Blackhawks

Kaplan: Cubs minor league report

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Kaplan: Cubs minor league report

Here is the start of our weekly look at the Cubs minor leagues. Every Tuesday we will recap how the top prospects fared over the previous seven days.

AAA Iowa Cubs

Cubs top prospect Brett Jackson may not have gotten off to the start he would have liked to in April, but he began to show signs of improvement in the first week of May. Jackson went 8-for-25 (.320) to kick off his May campaign. He also homered once and drove in four runs. His productive week caused his average to jump 12 points to .254. Jackson is not where he wants to be yet but with a few consistent weeks like this one he will start to give Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer reason to consider promoting him to the big leagues.

Unlike Jackson, Iowa Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo came out of the gates in a full sprint and he has yet to look back. Rizzo was named minor league player of the month by the organization. He hit .384 with seven home runs and 23 RBIs in the month of April. The first week of May suggests that the law of averages may have come into play for Rizzo as his production has dropped slightly in the past few outings. This past week Rizzo went 6-for-24 (.250) with no home runs, 2RBIs, and eight strikeouts. The minor slide dropped Rizzos average from the astronomical .378 to a still outstanding .355. I really dont think there should be any concern surrounding Rizzo, his numbers are still great and his recall to the big leagues is a matter of time.

AA Tennessee Smokies

Right Hander Trey McNutt only had one appearance in the first week of May. He allowed five runs (two earned) on two hits in two and two-thirds innings. He was credited with the loss and his record fell to 0-2. Do not let McNutts single May appearance fool you, he still touts the second lowest ERA on the team (1.56), and he appeared unhittable last Thursday until an error and 1 bad pitch unraveled his outing in the third inning.

Highly acclaimed Dominican shortstop prospect Junior Lake made his Tennessee season debut on Sunday. In his first at bat Lake led off the game with a double and in his next plate appearance he tripled. Lake has only played in two games and is currently 3-for-8 (.375). Its much too early to jump to any conclusions but it is safe to say Junior Lake possesses a great deal of raw talent.

A Daytona Cubs

Top 5 Cubs prospect Matt Szczur was still trying to find a groove as of May 1, but things are beginning to click for the 22 year old center fielder. Szczur went 8 for 26 (.307) last week with an RBI moving his average to .256. One thing that has remained constant for the Cubs prospect is his base stealing ability. He has swiped 16 bags, three in the last week. Szczur could be a dangerous player if he couples some solid hitting with his already well-established speed.

Daytona right fielder Nelson Perez may have had the most impressive week in the Cubs organization. Perez started the month off 12 for 25 (.480) with 8 RBIs. His stellar average was given a boost by a 5-for 5 effort against the Jupiter Hammerheads on Saturday. Perezs hitting clinic included a two-run home run in the eighth. He leads the team in walks (19), home runs (5), batting average (.319), slugging percentage (.606), and OPS (1.037).

It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic

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USA TODAY

It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic

It’s official: The Blackhawks are headed back outdoors.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will be held at Notre Dame Stadium, featuring the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins on Jan. 1.

"The Blackhawks and Bruins, two of our most historic franchises, will be meeting outdoors for the first time at the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Notre Dame Stadium, with its capacity approaching 80,000, will provide an ideal setting for this ground-breaking event and will host the largest live audience ever to witness a game by either of these teams."

"The Chicago Blackhawks are honored to be participating in this marquee event at an iconic venue like Notre Dame Stadium," Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough said in a statement. "The University of Notre Dame has strong alumni roots in both Chicago and Boston, and, with an established rivalry between the Blackhawks and Bruins, fans will be treated to an exciting game in a unique atmosphere. We appreciate the invitation to the game and look forward to what will be a great day for both franchises and the National Hockey League."

It's the sixth time the Blackhawks will be playing outdoors, and their league-leading fourth Winter Classic. The Blackhawks are 1-4-0 in outdoor games, and are winless in three Winter Classic games.

Chicago's only outdoor win came against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2014 Stadium Series Classic, a 5-1 victory at Soldier Field.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.