Blackhawks

Could familiar face be Rose's interim replacement?

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Could familiar face be Rose's interim replacement?

Help wanted: Veteran point guard, capable of starting, but comfortable coming off the bench when All-Star point guard returns from injury late in season. Must be willing to play for defensive-minded coach, familiarity with Bulls organization and Chicago area is a plus. Salary negotiable, but hometown discounts appreciated.

Scouring a list of available free-agent point guards over the next few months will inevitably occur, but one player in particular fits the above description: Kirk Hinrich. "Captain Kirk," the erstwhile fan favorite known for his toughness, was jettisoned to Washington in a 2010 draft-day deal to acquire cap space in anticipation for that summer's free-agency class and since then, has moved on to Atlanta, where he settled into a backup role behind young Hawks' starting point guard Jeff Teague.

While he's happier than when he was with the perennially lottery-bound Wizards, from his visits back to the United Center, one gets the feeling that Hinrich longs to be back in Chicago, where he reportedly still owns a home. Hinrich is viewed as being on the decline by many, including even some in the Bulls organization, but his familiarity with the team, though many of his teammates will be new faces to him, likely acceptance of moving to the bench when Derrick Rose returns from injury -- after all, he's done it before -- and the fact that the price could be right for a reunion makes him a likely target in free agency this summer.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has consistently expressed his appreciation for many aspects of the veteran's game and it's conceivable that Hinrich's toughness and willingness to defend would make a good match with the coach's philosophy. The question is, depending on the market -- the 2012 free-agent class isn't exactly rich on talent -- would Hinrich be willing to take a 2.5 million mini-mid level exception from the Bulls, who don't have much financial flexibility with four eight-figure contracts and nor much impetus to go over the cap with the punitive new CBA in a season where the team isn't expected to be a title contender, just to come back home?

If Hinrich taking less money from the Bulls compared to what he could get from a team in genuine need of a point guard -- not just a temporary fix, while a former MVP recovers from injury -- then it's even less likely that other available veteran floor generals, like Steve Nash, Andre Miller or Chauncey Billups take the bait. All sound great, but are probably too expensive for the Bulls and could chafe at being relegated to a backup role when Derrick Rose returns, likely after the All-Star break.

Two other candidates could be Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. Felton, though, is coming off a disastrous season in Portland in which he was maligned for coming into the season out of shape, whispers arose about him helping to turn the locker room against ousted Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan -- like Thibodeau, a defensive-oriented sort -- and after being talked about as a borderline All-Star with the Knicks before being traded to the Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony deal, had one of the worst seasons of his career.

Kidd, on the other hand, is an intriguing possibility and while money could also be an issue with him, at this juncture of his career, he's still productive enough to start, if not dominate, and he probably wouldn't mind mentoring Rose, in addition to being able to play with him -- Kidd isn't quick enough to defend the most explosive point guards in the league, but has the size to defend many shooting guards, as well as being able to allow Rose to play off the ball or spot up as a three-point threat, as he's become a much-improved shooter late in his career -- when he returns. Furthermore, while he was never the vertical athlete Rose was, Kidd was quite the speedster when he entered the league and had to retool his game after suffering his own knee injuries and undergoing micro-fracture surgery, which robbed him of his speed.

After the aforementioned options, barring a trade, there's a considerable drop-off on the list, with the likes of journeymen Shaun Livingston, Ronnie Price and Royal Ivey in the bargain-basement bin. None of those players are better than incumbent backup C.J. Watson, who has a 3.7 million team option for next season.

The view of Watson made be skewed after his sub-par first-round series against Philadelphia, especially his decision to pass the ball to Omer Asik in the waning moments of the Bulls' Game 6 elimination loss, but he battled through a multitude of injuries to have a solid overall season. Watson is already familiar with the system and the personnel in Chicago and is well-liked by his teammates, so there's still a possibility that he could return.

While he isn't a starting-caliber player, third-string point guard John Lucas III is another player to think about, as he would be looked at as a full-time backup if he was to return to the Bulls. The fan favorite certainly had his moments during the season, so there would be reason to bring him back on a minimum-salary deal, but if he was to get a guaranteed contract for slightly more money or a multi-year deal elsewhere, Lucas will probably be gone.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.