Second straight 'one-and-done' leaves plenty of question marks


Second straight 'one-and-done' leaves plenty of question marks

A season that began with so much promise has again ended much too abruptly.

Its hard to believe, but Mike Smith went into Game 6 with the ninth-best goals-against average in the playoffs and the seventh-best save percentage. After the Blackhawks fired 39 more shots his way - including a dominant first two periods - they were left with 241 for the series, and just a dozen got past him before his first Stanley Cup playoff shutout.

This series was won by a goalie -- and the system that goalie is in -- being better than what the other side could muster.

I was a little leery about this matchup when many people were preferring facing the Pacific Division champ over another first-round faceoff with Nashville. In the end, that one probably wouldnt have worked out much better. The Preds were just as difficult a matchup this season for the Hawks as these Yotes were.

Since the wounds are still a little fresh, well look more closely at what the Blackhawks face and potential decisions theyll need to make over the coming days. But with as many commitments as the organization has made to its core players, itll be interesting to watch what roster moves are made in the months ahead -- and how the labor situation might affect things - not to mention how soon the Hawks are even able to get back to work again.

There are enough things to analyze, from the special teams, to the back of the defensive corps, to the decisions thatll need to be made about which young players (or veterans) they would potentially package to get closer to what this team accomplished just two short years ago. Or whether theyll count on those youngsters upside and stay closer to the vest. Whichever way the Hawks go, there will certainly be debate.

The competition to upgrade will be fierce. Look around the landscape of the teams the Hawks now join as one-and-done. The cream of the crop in recent years doesnt want to fall further behind, either. Vancouver, San Jose, Detroit and Pittsburgh are all gone already. New teams have arrows pointing upward, moving on to the second round.

The playoffs are often a crapshoot. No guarantees, where the previous six months can often be wiped off with a clean slate. But one thing is certain over the course of a best-of-seven series: the better teams advance.

After winning four straight series two years ago, the Hawks now have to wait another year just to have a chance at winning their first one since hoisting the Cup.

Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Braves are coming (but not yet)


Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Braves are coming (but not yet)

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Atlanta Braves

2017 record: 72-90, 3rd place in NL East

Offseason additions: Preston Tucker, Charlie Culberson, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Peter Moylan, Chase Whitley, Grant Dayton, Chris Stewart, Anibal Sanchez

Offseason departures: Matt Kemp, R.A. Dickey, Jason Motte, Matt Adams

X-factor: Ozzie Albies

One of the youngest players in the league, Albies just turned 21 in January. He carries with him the pedigree of the game's No. 11 overall prospect entering last season and got his first taste of big-league life toward the end of 2017.

He hit well, posting a .286 average and .810 OPS while showing an advanced knowledge of the strike zone and providing some pop and speed.

Assuming he can avoid any sophomore slump and take another step forward, the Braves could actually surprise some people this year. But without Albies providing Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman some lineup support until a certain phenom gets to town, it's hard to see Atlanta contending.

Projected lineup

1. Ender Inciarte - CF
2. Ozzie Albies - 2B
3. Freddie Freeman - 1B
4. Tyler Flowers - C
5. Nick Markakis - RF
6. Preston Tucker - LF
7. Dansby Swanson - SS
8. Rio Ruiz - 3B

Projected rotation

1. Julio Teheran
2. Mike Foltynewicz
3. Brandon McCarthy
4. Sean Newcomb
5. Scott Kazmir


The Braves are coming, you guys. 

Maybe not now, but they'll be here soon enough.

2018 will feature growing pains for a young group of up-and-comers including the aforementioned Albies, plus Tucker (a powerful outfielder acquired from the Astros), Swanson (the 2015 No. 1 overall pick who's since fallen on tough times) and Newcomb.

Oh and there's some guy named Ronald Acuna coming up next. You may have heard of him.

The 20-year-old phenom has absolutely torn the cover off the ball everywhere he's gone the last 14 or so months and we'll see the game's No. 1 overall prospect in the big leagues in mid-April, God willing.

Once Acuna does come, it adds another level to a lineup that frankly comes up a bit short right now, even with Freeman (one of the best hitters in baseball) and Inciarte (one of the game's most underrated players). 

The Braves have a solid bullpen, plenty of rotation depth and a decent bench. It wouldn't be shocking to see them challenge for the second wild card spot, but true contention will probably come in 2019 for this bunch.

Prediction: 3rd in NL West, no playoffs

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves

Podcast: Eddie O discusses what went wrong for Blackhawks this season


Podcast: Eddie O discusses what went wrong for Blackhawks this season

Eddie Olczyk joins Pat Boyle, Steve Konroyd and Jamal Mayers to discuss what went wrong for the Blackhawks this season, and what changes could happen this summer to get the team back into the postseason.

Listen to the entire HawksTalk Podcast here: