The weight - and the waiting - for the Blackhawks and the NHL

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The weight - and the waiting - for the Blackhawks and the NHL

The Blackhawks announced Monday that the Sept. 22 Training Camp Festival which officially opens the preseason at the United Center, is sold out.

The team also put tickets for its three preseason home games on sale. Now the question becomes whether all that plays out on time.

We're not any closer to knowing how things stand on the labor front, five weeks after the players gathered downtown ahead of negotiations with league management. The owners' initial proposal a couple of weeks later was drastic -- with 11 percent in revenues amounting to 450 million shifting their way. We're still waiting to hear the union's counteroffer.

Executive Director Donald Fehr returns to the bargaining table Wednesday after spending the last several days meeting with players in Russia and Europe. He says the Association is sifting through 76,000 pages (!) in documents before they can submit something. Glad I'm not the one reading that. You should be, too.

Yes, there's still time. But in about five weeks, players will start needing to know if they should plan on traveling to their cities of employment, and if negotiations continue while camps open after the exisiting CBA expires Sept. 15. As a result of all this weight that will grow heavier as each week passes, the transaction wire is at a virtual standstill, and will likely stay that way.

In Chicago, impatient fans wanting Stan Bowman to do something will probably be disappointed. I still believe the vice president and general manager has a move or two he's open to making down the road. He has pieces he can -- and very well might be willing to -- move. But the combination of the quiet, less-urgent landscape and his (correct) insistence not to make some move just for the sake of making one that won't benefit the club is part of the gridlock, like it or not.

There are those who think the Hawks are willing to stand pat because their chances have improved in the Central Division due to the losses suffered by Nashville and Detroit. Yes, as a result of the swings and misses by the Predators and Red Wings, St. Louis and the Blackhawks are generally considered the division favorites as we speak. The Blues haven't made any additions of note, either.

Look around the West. Based on what changes have taken place thus far, Minnesota's about the only team with a legitimate chance to jump into the top eight. An argument could be made for a maturing Colorado squad, and who knows when it will all come together for that loaded, but green group out in Edmonton that needs more answers in its own end. Dallas made some curious moves, but might be worse. I know they'll probably be easier for the Blackhawks to face than the team they had the last couple of years.

Vancouver added a nice piece in Jason Garrison, but not much beyond that, and still has the Bobby Lu Headache. San Jose hasn't really done anything, Phoenix seems to be worse, and odds say the Kings won't repeat.

It's not getting late yet in the labor negotiations, but it's not exactly early, either. But it is even earlier to draw judgments at this point on the makeup of the 2012-13 Blackhawks squad, and others.

With only one move of note, their standing has actually improved in their conference based on what's happened around them. But I don't think they're done, nor are others. Everyone calling the shots just seems to be sitting tight right now until there's more clarity on the much bigger issue this league faces.

I'll have more on this Blackhawks roster specifically later in the week.

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After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

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USA TODAY

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

Does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers went on the road and defeated a ranked group of Maryland Terrapins on Wednesday night, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring an 89-75 victory in College Park.

Team this win with the win at Purdue back on New Year's Day, and there's no better pair of league victories to be found.

More importantly though, the Gophers, at 9-6, are now the No. 4 team in the Big Ten standings.

It's all a part of a quality NCAA tournament resume for the Gophers, who are closer to lock status after Wednesday's win than they are to being on any sort of bubble. With mediocrity running rampant through the Big Ten this season, Richard Pitino's 21-win squad should be well on its way to an appearance in next month's Madness, which would be the program's first since he took over as head coach.

The resume looks pretty strong at this point, especially after Wednesday. Minnesota can now claim wins over Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern — all three of those conference victories coming on the road. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Gophers beat Arkansas, the Razorbacks seemingly heading to the tournament themselves. The only loss from the non-conference portion came on the road at Florida State, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

So it's safe to say Minnesota will go dancing.

Wednesday's 14-point beatdown of the Terps saw the Gophers shoot 50 percent from the field on the night and 54.5 percent from the field in the second half. Five players scored in double figures: Dupree McBrayer with 18, Nate Mason with 17, Akeem Springs with 16, Jordan Murphy with 15 and Amir Coffey with 13. Minnesota didn't win the rebounding battle but scored 15 points off 10 Maryland turnovers and marched to the free-throw line, going 17-for-20 from the charity stripe while Maryland was just 8-for-13 there.

The second half was a rout, the Gophers outscoring the Terps 55-40 over the final 20 minutes and rattling off two separate 9-0 runs to burst away from the No. 24 team in the country.

The overtime win at Purdue on the first day of 2017 might go down as a bigger win considering the Boilermakers are closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That win, too, came by an impressive-enough margin, 91-82. But Minnesota dominated Maryland over the final nine minutes or so and turned in a double-digit victory on the road against a team that lost to that same Purdue team on that same court by just a point two and a half weeks ago.

The Gophers are now on a six-game winning streak and are piling up wins in a fashion that's making them look like one of the Big Ten's finest. A 3-1 start to conference play that extended its overall record to 15-2 was dampened by Minnesota's five-game losing streak that featured losses to higher-echelon teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland, plus road losses at Penn State and Ohio State. But since have come six straight wins. While the caliber of opponent hadn't been terribly impressive until Wednesday, the Gophers can now boast nine conference wins. Only three teams have more.

It's now worth watching how high Minnesota can climb in the Big Ten standings before the conference tournament just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, the Gophers would already be in possession of one of those highly coveted two-day byes. But Minnesota is just a game back of Maryland and just two games back of Wisconsin, who the Gophers play in the regular-season finale.

Like Pitino told his team after Wednesday's win: "No more talk about (just making) the NCAA tournament. We're talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament."