From Comcast SportsNet NEW YORK (AP) -- The NHL is hoping to turn Thanksgiving weekend into a hockey holiday as it did with New Year's Day. Looking to build on the success of the Winter Classic, which has quickly become a New Year's staple, the NHL announced on Wednesday a renewal of a multiyear partnership with Discover. The familiar credit card company will become the title sponsor of this year's "Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown," which takes place on the traditional shopping-heavy Friday after the holiday. The "Black Friday" matchup features the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and the Detroit Red Wings in an Original Six matchup on NBC. Discover and the NHL will also debut a co-sponsored float during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC as part of promotion for the game. "We are looking to build an entirely new platform around Thanksgiving and have it include not only a game broadcast but something more," said David Lehanski, the NHL's group vice president of integrated sales. "That (parade) is chock full of the most iconic brands. To be a part of that for hockey is great." Thanksgiving belongs to the NFL -- in the sports world -- much in the way college football has owned New Year's Day for generations. The 2012 Winter Classic, featuring the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers, was bumped to Jan. 2 along with the bowl games because the NFL is playing a regular schedule the day before. The NHL isn't taking on the NFL on Thanksgiving, either, but the league and Discover are aiming to give hockey fans an appetizer with the parade, heading into the featured Friday game. "This was one of those ideas that had natural synergy," said Jennifer Murillo, the vice president of brand communications for Discover. "The whole idea came together through the partnership. "We know our card members are passionate hockey fans. As the idea materialized to create a new nationally televised game during Thanksgiving weekend, this was a natural extension for us." The Thanksgiving Friday game begins NBC's coverage of the NHL for this season. It is the league's earliest start date on network TV since NBC acquired hockey broadcast rights in 2005. An estimated 50 million viewers are expected to watch the parade on television. "We're proud to work with our partners at the NHL and participate in some of America's favorite holiday traditions, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and watching a great hockey matchup on NBC," Murillo said. The parade float, 36 feet long and by 20 feet wide and called "Frozen Fall Fun," will showcase the partnership between the NHL and Discover and include past NHL stars, a synthetic ice rink, a 12-foot tall turkey that serves as a hockey goal, and a colorful fall look. Grammy Award winner Cee-Lo Green will perform live on the float. "This is part of the overall strategy," Lehanski said. "The more events we can create, if they can be tied to holidays or high-level days when people are home watching television, if we can bring hockey to their faces, we're going to generate more fans." Discover will offer card members the chance to redeem their Cashback Bonus rewards for tickets to the upcoming Winter Classic in Philadelphia, and card members will also receive discounts to Shop.NHL.com, the NHL Powered by Reebok store in New York, and NHL GameCenter Live subscriptions. "Having a new ownership platform on a day that is synonymous with shopping was a natural fit to renew our partnership with Discover, but we wanted to make it even bigger," Lehanski said. Discover will remain the official card of the NHL, All-Star weekend, the Winter Classic, NHL awards, and the draft.
The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.
Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.
But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.
This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.
If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”
Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.
Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.
Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.
“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.
“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”
Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.
A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.
“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.
“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”
Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?
“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.
“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”
In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.
Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.
Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.
Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.
“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.
“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”
And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.
It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.
The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.
Check it out:
Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:
Goodbye Chicago, you've been amazing.....Austin here we come for you!!! pic.twitter.com/Cn3czW6IAv— Kristina Lackey (@klackey33) November 6, 2016
And again in 2015:
set free crumbs/drink droplets/possible creatures...Nice to see his face again even if it's just for a little bit 💏 pic.twitter.com/TSf1urU0lY— Brittany Arrieta (@MrsArrieta49) October 30, 2015
It's crazy how much younger he looks.