White Sox

Blackhawks ink Flick to three-year deal

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Blackhawks ink Flick to three-year deal

The Blackhawks have agreed to terms with forward Rob Flick on a three-year contract.

Flick, originally selected by the Blackhawks in the fourth round (120th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, recorded 13 points and 91 penalty minutes in 45 games with the Rockford IceHogs this season.

He also had four goals, six assists and 43 penalty minutes in 17 games with the ECHL's Toledo Walleye.

White Sox 'showing interest' in pitcher Zack Wheeler

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USA TODAY

White Sox 'showing interest' in pitcher Zack Wheeler

Zack Wheeler isn’t technically a free agent yet, but the rumor mill surrounding him is already showing some activity.

MLB.com’s Jon Morosi gave an update on Wheeler, including mentioning the White Sox as one of the teams “showing interest” in him.

For starters, he has to actually enter free agency. The Mets gave Wheeler a qualifying offer for $17.8 million. He has until 4 p.m. Thursday to accept or reject that. If he rejects it, then he becomes a free agent.

In addition to the White Sox, Morosi mentions the Angels and Padres as possible suitors.

Wheeler isn’t going to be the top choice for teams in the market for starting pitching. Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are premium options that are available. Wheeler is another solid option if he hits the market.

The 29-year-old has a career 3.77 ERA in five seasons with the Mets. He was a top ten pick in the 2009 draft and had two solid years in 2013 and 2014 before going down with Tommy John surgery in 2015.

Wheeler didn’t return to an MLB mound until 2017 and the results weren’t good. That year, he had a 5.21 ERA while allowing 10.1 hits per nine (a career-worst mark).

The last two years have seen Wheeler bounce back. He had a 3.31 ERA with 179 strikeouts and 55 walks in 182 1/3 innings in 2018. This past season his ERA jumped up to 3.96, but his strikeout rate went up (9.0 K/9), his walk rate went down (a career-best 2.3 BB/9) and he logged a career-high 195 1/3 innings.

Price is always a major question when dealing with free agents, but other than his first year back from injury, Wheeler has shown a level of consistency that would greatly boost the White Sox rotation. If Lucas Giolito is the team’s ace and Michael Kopech returns from injury as a solid pitcher, Wheeler could round out a strong top three of a rotation. Throw in the upside of Dylan Cease, who endured a rocky rookie season, and the White Sox rotation could start to look good if Wheeler comes on board.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise the White Sox would be interested in Wheeler. The key part is winning the bidding war (assuming he goes to free agency).

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How a systematic change could serve as turning point for Blackhawks

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USA Today

How a systematic change could serve as turning point for Blackhawks

When Jeremy Colliton took over as head coach on Nov. 6, 2018, he implemented a man-on-man system in the defensive zone that took some time getting used to for the core players who had played zone coverage under Joel Quenneville for 10-plus years. 

What Colliton didn’t mess with too much is how the Blackhawks generated offense. He allowed his players to play a run-and-gun-type game and it was high risk, high reward. After all, the Blackhawks were among the league leaders in scoring chances generated off the rush, but they also gave up the most.

Colliton knew that wasn’t a great formula for long-term success, so the Blackhawks became more of a dump-and-chase team this season to eliminate neutral zone turnovers and odd-man rushes against. They also altered the way they transitioned out of their own end.

The problem? The offense dried up significantly.

After a brutal four-game road trip in which they were outshot by 65 and averaged only 26.2 shots per game, Colliton was forced to make a systematic change going into Thursday's game against the Vancouver Canucks and gave his players more freedom to create offense similar to the way they did last season. And it could be the turning point of the 2019-20 season. 

“We made a conscious effort to be a bit looser when the puck turned over, so we could create more out of D zone in transition and I think it's helped,” Colliton said following Sunday’s 5-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. “There's been a lot more plays available for us. Probably closer to how it looked last year, as far as our ability to make plays out of D-zone and through the neutral zone, and probably fits our top guys — and you can see, they're coming to life. It's good to see. Doesn't mean that the defensive side won't be a continued emphasis, because you've got to keep the puck out of your net to win, and when you get up like we did, would've loved to control the game.”

The results? The Blackhawks have scored 12 goals in their last three games and are 2-0-1 over that span.

“We’re trying to build some momentum here doing a lot of new things and new systems," Dylan Strome said on WGN Radio's postgame show after a 5-1 win over Vancouver. "It takes a little bit of getting used to. We kind of went back to our old system a little bit from last year, so [we felt] a lot more comfortable.”

Not only has the switch jumpstarted the offense, but the Blackhawks have seen improvement in their defensive numbers and it likely stems from the fact they aren’t spending as much time in their own zone.

Before the change on Thursday, the Blackhawks ranked 18th in scoring chances for (24.7), 18th in high-danger chances for (10.0), 30th in scoring chances against (29.2) and 30th in high-danger chances against (13.0) per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Since the change, the Blackhawks rank seventh in scoring chances for (28.8), 15th in high-danger chances for (10.9), 22nd in scoring chances against (28.3) and 20th in high-danger chances against (11.8) per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. 

It's still not perfect, but we're finally starting to see what the Blackhawks are capable of as a group. They're playing looser and with more confidence, they're attacking and not chasing — they've scored the first two goals in each of the past three games — and they're racking up points because of it. 

The fundamental change doesn’t mean the Blackhawks are going to forget about the defense-first mentality they’re trying to establish. But Colliton knows he has to let his offensive players do what they do best and play to their strengths — it's no coincidence that Patrick Kane has caught fire in the last three games.

Now they’re trying to find a common ground where the team’s style of play can lead to sustained success, both on offense and defense.

“It's a happy medium,” Colliton said. “It was a big emphasis to keep the puck out of our net and still is. But at the same time, we've got to score more than them in order to win. We're trying to find the right balance and I think ultimately we need to win games to stay in the race, to allow ourselves to play important games. That's what we've done in the last week, we've got some points.”

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