Cubs

Blackhawks view latest cancellations as a 'scare tactic'

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Blackhawks view latest cancellations as a 'scare tactic'

For players, nothing the NHL does is even a shock anymore. Not even canceling a months worth of games, as the league did on Friday afternoon, raises eyebrows anymore.

Theyre still going down that road that theyre going to keep exercising the power they have to try and lock us out, to try and cancel games to try and sway us their way, said Jonathan Toews prior to the Champs for Charity game at Allstate Arena on Friday night. Well see what happens in the next little while.

What happened Friday was, what Blackhawks defenseman and player representative Steve Montador called a dagger in the heart of all hockey fans and players.

We could come to deal and play some games in November, though unlikely at this point. So for the league to cancel that many is a tactic in itself, Montador said. These actions do nothing other them to strengthen our resolve and motivate the players to do whats right or us and the sport.

Patrick Kane called the cancellations a scare tactic.

We knew it was coming, said Kane, who will be heading to Switzerland on Sunday to play hockey there for a bit. Still, he holds out hope for a new deal. I know with basketball last year, it started on Christmas Day and had a successful season. We want to be on the ice playing. This (charity game) proves that.

The question is, what happens next?

It seems the two sides have talked to the media more than theyve talked to each other in recent weeks. The statements released by both on failed negotiations are adding up, as are the number of canceled games. And events such as the Winter Classic, which has become incredibly popular, could be on the chopping block next.

Theyve done all this so far because they can, Toews said. It doesnt matter how much we try to reason with them. I saw it in the meeting room last week. We worked very hard coming up with those three proposals. They dont have courtesy to look at it or discuss them. Its been proven over time theyre on a timeline to see how much they can squeeze us for. Were just waiting to see what happens next. Thats why were staying patient. Thats all we can do.

On Friday night Blackhawks players, as well as others forgot about the lockout for a little while for the Champs for Charity game. It was a chance for the fans to see their favorites on the ice again, albeit briefly. Toews said the players understand the fans frustration.

Were right there with them. Its not fair to (the fans) and a lot of people who love the game, love coming to watch their favorite payers and team play, no matter what city theyre in, Toews said. You can have (the NHL and NHLPA) arguing until theyre blue in the face. As players we feel we have a lot of reason on our side. But at the end of the day the facts dont matter. (The fans) are frustrated, so you feel for them.

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

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USA TODAY

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. He is hitting .326, good for fifth in the National League in batting.

 

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

Dion Sims is still here, which is the outcome he expected but perhaps wasn’t a slam dunk — at least to those outside the walls at Halas Hall. 

The Bears could’ve cut ties with Sims prior to March 16 and saved $5.666 million against the cap, quite a figure for a guy coming off a disappointing 2017 season (15 catches, 180 yards, one touchdown). But the Bears are sticking with Sims, even after splashing eight figures to land Trey Burton in free agency earlier this year. 

“In my mind, I thought I was coming back,” Sims said. “I signed to be here three years and that’s what I expect. But I understand how things go and my job is come out here and work hard every day and play with a chip on my shoulder to prove myself and just be a team guy.”

The Bears signed Sims to that three-year, $18 million contract 14 months ago viewing him as a rock-solid blocking tight end with some receiving upside. The receiving upside never materialized, and his blocking was uneven at times as the Bears’ offense slogged through a bleak 11-loss season. 

“The situation we were in, we weren’t — we could’ve done a better job of being successful,” Sims said. “Things didn’t go how we thought it would. We just had to pretty much try to figure out how to come together and build momentum into coming into this year. I just think there were a lot of things we could have done, but because of the circumstances we were limited a little bit. 

“… It was a lot of things going on. Guys hurt, situations — it was tough for us. We couldn’t figure it out, along with losing, that was a big part of it too.”

Sims will be given a fresh start in 2018, even as Adam Shaheen will be expected to compete to cut into Sims’ playing time at the “Y” tight end position this year. The other side of that thought: Shaheen won’t necessarily slide into being the Bears’ primary in-line tight end this year. 

Sims averaged 23 receptions, 222 yards and two touchdowns from 2014-2016; that might be a good starting point for his 2018 numbers, even if it would represent an improvement from 2017. More important, perhaps, is what Sims does as a run blocker — and that was the first thing Nagy mentioned when talking about how Sims fits into his offense. 

“The nice thing with Dion is that he’s a guy that’s proven to be a solid blocker,” Nagy said. “He can be in there and be your Y-tight end, but yet he still has really good hands. He can make plays on intermediate routes. He’s not going to be anybody that’s a downfield threat — I think he knows that, we all know that — but he’s a valuable piece of this puzzle.”