Cubs

Blackhawks breakdown: Viktor Stalberg

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Blackhawks breakdown: Viktor Stalberg

CSNChicago.com Blackhawks Insider Tracey Myers and PGL host Chris Boden will evaluate the 2011-12 performance of each player on the Hawks roster. One breakdown will occur every weekday in numerical order.

Viktor Stalberg enjoyed the best season of his short career. He played in 79 games, averaging just under 15 minutes of ice time per game. He scored a career-high 22 goals with a career-best 21 assists for 43 points -- none in very limited time on the power play -- and finished plus-6 with 91 hits. Stalberg struggled mightily in the playoffs, however, behind held without a goal and just two assists in six games vs. Phoenix. He finished even in the series, but was also penalized four times for eight minutes in Game 5 alone.

Boden's take: The 26-year-old made the kind of statistical jump you'd hope to see in his second full NHL season, for a guy with his skillset: a 10-goal improvement, to go along with a 19-point improvement. He did all that with zero power-play production due to getting very little playing time on that unit.

He has world class speed and uses the open ice to make himself dangerous to opponents. The hands are still a work in progress. They've improved, but since that open-ice skill isn't necessary on the power play, Joel Quenneville probably wants him to take another step there. How many times over the past two seasons have we seen Stalberg race in on a breakaway, but unable to finish? Stalberg even volunteered after the season to be the "net-front presence" the team so sorely needs on the power play. At 6-3, he has the size, but are the hands there? And would the subsequent banging affect the rest of his game?

Myers' take: The Swedish forward set career-high numbers in goals, assists and points. What's more, all of that came at even strength, as the Blackhawks, for some reason, just didn't try Stalberg on the power play that much. His biggest attribute, his speed, served him well; and the Blackhawks kept him among the top lines through most of the season. But it's also what Stalberg learned that made him more valuable this season. A few stints with the checking line helped Stalberg get better at puck possession; although when he had a gaffe there, it was noticeable and, too often, turned into an opposition scoring chance. Still, there is a tremendous upswing with Stalberg as he goes forward.

2012-13 Expectations

Boden: It'll be interesting to see if he reports to camp with a little more "dangle" to his game. He's been gifted with a gear that very few NHL players possess. Now it's about the next step to polish his game offensively, plus he must continue to increase his commitment and awareness on the defensive end. He's one of the players who needs to utilize starts and stops more than fly-bys. I wouldn't use him in front of the goalie on the power play. If he takes another step up in his game, he'll get a payday, as he'll be an unrestricted free agent one year from now.

Finally, is Stalberg a "Top Six" forward to join Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp? If Dave Bolland, Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell remain a trio, who goes Top-6 and who is fourth line? Daniel Carcillo, Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Saad or Michael Frolik? There's a matter of size, protection and skill to consider in those top two lines, as well. That's if we see many, or all, of the same faces come back.

Myers: OK, just about every other player -- or so it seemed -- got a shot at the power play last season. And Stalberg should be given one this coming season. As the offseason began Stalberg said he'd be willing to do whatever it took to get some special-teams time. He's a big body and could be that net presence the Blackhawks desperately want and need. Otherwise, if Stalberg keeps progressing off last year's numbers, he'll be a steady top-six player for the Blackhawks.

How do you feel about this evaluation? As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts by commenting below and check out the video breakdown of Stalberg's season above.

Up next: Johnny Oduya

CubsTalk Podcast: How new coaching staff will help ensure Maddon's tactics won't get stale

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USA TODAY

CubsTalk Podcast: How new coaching staff will help ensure Maddon's tactics won't get stale

ESPN’s Jesse Rogers stops by the CubsTalk Podcast to chat with Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki about his new book on Joe Maddon. The trio also debate whether Maddon’s tactics get stale and how the new coaching staff will affect the season.

Plus, who should hit leadoff? Fans are all in on Albert Almora Jr., but that might not be the best option. And whose side do you take in the Willson Contreras-Yadier Molina tiff?

Listen to the entire podcast here:

Who should lead off for Cubs in 2018?

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USA TODAY

Who should lead off for Cubs in 2018?

The Cubs' offseason has been hyperfocused on pitching, pitching and more pitching.

But what about the offense? Specifically: Who's going to hit leadoff for the 2018 Cubs?

That question seems to be one of the hot topics surrounding the team as they strive to make Even Year Magic a Chicago thing and win another World Series in 2018.

Before we get into who SHOULD lead off, I'll tell you who shouldn't: Albert Almora Jr., who is a popular choice among fans to fill in for the ghost of Dexter Fowler atop the order.

That's not a knock on the young outfielder, who seems primed for a breakout in 2018 when he should be playing on a regular basis and seeing a lot more time against right-handed pitching. 

This will only be Almora's second full season in the big leagues and given he was in a platoon for most of last year, he still only has 411 career plate appearances in the majors. 

So he's not much more experienced than Kyle Schwarber was when he was penciled into the leadoff spot for the Cubs to kick off 2017 and we all know how that experiment went. Leading off is a tough position to put players in, especially those that are still growing in their big-league skin.

Plus, Almora simply doesn't see enough pitches. He swings at the first pitch often (more than 11 percent of the time) and saw only 3.45 pitches per plate appearance in 2017. That mark was good for 29th on the Cubs behind eight pitchers (Dylan Floro, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Eddie Butler, Jose Quintana, Jake Arrieta and Hector Rondon), though the pitchers obviously have a small sample size of plate appearances.

Still, that's a shockingly small number for a position player. Almora would've been tied for 143rd out of 145 position players in baseball in pitches per plate appearance if he had enough at-bats to qualify.

But as for who SHOULD lead off, my choice is Ian Happ, though I would like to see Kris Bryant get some run up there and maybe even another Anthony Rizzo stint as "The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time."

Here are my Top 5 suggestions if Joe Maddon were writing out the lineup today:

1. Ian Happ
2. Kris Bryant
3. Ben Zobrist
4. Jason Heyward
5. Anthony Rizzo

Here's more on the reasoning behind that:

Hot Stove - Cubs Leadoff Hitters/2021 White Sox Predictions

Who should be the Opening Day leadoff man for the Cubs? What will the 2021 White Sox lineup and rotation look like? We make our predictions and want to hear yours NOW on Hot Stove Live!

Posted by NBC Sports Chicago on Wednesday, January 17, 2018