Kap: 'The Riz Kid' gets off to a strong start

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Kap: 'The Riz Kid' gets off to a strong start

Every high school team has that one gifted freshman who gets called up to varsity and threatens all the veterans positions.

Sometimes the elder statesmen label the youngster as an outcast, other times his talent is embraced and it pushes everyone else to perform better. Anthony Rizzo is the new kid on campus and Cubs veterans are certainly leaning toward the latter.

Since Rizzo was called up a week ago the Cubs have won five out of six and have shown flashes of improvement as a team. "The Riz kid" himself has gone 7-for-23 (.304) with two home runs, five RBIs, two doubles and a .986 OPS. He has also delivered the game-winning RBI on three occasions. And lets be honest no matter how good he is none of the seniors want to get outplayed by a freshman.

Since Rizzos arrival Luis Valbuena is hitting .333 -- .87 points above his average -- with six RBIs and a 1.030 OPS. David Dejesus is also a prime example of the Rizzo effect, hitting .64 points above his average since the call-up. Darwin Barney has been hitting well above his average. That, coupled with a few outstanding nights in the field shows great progress for him as well.

Whether related to Rizzos arrival or not, Starlin Castro took four walks last week, which is more than a third of his season total. I dont know if its the unrelenting Chicago heat, Rizzos arrival or a mystery element, but the Cubs have more closely resembled a team with playoff hopes than one in last place of late.

Rizzo doesnt appear to be feeling the pressure either -- because honestly, there isnt much. This is the perfect environment for a talented prospect to find his bearings in what can be a cruel and unforgiving league. If anyone is feeling the heat it is Rizzos teammates who are trying to keep pace with the new guy.

Cubs brass has made it clear that this team is in the process of a massive roster overhaul and sometimes all it takes is a fresh, talented face in the clubhouse to remind some of the veterans that tomorrow is never a guarantee.

It is much too early to pass judgment on the new guy but there does seem to be an aura about him. In one week "The Rizzard of Oz" has granted Valbuena a swing, Barney a glove and Castro an eye.

But most importantly, he has granted Chicago a glimmer of hope for the future.

Joe Musso contributed to this update.

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Toews still out, Bulls pull out win over Spurs

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Toews still out, Bulls pull out win over Spurs

In the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Mark Grote (670 The Score) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) join Kap on the panel. Jonathan Toews is still not back at practice. Is it time to panic?

Meanwhile, the Bulls beat the Spurs. And Rajon Rondo compliments the coaches? Is all well in Bulls-town?

Plus, Dexter Fowler is Cardinal. Should Cubs fans be angry?

And finally, is it good idea for Jordan Howard to get the ball less for the rest of the season?

Check out the SportsTalk Live Podcast below: