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.

IHSA Class 3A Boys Basketball Playoff Preview

IHSA Class 3A Boys Basketball Playoff Preview

The IHSA Class 3A and Class 4A boys basketball state playoffs begin this week. While this Class 3A group of teams doesn't have nearly as much talent as Class 4A with regards to the Chicagoland area, there are still a few ranked teams like Morgan Park, Fenwick and North Lawndale who are all hoping to make a run down to Peoria. 

We'll have plenty of Class 3A playoff updates throughout the state playoffs on High School Lites and CSNChicago.com. Also be sure to follow our Twitter page @CSNPreps for the latest scores and highlights.

Here's a preview of the Chicago-area teams to track in the Class 3A playoffs over the next few weeks.

Antioch Sectional

Favorite: North Chicago (17-8, 13-1) is the No. 1 seed here as they've won 13 of their last 15 games. With a home draw in regional play and a difficult, pressing style to prepare for in a tournament setting, North Chicago is hoping to win a sectional for the first time since winning four straight from 2011 through 2014. 

Other Contenders: Ridgewood (16-10, 7-5) finished third in the Metro Suburban Red as they come in as the No. 2 seed. Senior Zach Rzewnicki is perhaps the best player in the sectional and is a player to watch here. 

Darkhorse: St. Viator (11-16, 6-3) had an underwhelming regular season but they managed to go 6-3 in the loaded East Suburban Catholic Conference -- including wins over Marian Catholic, Benet and St. Patrick. 

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: If No. 2 seed Ridgewood has to face No. 7 Elmwood Park then it could get interesting because these two teams had a six-point game less than a week ago. Ridgewood won the season series 2-0 over Elmwood Park but it is always difficult to beat any team for the third time.

Fenwick Sectional

Favorite: Catholic League champion Fenwick (24-4, 9-0) is hungry after falling short of Peoria last season as they're playing good ball down the stretch. After winning the Catholic League Tournament, the Friars have many options, including seniors Jacob Keller and Jamal Nixon and emerging freshman D.J. Steward. 

Other Contenders: North Lawndale (20-7, 7-3) and Farragut (12-9, 4-6) both went through the very tough Public League Red-West and should be prepared to face against a team as talented Fenwick. The Phoenix have been in the CSN Preps Power Rankings all season while Farragut pulled off a huge road upset at Uplift in the second round of the Public League Playoffs.  

Darkhorse: Westinghouse (10-14, 1-9) has a very talented senior in Coreyoun Rushin and they also played a lot of close games in the Red-West despite that bad conference record. After a solid Public League Playoff win over Hyde Park, Westinghouse could be dangerous.

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: We could see a Red-West clash at Nazareth Academy as No. 4 seed Westinghouse and No. 5 seed Marshall could meet. The only Red-West win for Westinghouse this season came against the Commandos as these two teams split the season series. 

St. Rita Sectional

Favorite: Morgan Park (19-6, 9-1) just missed on winning the Public League Playoffs as the Mustangs could be the favorite to win the whole thing in Class 3A. The Mustangs don't have nearly as tough of competition in the class this season and they also have strong interior play with seniors Melo Burrell and Lenell Henry. Junior Ayo Dosunmu and senior Cam Irvin make for a talented perimeter and Morgan Park has a lot of talent to make a state title run.

Other Contenders: Bogan (17-7, 7-3) has been the toughest competitor for Morgan Park in this sectional the last few years but the Bengals aren't quite the top-25 mainstay like we've come to expect. Still talented, Bogan lost to Morgan Park twice during the season but beat Simeon.  

Darkhorse: St. Rita (16-10, 4-3) is a bit young, and they rely a lot on three-pointers, but the Mustangs are also talented enough to surprise some people and make it to sectional play if the deep ball is working.

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: If the Mustangs play No. 3 seed Hyde Park (14-9, 6-4) then it could get really interesting. St. Rita has won four consecutive games and beaten teams like Marist and Loyola this season while Hyde Park is the home team in this one. The Thunderbirds also own some quality wins, including one over Bloom, but they've been a bit sluggish late in the season. 

Plano Sectional

Favorite: Hillcrest saw its 28-year conference title streak get snapped but the Hawks are still a talented team that was in the preseason CSN Preps Power Rankings. As the No. 1 seed in a weaker sectional. the Hawks have a chance to make a run here. Senior Marcus Garrett is one of the best guards in the Class 3A field. 

Other Contenders: Plano (21-6, 10-1) is the Interstate Eight champion but they piled up a lot of wins against smaller schools during the year and it'll be interesting to see if they can hang with the schools from higher-profile conference. The Reapers did beat No. 2 seed Sandwich last Friday for a solid road win so they are coming in with confidence.

Darkhorse: Streator (16-11, 9-2) came in second place in the Interstate Eight as they've been playing better ball lately than some other higher seeds in this sectional. Winners of four of their last five, Streator is the No. 3 seed in their subregional. 

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: If Sandwich and Streator matchup in Coal City it will be a rematch of when they met on Feb. 17. Streator took that matchup with a 54-43 win. 

Draft pick at No. 3 demands guiding 'concept' of what Bears ultimately want to be

Draft pick at No. 3 demands guiding 'concept' of what Bears ultimately want to be

With the Bears holding the No. 3 pick of the upcoming draft, the obvious and automatic focus settles on Player A, B, D etc. "Best available" is an operating philosophy that routinely rules the moment.
 
But for the Bears and the 2017 draft, another overarching philosophical principle is in play. Specifically, what is the concept (for want of a better word) guiding what GM Ryan Pace is attempting to do?
 
Coach John Fox, as well as Pace, want a team founded on defense, running the football and ball security. They know the franchise need for a quarterback, but a team building on defense could reasonably be expected to weight their draft decisions toward that side of the football.
 
Meaning: A quarterback like Clemson's Deshaun Watson could alter the entire persona of the Bears and the Halas Hall building, but if the far-and-away best option at No. 3 is defense…?
 
What makes this draft and the Bears' operating concept intriguing is that the chances will be there potentially to build a true elite defense. Beginning at No. 3:
 
"I think [Alabama defensive lineman] Jonathan Allen is one of the two or three best players in this draft," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock via conference call on Monday. "What I like about him is he dominates outside…but I think he's going to make his money on an inside pass rusher. Inside or outside, I think he's a special player."
 
Behind that – and last year's No. 1, Leonard Floyd, addressed the rush-linebacker spot – is the secondary, with both cornerback and safety among the strongest positions in the draft.
 
"This is a great corner class," Mayock said. "If you don't get one in the first round, you can come back in the second or third rounds and really help yourself."
 
The safety group is such that Mayock posited the prospect of two going in the Top 10, maybe Top 5. 
 
Deciding on a "concept"
 
One former NFL personnel executive maintained that the salary cap all but precluded building offense and defense equally, so the need was to define an identity and build to that, within reason. Former Bears GM Jerry Angelo opted a concept that built both offense and defense equally, but with designated positions ticketed for more cap resources: quarterback, running back, one wideout, two O-linemen, one franchise pass rusher, etc. Not all 22 positions are created equal but creating offense and defense simultaneously was doable.
 
"It's really what a team is looking for," said Mayock, speaking both of player preferences but in a way that extended to picking players for a scheme. Or philosophy.
 
Different concepts, like diets, work if you execute them well.

The Bears reached Super Bowl XLI with a Top 5 defense and a mid-teen's offense. The Indianapolis Colts prevailed in that game with a No. 3 offense and a defense ranked in the low 20's in both yardage and points allowed.