Blackhawks

Blackhawks breakdown: Brandon Bollig

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Blackhawks breakdown: Brandon Bollig

After making his NHL debut on Feb. 29, Brandon Bollig would average just under six minutes per game in 18 games. He didn't record a single point during the regular season, finishing minus-2 while delivering 27 hits and racking up 58 penalty minutes. He played in four of the six games vs. the Coyotes where he scored his first goal in Game 2. He was credited with five hits in the series and was tagged with 19 penalty minutes.
Boden's take: The Blackhawks got an overall upgrade when John Scott was dealt to the New York Rangers for a fifth-round draft pick at the trade deadline. Bollig may not have put the same fear factor into the opposition's thoughts for taking liberties with the Hawks' stars, but he got into more fights than Scott would have, as a result. And boy was the St. Louis native willing, getting into five fights in his first seven games. He was a better skater than Scott, and even had a handful of scoring chances, too. He finally collected his first NHL point with his goal in Game 2 of the Phoenix playoff series.
Myers' take: When the Blackhawks bid adieu to Scott, Bollig became the natural call-up. While Bollig isnt quite as big as Scott (then again, who is), he filled that role just fine. He was a solid skater, scored a goal, and, yeah he fought. A lot. And while Bollig was always the pugilist with a smile on his face, he put some serious hurts on a few opponents. His role obviously diminished as the postseason went on fighting just wasnt a big part of the playoffs outside of that Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series but Bollig gave the Blackhawks the big, bruising player who wasnt afraid to tussle.

2012-13 Expectations

Boden: The Hawks signed him as an undrafted free agent two years ago, and he enters this offseason as a restricted free agent. He would be a good investment on a two-way contract to have in reserve at Rockford if he doesn't find a one-way deal anywhere. But if Mayers, Andrew Shaw and Daniel Carcillo are on this club, and especially if a nasty, sizeable defenseman is acquired, one wonders where it would leave Bollig in the numbers game here for what he offers. As constituted now, the roster competition for one forward spot on the four lines is already between Jimmy Hayes, Michael Frolik, Brandon Saad, Jeremy Morin and Ben Smith.

Myers: Bollig got a nice introduction to the NHL and did what he was supposed to do: defend teammates or get them going with a brawl. Will he start next season with the big club? That depends on a few things. One is how he does in training camp. The other is what kind of players the Blackhawks are looking to acquire this summer. Bollig is young, big and willing to take the punches for his team. He should at least get a serious look if he has a good camp.

How do you feel about this evaluation? As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts by commenting below and check out highlights of Bollig above.

Up next: Andrew Shaw

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.