Cubs

Back home, Leddy never wonders what could have been

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Back home, Leddy never wonders what could have been

For Nick Leddy, theres always going to be something special about stepping onto the Xcel Energy Center ice. Its where he played when he was with Eden Prairie High School during their 2009 state title run, and the memories are always there.

Those memories will probably be there again when Leddy and the Chicago Blackhawks play the Minnesota Wild there on Thursday night. But as far as seeing Xcel in the what-might-have-been sense; to wonder if the Wild, who drafted him, hadnt traded him? Well, thats kind of an afterthought.

The Blackhawks are the only pro group Leddy has ever known, and hes just fine with that. And in two seasons, the young defenseman is finding his niche with the team.

Leddy has just about completed his sophomore season with the Blackhawks, one that has certainly had its ups and downs. Yes, hes a minus-15, a number hed love to get closer to a positive. But hes also posted a career-high 34 assists, the second most among Blackhawks defensemen this season. In the absence of Duncan Keith, Leddy was there with the helpers, tallying five in four games.

Nicks had some real good stretches in the season, coach Joel Quenneville said recently. Its a long year, and there are some learning curves as far as positioning, consistency; its something young defenseman can be exposed to at times and grown into it nicely. His movement with the puck and coming up with speed, thats noticeable.

Also noticeable is the success Leddy and partner Johnny Oduya have had together. Paired about a period into Oduyas stint with the Blackhawks, the two have formed a solid and reliable duo on the ice. Leddy said hes learned a lot from the veteran Oduya.

Its been great. I think weve talked almost after every play, every time were out there. Or if he sees something I can do better or can help him out in any way, we talk about it on the bench, said Leddy, who added the two did build chemistry pretty quick.

We were talking the other day and (Oduya) said he played with a guy from the (University of Minnesota), too, Paul Martin, said Leddy of Martin, who played with Oduya in New Jersey. We play alike and I think maybe our play fits each other.

Leddys plus-minus, however, has been rough this season. But Keith said Leddy shouldnt take all the blame for it.

Every defenseman has tough stretches, Keith said. Weve had some times where weve allowed a lot of goals. He plays a lot and youre going to be on for goals but sometimes its not always your fault. Sometimes he took some heat but it wasnt all to do with him. Its a collective group out there. Hes been great all year.

Leddy will always go home, always get back to Xcel and its memories, twice a season. But there are no such visions about what couldve been with Minnesota. Its only about what is with the Blackhawks.

Ive been here long enough where I like it here, Leddy said. And I couldnt see myself anywhere else.

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

There may not be a player in baseball more exciting to watch than Javier Báez.

Whether at the plate, in the field or on the bases, Báez is a human highlight real. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in baseball; he has a cannon for an arm, exemplary defensive range and is a tagging maestro. He’s a dynamic baserunner who uses his elite baseball instincts to go station-to-station while magically avoiding tags along the way.

Yeah, there’s a reason Báez is known as “El Mago.” It’s not a matter of if he’ll make an incredible play each game, but a matter of when. Things come easy for the 27-year-old full of flair who makes the most difficult plays seem routine.

Báez is a career .270/.310/.484 hitter who’s hit 110 home runs in parts of six big-league seasons. One of those long balls came in his big-league debut (Aug. 5, 2014), a go-ahead blast against the Rockies in the 12th inning. The legend of El Mago was born.

Báez is the Cubs starting shortstop, though that hasn’t always been the case. Starlin Castro was the starter in 2014; Addison Russell claimed the title from Castro in the second half of 2015, holding it down until late in the 2018 season. Russell hit the injured list that August as the Cubs simultaneously acquired Daniel Murphy in an attempt to jump-start the offense.

By the time Russell returned, Báez was a clear-cut NL MVP candidate. The latter still bounced around the infield from time-to-time, but with Murphy entrenched at second, shortstop became Báez’s primary position. He’s been the starter ever since.

Báez has played 2,646 2/3 career innings at shortstop compared to 1,856 at second base (and 629 1/3 at third). He’s exclusively a shortstop these days, but the El Mago second base days aren’t forgotten.

Báez was the co-recipient of the 2016 NLCS MVP award (along with Jon Lester) and has started back-to-back All-Star Games (2018 at second, 2019 at shortstop). He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL MVP award, posting career highs across the board: .290/.326/.554, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 129 OPS+.

And yet, it feels like Báez is only getting started. Nevertheless, his career to date has more than earned him a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team at second base. With that, we'll leave you with this:

Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in

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AP

Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in

The youth movement is underway in Chicago and it's happening quicker than expected.

Adam Boqvist played in his 10th NHL game of the season on Sunday, officially triggering the first year of his entry-level contract. That means he will become a restricted free agent at end of the 2021-22 season. If he appeared in nine games or fewer, his contract wouldn't have kicked in until next season, which would've bought the Blackhawks an extra year of Boqvist playing at a cap hit of $894,167.

"Maybe that was a discussion very early on but as far as coach perspective, we like him," head coach Jeremy Colliton said on whether he and GM Stan Bowman had conversations about burning Boqvist's first year. "I think he's played well and it's an opportunity with some injuries to give him some ice time. He's handled it well so far."

Boqvist is the second rookie on the Blackhawks this season to burn their first year, joining No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach. Whether the decisions were dictated by circumstances or not, the Blackhawks have seen enough of both of them to feel they can have an impact on the team in the short term without hindering their developments in the long term.

The number to watch now is 40. Like Dach, if Boqvist appears in 40 or more games this season, it will count as a full season and bring him one year closer to unrestricted free agency. Any player that's accrued seven full seasons or is at least 27 years old as of June 30 of that respective year can become an unrestricted free agent.

Boqvist appeared in six games for the Blackhawks during the month of November before getting reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on Nov. 14 when Connor Murphy was ready to return from his groin injury.

But with Calvin de Haan (shoulder) expected to be out long term and Duncan Keith still out with a groin injury, the Blackhawks called up Boqvist for insurance and because they lacked defensemen with offensive upside. It appears he will remain with the big club for the time being and it serves as a chance for their No. 8 overall pick in 2018 to prove he can handle NHL minutes on a consistent basis during a desperate time for the Blackhawks.

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