Chicago Fire

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.

With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

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With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

There aren’t many easy games left on the Fire’s schedule, but Saturday’s game in Philadelphia appears to be one of the more winnable games remaining even if it is on the road.

The Union have a respectable 7-4-3 home record, but are out of the playoff race and are winless in six straight. The Fire hope to pick up a second straight road win, keep pace with New York City FC and stay ahead of red-hot Atlanta in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The game will be televised on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

While on paper the game is winnable, the Fire will once again be significantly shorthanded in midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juninho are both out with injuries. Schweinsteiger will miss his third straight game while Juninho will be out for two in a row. The Fire beat D.C. United 3-0 with Dax McCarty pairing with Drew Conner in central midfield last weekend.

With Joao Meira returning from injury as a sub in that win against D.C., coach Veljko Paunovic could run a similar lineup to the one from last week or elect to go with three centerbacks in an altered formation. Either way, the Fire remain without key pieces during a time of year when the team wants to be hitting its peak with the playoffs just over a month away.

“You want to get your top 11 group on the field together so they can get games, but if that’s not the case then you can also get guys experience and you can get younger guys in games that mean something and that matter because there’s no substitute for experience,” McCarty said. “You can’t replicate that in training. Guys like Drew Conner, guys like Djordje (Mihailovic). Those guys that are going to be very important for us in our playoff push and our depth heading into the playoffs.

“That’s the reason why depth is so important in MLS because while you would love to be able to count on your first 11 every single time you step on the field, (but) that’s not the case. I think we’ve seen that throughout the whole season. I don’t think we’ve had our first 11 group on the field together for months so you want depth and obviously it’s important to get guys healthy."

The extent of Schweinsteiger’s injuries hasn’t been clear. He had a bruise on his calf from a collision during the match in Montreal on Sept. 2, but also has a thigh injury. Schweinsteiger appeared to be nearing a return last week when he was running and working out in training separate from the group, but he was not at training on Tuesday or Wednesday this week, which implied a setback.

When asked about Schweinsteiger’s status, Paunovic has remained coy.

“Basti is very important for the team,” Paunovic said. “We want him as soon as possible. We will provide all the help that we can. As soon as we can have him back it’s going to be very important for the team. Also during that time we have guys who are prepared and ready and want to step in.”

Everyone knows he is a key absence, but the team has a solid 2-1-3 record without him this year.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see the positive attributes that he brings to the team,” McCarty said of Schweinsteiger. “He’s been one of our best players and obviously he’s a focal point for the way that we do things, not only defensively, but attacking as well. He’s a guy who teams have to account for whenever he’s on the ball. His vision, his ability to make plays within the game, knowing what the game needs and what time, you can’t substitute that. It makes my job easier, it makes our strikers’ jobs easier, so it’s a big loss not having him on the field.”

Chicago Fire at Philadelphia Union

Where: Talen Energy Stadium (Chester, Penn.)

TV: CSN + (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (14-9-6, 48 points), Union (8-12-9, 33 points)

Nerds in Sports Podcast: Being a 'professional nerd' and Star Wars theories about Rey's parents

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Nerds in Sports Podcast: Being a 'professional nerd' and Star Wars theories about Rey's parents

On this edition of Nerds in Sports, we talk with io9.com senior editor Rob Bricken.

Rob explains how he juggles being a fan with being a ‘professional’ nerd, how he came to run io9.com, plus his theory on why Rey’s parents are in Star Wars may shock you.

Kevin Anderson and Michael Piff co-host. We are Nerds. In sports.

Listen to the Nerds in Sports Podcast here.