Bears offensive report card just good enough

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Bears offensive report card just good enough

Call it a workmanlike effort, nothing special, except that it was good enough to win. The offense finished with 296 yards and 13 points, lowest point total in a win since the 10-0 victory against the New York Jets in 2006.

The critical element was not turning the ball over in a close game and the Bears didnt, while defense and special teams were taking the ball away four times from the Detroit Lions.

QUARTERBACK C

Most of the breath left Soldier Field when Jay Cutler went down with a rib injury in the second quarter, bringing on Jason Campbell for a total of five plays.

Cutlers rollout and measured flip to Brandon Marshall produced the Bears first first-quarter TD since the Indianapolis game and only touchdown of the night. Cutler hurt the Lions with his scrambles in the first half, totaling 34 yards on three runs.

Passing was so-so, with 16 completions in 31 attempts for 150 yards and a 76.0 rating, but done in the face of five sacks.

RUNNING BACKS B

Matt Fortes 39-yard gallop through the Detroit right side set up the first Bears score and Forte finished with 96 yards on 22 carries in addition to three pass receptions, though for a net of four yards. Michael Bush added 36 yards on six carries.

The combination of backs averaged 4.7 yards per carry, many of the yards coming after first hits.

RECEIVERS B

Brandon Marshall had the better of Calvin Johnson for the evening, with a TD catch in the first quarter and two big third-down catches in the second, both for conversions. Marshall tied for the game high with six receptions for a total of 81 yards.

Devin Hesters 23-yard run with a fourth-quarter screen pass got the Bears out of a hole. He caught three of the six passes directed his way and combined with Earl Bennetts three to give some balance opposite Marshall, who faced double coverage much of the game.

Tight ends were not much of a factor receiving (one of four targets) but Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth and Kyle Adams contributed with run blocking.

OFFENSIVE LINE C-

Protection of Cutler in the first half was generally adequate but he was sacked five times in the game and hit another nine times. Cutler contributed to problems by holding the ball too long on occasion but he also was running from pressure too often.

Run blocking by left guard Chilo Rachal and left tackle JMarcus Webb broke Fortes big first-quarter run and the Bears were able to achieve some run-pass balance.

Gabe Carimi had a second straight difficult evening with a pair of penalties and Rachal took an ill-advised personal foul penalty in the fourth quarter. Robeto Garza was called for a pair of false starts.

COACHING B

Commitment to the run was critical against the Detroit pass rush from the front four. Coaches called 41 pass plays, including the four QB scrambles, and ran the ball 28 times against a defense stacked to take Matt Forte away.

Steve Larmer reflects on Blackhawks days prior to 'One More Shift'

Steve Larmer reflects on Blackhawks days prior to 'One More Shift'

Steve Larmer took the pregame spin, part of the Blackhawks’ “One More Shift” series on Friday night. High above him at the United Center hang several retired Blackhawks numbers.

As of now, Larmer’s No. 28 isn’t among them, but he’s OK with that.

“I think that really is reserved for very special people,” Larmer said.

OK, but isn’t he one of those in the Blackhawks’ history?

“Thank you, but I think that Bobby Hull and Tony Esposito and Denis Savard and Keith Magnuson and Pierre Pilote are kind of in a league of their own,” he said.

Many would say the same about Larmer, who ranks fourth in Blackhawks history with 923 points, third in goals (406) and fifth in assists (517). Over his entire NHL career Larmer played in 1,006 regular-season games, recording 1,012 points. But whether or not his number is retired by the Blackhawks, coming back for events, including Friday’s, is a treat.

“It’s nerve-wracking and it’s going to be fun,” Larmer said prior to his spin on the ice. “It’s really quite an honor and a surprise to me to be able to do this and I just, it’s a great organization and they’ve always been great to me. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Larmer put together a stellar career. Many believe it deserves a retired number here – and maybe more. Blackhawks play-by-play man Pat Foley, when accepting the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Foster Hewitt Memorial Award in November of 2014, spoke immediately on how Larmer should be in the hall, too.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“I’ve been fortunate enough to call Blackhawks hockey for over a third of the games they’ve ever played and I’ve never seen a better two-way player come through here,” Foley said that day about Larmer. “When Steve Larmer left Chicago and went to New York, it’s no coincidence that shortly thereafter, they won the Stanley Cup.”

Larmer laughed when reminded of Foley’s speech.

“Well, Pat’s a good friend,” Larmer said with a smile. “He’s always been a good friend. For the last 35 years, since the early 1980s when he was doing radio and TV back then and we all traveled together and hung out together and it was one good group. It’s fun. I mean, Pat’s always been a big supporter and a really good friend.”

Larmer would’ve loved to have hoisted the Stanley Cup during his time with the Blackhawks. Coming as close as they did in 1992 stayed with him for a bit – and it hurt.

“That stung deeply. Because you’re starting to get older and you’re thinking, ‘oh my God, that was it, that was the chance and it’s freaking gone,’ right? It’s never going to happen again,” Larmer recalled. “I’m not one of those guys who happened along and all of a sudden you’re on a team and you win like the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. We lost out to the team that always won, right? It was disappointing that way. But when you get to that point and you have that run, then we lost to Pittsburgh, that stuck with me for a year in a half. I couldn’t let it go. It was always in the back of my mind. You’re out there playing and you’re sitting on the bench and still thinking about that.”

So when Larmer got another chance with the New York Rangers – he was dealt there in a three-way deal involving the Rangers, Blackhawks and Hartford Whalers – it meant everything.

“The neat thing about going to New York is it gave me another chance to play with some great players and have that opportunity to win and finally get over that hump,” he said. “It was a neat city to win in and to be able to play with guys like Mark Messier and Leach and all those players was a lot of fun.”

Larmer put up fantastic numbers in his career. He got to hoist a Cup near the end of his career. His number should be in the rafters to commemorate that great career.

What a flat salary cap in 2017-18 could mean for Blackhawks

What a flat salary cap in 2017-18 could mean for Blackhawks

For the first time since the 2009-10 season, the NHL's salary cap could stay flat next year, reports ESPN's Craig Custance.

Commissioner Gary Bettman revealed at the latest NHL's Board of Governors meeting that the projected ceiling for the 2017-18 campaign could be an increase between zero and $2 million, which isn't exactly encouraging considering the projection at this time of year is normally an optimistic one.

That means the salary cap may be closer to — or at — the $73 million it's at right now.

In the last four years, the cap has increased by $4.3 million in 2013-14, $4.7 million in 2014-15, $2.4 million in 2015-16 and $1.6 million in 2016-17. The number continues to descend, and it affects big-budget teams like the Blackhawks the most.

It makes it especially difficult for the Blackhawks to navigate because they own two of the highest paid players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both of whom carry a $10.5 million cap hit through 2022-23. It's a great problem to have, though.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

According to capfriendly.com, Chicago currently has $60.6 million tied up to 14 players — eight forwards, five defensemen and one goaltender — next season. If the cap stays the same, that means the Blackhawks must fill out the rest of their roster with fewer than $13 million to work with and still have to sign Artemi Panarin to a long-term extension.

And they may need to move salary to do it, with the potential cap overages crunching things even more.

On the open market, Panarin would probably be able to earn Vladimir Tarasenko money — a seven-year deal that carries a $7.5 million cap hit — but if he prefers to remain in Chicago, the contract would likely be in the range of Johnny Gaudreau's six-year deal with an annual average value of $6.75 million.

With the expansion draft looming, the Blackhawks know they're going to lose a player to Las Vegas in the offseason. The two likely candidates, as it stands, are Marcus Kruger and Trevor van Riemsdyk, and the former would free up $3 million in cap space while the latter $825,000.

If that won't get the job done, the Blackhawks may be forced to part ways with a core player such as Brent Seabrook and his eight-year, $55 million contract, although he has a full no-movement clause until 2021-22 and it would be very hard to imagine since you're trying to maximize your current championship window.

Anything is possible, however, after seeing promising young guys like Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw shipped out of Chicago due to a tight budget.

It's a challenge general manager Stan Bowman has certainly already been thinking about, and a stagnant salary cap doesn't make things any easier.