Blackhawks

Wrigley Field gets facelift while waiting for big renovation

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Wrigley Field gets facelift while waiting for big renovation

Walking through Wrigley Field, you stepped on new concrete and could smell fresh paint. You saw stadium workers raking the dirt and dropping the Cubs on-deck circle by the dugout. The ivy had already begun to turn green before Opening Day.

The second-oldest ballpark in the majors behind Fenway Park will begin its 99th season of professional baseball on Thursday, and 97th for the Cubs. The team has made several upgrades for this season, while waiting for the big renovation.

The Cubs didn't seem to be the only ones surprised when Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Tuesday that negotiations over the financing have advanced to the final stages. The renovation plan has been a primary focus for the Ricketts family and business operations.

We continue to have discussions with the city, the county and the state to ensure Wrigley Field remains a viable stadium for future generations, said Julian Green, the teams vice president of communications and community affairs. Were hopeful that we can reach a consensus soon. Well continue working with all parties to make sure we get something that works for all of Chicago.

In the meantime, the Cubs have added the Budweiser patio deck in the right-field bleachers. It basically recreates the rooftop experience and can host groups of 50, 100 or 150 guests. It sits behind a new 75-foot LED board that blends surprisingly well into the scenery.

The Cubs have also listened to the players concerns about the facilities, and cleared out what used to be storage space behind the left-field wall and turned it into an area where hitters can swing away at soft toss.

Theres no excuses for us as players not to be ready, utility man Jeff Baker said.

Last month, team personnel moved into a new administrative building on Clark Street near Waveland Avenue. Essentially a converted warehouse with high ceilings, theres a miniature Wrigley Field marquee by the main entrance and a Golden Tee video game in the break room.

Theres space for up to 155 employees, a key development for what has historically been one of the smallest front offices in baseball.

Or, as new general manager Jed Hoyer joked, No mice, so thats a good start.

As workers put finishing touches on the old ballpark, it didnt sound like there was a huge, imminent announcement planned with the mayors office for Opening Day. But on a crisp, sunny day, you knew that baseball was back.

It looks so much different here in the spring than it does in the winter, Hoyer said. The whole place looks fantastic. Its such a magical place, a place I loved coming to as a visitor. For the first time, it feels real. (I) get to watch 81 games a year here. Thats pretty special.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back against Panthers

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back against Panthers

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Florida Panthers Saturday on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

(Reminder: Use #AskEdzo on social media and your questions may be answered by Eddie Olczyk, who will be in studio along with Adam Burish, Brian Campbell and Pat Boyle).

1. Another fast start coming?

The Blackhawks had one of their best starts of the season Wednesday in Tampa Bay, and the numbers favor Chicago to dictate the pace of play early again.

The Panthers are tied with the Buffalo Sabres for the fewest goals scored in the first period (13), and have taken a lead into the second period only four times (3-1-0) in 21 games. They are 2-7-1 in the 10 games they've trailed after the opening frame.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are tied for fourth when it comes to first-period goals (22) — albeit, five of them came on Opening Night against Pittsburgh — but they are just 4-2-2 in eight games when leading after one period. In fact, they took a 2-0 lead into the second in their most recent game against the Lightning and lost in overtime 3-2.

So while a fast start could certainly be in the cards, the finish must also be there.

2. Take advantage on special teams.

The Panthers are one of two teams ranked among the bottom six in both power play percentage (26th at 16.0) and penalty kill percentage (30th at 73.2).

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are coming in hot in both areas. They're 6-for-17 (35.3 percent) on the man advantage in their last four games, and own the fourth-best penalty kill unit (84.8 percent).

This is the area to exploit for the Blackhawks going into the matchup, and it could decide the game.

3. Feed Lance Bouma!

In his seventh season, Bouma has faced every NHL team at least five times in his career, with the exception of Vegas (pointless in one game this season).

Bouma is not known for his offensive prowess (72 points in 325 career games), but it's a different story when he plays Florida.

In six career games against the Panthers, Bouma has one goal, six assists and a career-high plus-8 rating. That one goal also happens to be one of his six career game winners.

Florida is the only team Bouma is averaging at least a point-per-game against for his career, so you know what that means: Feed No. 17!

Did Steve Kerr troll the Bulls?

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AP

Did Steve Kerr troll the Bulls?

With Kevin Durant (ankle) and Draymond Green (rest) out, the Golden State Warriors had two starting forward positions open for Friday's game against the Bulls.

One of the two starters who replaced them? Jordan Bell. Does his name ring one, too?

Selected by the Bulls with the 38th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Bell was eventually traded to the Warriors in exchange for cash considerations.

The Oregon product hasn't played much this season for the defending champs, averaging just 3.2 points and 8.3 minutes in 12 games, but he made his first career start against ... his "former" team. Coincidence?

Warriors coach Steve Kerr (jokingly) explained why he gave the 22-year-old rookie the nod in the lineup.

Prior to the game, Bell also had this to say about his trade:

Bell couldn't have played better in his first career start. In 26 minutes, he recorded seven points, six rebounds, six blocks and four assists in a 143-94 Warriors win over the Bulls at Oracle Arena.