Bears

Bollig happy to stick up for Blackhawks teammates

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Bollig happy to stick up for Blackhawks teammates

Brandon Bollig shook off his gloves and prepared to face St. Louis tough guy Ryan Reaves. It was the hometown kids moment in St. Louis last week, a chance for his family to see him at his pugilistic best.

Even if theres a mixed reaction to Bollig putting up his dukes.

I dont think my mom likes it too much but my dad enjoys it, said Bollig with a smile, the same one he usually displays during his fights. Theyre along for the ride and fans at this point. Its as fun for them as it is for me. Theyre happy to see me at this level.

And now that hes at this level, Bollig will do whatever it takes to stay here.

Bollig is known for his fighting prowess and he hasnt disappointed in his short stint with the Blackhawks -- he has five fights in seven games games. He added that fifth on Tuesday night, going after Reaves for his hit on Jamal Mayers in the Blackhawks 4-3 shootout victory over the Blues. Bolligs energy and drive to stick up for teammates has resonated throughout the Blackhawks locker room.

There was no hesitation. He just jumped right in the pile there and fought him. That got us pumped, said Patrick Kane. Its good to know we can play a physical game like that.

But coach Joel Quenneville said the rookie has brought so much more than just the bruiser mentality.

I thought hed be pretty excited the last time he went into St. Louis. But I like how hes playing, and Im not talking about his fighting, he said. I think that, positionally, he has awareness. He brings energy and finishes hits. Technically, hes doing the right things. Hes been a nice fit for us.

On Bolligs response on Tuesday, Quenneville said, he did what he had to do. That was a good response to a big hit.

Bollig knows his calling card and figures itll be that way most of his career. The native of St. Charles, Mo., doesnt mind the fights, although even hes surprised that hes had this many so soon. He and Reaves bout in St. Louis was a lengthy and memorable one for Bollig, who tapped Reaves on the helmet in a good-fight gesture afterward.

You have to have respect for guys who are willing to do it that much, Bollig said. Its obviously something you have to have a certain mental awareness to do, and maybe be a little messed up in the head to do it all the time. Everyone here is kind of tough in their own right.

Bollig has proven his toughness quickly in the NHL. His teammates appreciate several aspects of his game. And whatever keeps him in the big leagues, hes ready to do it.

I think at this point willing to do what I have to do to stay here; if its fighting every night, Im wiling to do that. Bollig said. I hope theres not a time when I get tired of it or not willing to do it because thatll be the time Im done with the game.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?