Bears

Blackhawks breakdown: Jimmy Hayes

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Blackhawks breakdown: Jimmy Hayes

The 60th overall pick in the second round by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008, Jimmy Hayes made his NHL debut on Dec. 30 and would go on to play a little over 10 minute per game in 31 games. Hayes scored five goals with four assists and finished at minus-3 while dishing out 50 hits. In limited time on the power play, he did record one goal and one assist with the man-advantage. Hayes played in two playoff games, failing to record a point and finishing minus-1.

Boden's take: After an impressive training camp, the numbers game caught up to the big winger. But when he was brought up early in the season, he collected four goals and three assists in just 14 games and was a presence around the net and in the corners. When the numbers forced him back to Rockford, his return engagement over the final month and a half wasn't as impressive -- not just statistically (one goal, one assist in 17 games), but his overall effectiveness slipped, too. He got a two-game shot in the playoffs, but didn't do much with it.

Myers' take: The young Hayes was a solid player out of training camp, and when the Blackhawks needed more size among their forwards near the turn of the new year, Hayes was the natural call-up. He impressed immediately, tallying four goals and seven assists in his first 10 games. Hayes is a solid skater for a big man, and that 6-foot-6 presence was a bonus in front of the oppositions net. It was a good debut for the 22-year-old, and certainly one off which he can build this season.

2012-13 Expectations

Boden: The Boston College product would seem to be on the verge of taking the next step into becoming an NHL roster mainstay. He turns 23 in November and has just an 875,000 salary cap hit over the next two seasons. Do the Hawks and their fans have the patience to stay with him through the ups and downs, or is another season of shuffling back-and-forth between Chicago and Rockford on the horizon?

He has the size and skill this team sorely needs, it's just a matter of how high his so-called "ceiling" is. As we speak, roster spots are few, but I have the feeling Hayes is among the top two or three prospects the organization would have the most difficulty parting with if they're seeking more immediate help. A pair of Los Angeles Kings rookies -- 22-year-olds Dwight King and Jordan Nolan -- are both 6-foot-3 and are playing important roles in the Kings' Stanley Cup run. Could Hayes be a similar ingredient for the Hawks next season? I'd like to see what he could do with that opportunity.

Myers: Hayes didnt play much in the postseason, but that spoke more to his raw, rookie status than anything else. With this offseason and another good training camp, Hayes could fight for a roster spot heading into October - or at least be one of the first call-ups the Blackhawks make. Hayes says hes constantly working on his skating, as most big men have to do. It was pretty good last year, so a little more honing there will round out his game.

How do you feel about this evaluation? As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts by commenting below and check out highlights of Hayes above.

Up next: Corey Crawford

Bears to hold joint training camp practices with Broncos this summer

Bears to hold joint training camp practices with Broncos this summer

The Bears will reunite with former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in Denver this summer, as word broke Monday the Broncos will host Matt Nagy and Co. for joint training camp practices in advance of their preseason game in August.

The Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs confirmed the news on Twitter.

This is the second time Denver will welcome the Bears for training camp sessions. The two teams held joint practices back in 2018.

Training camp won't be the first time the Bears will see Fangio since his departure last offseason. Chicago pulled off a last-second victory over the Broncos in Week 2 of the 2019 season when kicker Eddy Pineiro booted a 53-yard game-winner as time expired in the fourth quarter. His kick was set up by the clutch version of Mitch Trubisky, who connected on a 25-yard pass to Allen Robinson on the play before Pineiro's conversion.

Fangio left a lasting impact during his time as the Bears defensive coordinator that reached its peak in 2018 when Chicago was widely regarded as the most ferocious defense in the league. The Bears finished third in yards allowed per game and ended the season with the top run defense. Their 27 interceptions were tops in the NFL, too.

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

The Cubs have only played three spring training games, and it’s dangerous to use spring results to predict regular season successes/failures. Still, it’s okay to acknowledge Albert Almora Jr.’s hot start in camp.

In two games, Almora is 4-for-4 with a walk, double, home run, four RBIs, and four runs scored. That line is essentially equivalent to a single game in the regular season and could be turned upside down by the end of the week. But it’s a start for the 25-year-old who’s struggled immensely at the plate for the last season-and-a-half at the plate.

In his last 177 games (dating back to the second half of 2018), Almora holds a .235/.270/.347 slash line. The advanced stats paint an uglier picture: 58 wRC+, .261 wOBA and 52.2 percent groundball rate.

Last season was the most challenging of Almora’s young career. He hit .236/.271/.381 in 130 games with a 64 wRC+, .271 wOBA, -0.7 fWAR (all career worsts). On top of that, he was involved in a heartbreaking moment early in the season; an Almora foul ball struck a young girl at Minute Maid Park during a Cubs-Astros game in May.

Almora recently refused to blame his 2019 offensive woes on that incident, though it obviously played a part. He did admit he was in a bad place mentally and used this winter to decompress. Almora also used it to make some adjustments to his swing and the changes are clear as day:

Pre-2020:

2020:

As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian notes, Almora is now more upright in the box and his stance is more closed. His leg kick is less defined, and he’s rotating his front leg far less than previous seasons. In short, he’s more direct to his swing and has more time to react in the box because he cut out a lot of his pre-swing movements.

Almora said Monday he’s far from where he wants to be, pointing out the MLB season is a 200-day marathon. It’s too early to tell whether his simplified approach leads to sustainable success.

Small sample size be damned, Almora’s made noticeable adjustments. That’s the first step in his mission to get back on track offensively.

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