Cubs

Mullin on PFT Live: Is Lovie on the hot seat?

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Mullin on PFT Live: Is Lovie on the hot seat?

The turmoil of the last four games three of them losses have turned the Bears from one kind of national story into another, as Mike Florio and I went into Wednesday on Mikes ProFootballTalk Live!

He and I had talked about Lovie Smiths position on any hot seat back in training camp. Mike saw him vulnerable after the game-two loss at Green Bay, which gradually turned into thoughts of a possible extension when the Bears were 7-1, and now Smith is back in that what-if? discussion.

The issue may not entirely be whether the Bears make the playoffs for Smith to serve out the last year of his contract; it may be how that comes to be. Because for the Bears to fall out of the playoffs means they will have taken a bad loss somewhere in the next four games, on top of a very difficult rematch with the Packers.

As I mentioned to Mike, the stated reason for Jerry Angelos firing after last season was what President Ted Phillips said was a failure to close the talent gap with the Packers. If the Bears lose two in 2012 to Green Bay, that rationale could be in play again.

The subject of Brian Urlacher is also very much in play, obviously, and Mike was interested in the overall of 54 with this team. My analogy, as far as grasping his true value, was a Larry Bird or Magic Johnson type of player: someone who makes everyone else better. Thats what Urlacher does, why he is a favorite on the field and in the locker room, and why he will be a superb fit for Lovie Smith as long as the Bears are playing their version of the 4-3.

As I noted on Monday morning, the Bears have held concussed players Jay Cutler (twice), Devin Hester, Shea McClellin out of the game following their head injuries. If Earl Bennett practices at all this week, that will be news. Players simply do not return quickly from concussions, with the trend arrow pointing more that direction with the increasing awareness of the severity of that injury.

Mike was interested in the possible return of Hester this week, which is probable. But the bigger return for the offense right now might be Alshon Jeffery, who was doing some moving around last Sunday on his repaired right knee and would be a key addition to an offense struggling to get anything going in the pass game.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below:

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.