Bears

Here is a recap of the NHL awards

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Here is a recap of the NHL awards

From Comcast SportsNet
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Geno and the Swedes were hockey's biggest winners in Vegas. Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin won the Hart Trophy on Wednesday night, becoming the NHL's most valuable player for the first time. Three Swedish players also claimed major trophies at the annual NHL Awards postseason ceremony, but the Penguins' Russian superstar claimed three awards for himself. Malkin won the Hart for the first time at the Wynn Las Vegas casino, beating out Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Tampa Bay scorer Steven Stamkos. Malkin also collected the Art Ross Trophy as the league scoring champion and the Ted Lindsay Award from his fellow NHLPA members as the NHL's best player. "It's the best day of my life," said Malkin, known to teammates and fans as Geno. "It's very exciting." Malkin gathered the Hart, Ross and Lindsay awards next to him after the ceremony, only occasionally struggling in his ever-improving English to express his excitement. Malkin's 109-point season and steady leadership were even more impressive because he largely did it without teammate Sidney Crosby, who played just 22 games after his comeback from a concussion. "I can't believe I'm sitting here, and around me there are three trophies," Malkin said. "It's an unbelievable day for me." Malkin, who turns 26 next month, edged out Stamkos and Lundqvist, who still won the Vezina Trophy for the first time. Lundqvist's win in his fourth Vezina nomination topped the impressive list of Swedish winners. Ottawa's Erik Karlsson won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, and Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie. Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson also won the King Clancy Trophy for humanitarian contributions to hockey. "For sure, it's a great year for Sweden," Lundqvist said. St. Louis also had a pretty good day in Vegas: Ken Hitchcock won the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL's top coach for the first time in his lengthy career, while Blues general manager Doug Armstrong was selected he league's top executive. Blues goalies Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott also picked up their Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the regular season. Boston forward Patrice Bergeron won his first Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward. Florida's Brian Campbell became the first defenseman since 1954 to win the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanlike play, and Montreal forward Max Pacioretty won the Masterton Trophy for his comeback from serious injury. But the spotlight was on Malkin, who won his first MVP award after arguably the most impressive season of his six-year career in Pittsburgh. Malkin had a career-high 50 goals and 59 assists while carrying the Penguins during the extended injury absence of 2007 Hart winner Crosby. Malkin was the NHL's only 100-point scorer this season and the first scoring champion in a decade to win a second title despite being almost every opponent's top defensive target whenever they faced the Penguins. Malkin also grew into a more prominent role outside of Crosby's shadow. "Every year I'm a little bit more comfortable," he said. "I learn English, watch TV, go out with friends and teammates. I love this sport. I like my teammates, and I want to be the best." Malkin scored eight points in the Penguins' six-game loss to Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs. The four-time NHL All-Star then was named the MVP of the IIHF World Championships last month after leading the undefeated Russian team to the title. Malkin was a Hart finalist for the third time. He won the vote over Stamkos, who already had wrapped up the Richard Trophy with an NHL-best 60 goals. Lundqvist didn't seem disappointed about losing out on the Hart after the Rangers' tireless goalie finally claimed the Vezina. He went 39-18-5 with eight shutouts, a 1.97 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage while repeatedly keeping New York on track to the Eastern Conference's best record. Lundqvist beat out Nashville's Pekka Rinne and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick, who got two better prizes last week when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL's playoff MVP for backstopping the Kings to their first championship. Karlsson appeared overwhelmed by his selection as the NHL's best defenseman. The 22-year-old had a big week, agreeing to a seven-year contract extension worth 45.5 million on Tuesday before beating out Boston's Zdeno Chara and Nashville's Shea Weber for his first Norris. "It's a huge honor," said Karlsson, who led all defensemen with 78 points in his breakout season for the Senators. "I couldn't be more happy than I am right now. I've never been a part of something this big, and it's something that took me by surprise a little bit." Karlsson also recognized the symbolism of winning the Norris in the same offseason as the retirement of Niklas Lidstrom, his fellow Swede and a seven-time Norris winner, including last season. Lidstrom retired from the Detroit Red Wings on May 31 after a 20-year career. "He really took the game to another level and showed people how to play fun hockey," Karlsson said. "It's an honor to be mentioned in the same way." Landeskog, who beat out Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and New Jersey playoff hero Adam Henrique for the Calder, had 22 goals and 30 assists for the Avalanche, who chose him with the second overall pick in last summer. The former Ontario Hockey League forward had little trouble adjusting to the NHL grind, playing in all 82 games for Colorado. "To me, Ryan would have won it if he didn't get hurt, and if you counted the playoffs, Adam would have won it," Landeskog said. "I'm just trying to enjoy it, trying to soak it all in." Bergeron beat out St. Louis captain David Backes and Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, a three-time Selke winner. Boston's defensive stopper had 22 goals and 42 assists for the Bruins while racking up a plus-36 rating as a dominant two-way player. "Ever since I was probably 12 years old, I never wanted to get scored on when I was on the ice," said Bergeron, a Stanley Cup champion in 2011. Pacioretty broke a vertebra in his back and incurred a concussion on a hit from Chara on March 8, 2011, knocking him out for the season. He returned to the Canadiens last fall and had 33 goals and 32 assists for his most productive pro season. The 60-year-old Hitchcock was recognized for his remarkable turnaround job in St. Louis, where he took over for Davis Payne 13 games into the season and turned the Blues into the Western Conference's No. 2 team, winning the Central Division and reaching the second round of the playoffs. Hitchcock has a Stanley Cup ring from Dallas in 1999, but hadn't won the Adams Trophy in three previous nominations. "I'll keep doing this for as long as I feel like I have the energy," Hitchcock said. "This year was just great."

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?