For a team that won 50 games in the regular season, and finished first in its division and conference, the Chicago Bulls have plenty of questions to answer this off-season.Perhaps the biggest need after securing viable scoring replacements for Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, is gaining financial flexibility under the cap.One player who could help the Bulls in both areas is Vanderbilt shooting guard John Jenkins, who recently visited with the Bulls' brass and came away impressed.You see Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, all the great coaches there, the championship banners, so its definitely motivation for me, Jenkins said at last weekend's NBA Pre-Draft Combine. I would love to play for them.The 6-foot-4 junior enters the NBA Draft as perhaps the most lethal outside shooter. He was named an honorable mention All-American in 2011, and a third team All-American in 2012. In both seasons Jenkins was named to the All-SEC team, leading the conference in scoring both years (19.5 points in 2011, 19.0 in 2012).The Bulls should have their pick of available shooting guards when their pick rolls around, including Kentucky sophomore Doron Lamb, UC-Santa Barbara senior Orlando Johnson and Jenkins. But the Commodore's prolific outside shooting (he led the nation in 3-point makes a year ago) and his experience (4 NCAA games and an SEC Tournament Championship) could give Jenkins the edge."I think every shooting guard in the draft thinks they're the best shooter, but I definitely work at it, to be the best," Jenkins said.The Bulls also would receive some financial flexibility by selecting Jenkins, or any shooting guard, in the first round. Doing so would give the Bulls the ability to decline team options on shooting guards Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer.Korver is set to make 5 million in 2012-'13, and Brewer is set to make 4.37 million.The Bulls' selection of Jimmy Butler with the 30th overall pick in last year's draft gives the Bulls a similar, cheaper option to Brewer. Butler will make just over 1 million in 2012, followed by team options of 1.174 million and 2.119 million in 2013 and 2014, respectively.Thanks to the NBA's slotted first round salaries, whomever the Bulls select will make an approximate 1.028 million and 1.105 million guaranteed the next two seasons. That would be almost 4 million per year cheaper than Korver.While a rookie, potentially Jenkins, would not bring as much short term value as Korver would, the salary cap space it would open up makes sense for the long-term.Gar Forman told Bulls.com the team intends to re-sign restricted free agent center Omir Asik this off-season, but they will need to have available cap room freed up should another team sign the 7-footer to a tender offer.That could mean declining C.J. Watson's 3.7 million team option, but without Rose for a good chunk of next year, Watson could be a valuable piece for the Bulls.A more likely option is the Bullsshoring up the shooting guard position at a cheaper price, potentially through the draft with a player like Jenkins.They said they need a shooter, a guy that can really open things up for D-Rose and just really open up the offense, Jenkins said at the Pre-Draft Combine.Forman insists the team will not draft based on need, rather selecting the best player available. But Jenkins, an obvious team need, also could be the best player left when the Bulls are on the clock June 28.
Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.
1. One big reunion.
The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.
Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.
Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.
2. Panarin and Kane bromance.
The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:
Artemi Panarin on what was said between he and Patrick Kane at center ice during warmups: “He said ‘I miss you’ and I said ‘I miss you too.’— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) October 8, 2017
Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).
He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.
3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.
The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.
The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.
So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.
Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.
The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.
Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease.
The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.
"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."
Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots.
When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.
"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.
On Friday night, he got his chance.
"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."
Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.
"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.
"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."