Blackhawks

ICYMI: The Blackhawks are back, the Bears are in first, and tying up the loose ends of the Cubs' season

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USA Today

ICYMI: The Blackhawks are back, the Bears are in first, and tying up the loose ends of the Cubs' season

With the Cubs' somewhat-surprising (depending on who you ask) early postseason exit, and the Bears enjoying their bye week, all eyes in Chicagoland turned to the United Center this weekend. 

The Blackhawks were back in town, opening at home against Auston Matthews, John Tavares and the new-look Toronto Maple Leafs. Elsewhere, the Cubs were wrapping up their end-of-year media rounds, and the Bulls continued preseason play. Here's a look back at the weekend that was in Chicago sports. 

Blackhawks 

There was meaningful hockey at United Center this weekend, and the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs did not disappoint in Chicago's home opener. The Blackhawks fell in a high-scoring thriller, complete with OT drama and some on-ice beef. Before the puck dropped, the team honored the franchise's all-time leading scorer Stan Mikita, after he died in August. Despite the loss, Sunday marked the third time in three games that the Blackhawks have scored at least four goals. It's been a wild opening week for the 'Hawks, and we recapped what it all means via podcast

Bears

The Bears were on a well-earned if not a little too early bye week, but it's the NFL so the news cycle never really stops. For instance, Akiem hicks was spared a one-game suspension for making contact with an official, but did get hit with a heavy fine. As their "second half" begins, though, there are a few things worth looking for. It was a big week for the Bears' linebackers, as Khalil Mack saw his Madden '19 rating join the exclusive 99 Club

Cubs

Things aren't great on the North Side right now! The Cubs' promising season ended with a whimper, and manager Joe Maddon faced more questions about his job security than he ever has during his tenure in Chicago. There were growing issues about his constant lineup shuffling, which Theo Epstein acknolwedged. Several Cubs players mentioned a lack of urgency in the clubhouse, too. It was an especially tough season for Kris Bryant, but both Bryant and the Cubs are confident that he'll bounce back in a big way next year. 

Other

Jabari Parker's return to Milwaukee didn't really go as planned. The forward went 1-12 in his first return since signing with the Bulls. On the South Side, does it make sense for the White Sox to go after someone like Nolan Arenado? He'll be a free agent in 2020 and though there are some questions to be answered about how he'd fit in their roster, you make it work for a talent like Arenado. 

Brandon Saad joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Brandon Saad joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Throughout the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Chicago will be unveiling its Blackhawks All-Decade Team. The roster will feature the 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goaltenders that made the biggest impact on the franchise from the 2010 through 2019 seasons.

Man Child. The Saad Father. Baby Hoss. Kneel Before Saad.

You’ve got to have a pretty good start to your career to get nicknames and phrases like that coined after you as a 20-something breaking into the league. What Brandon Saad did in the first few seasons of his NHL career certainly qualifies.

After being selected in the second round of the NHL draft in 2011 (a steal, by all accounts), Saad eventually worked his way into the Blackhawks’ lineup and became a key contributor on two Stanley Cup teams…and did so before the age of 23.

Saad has spent parts of seven seasons in Chicago, notching 95 goals and 211 points in 374 games as a member of the Blackhawks. But his presence has been felt even more so in the playoffs. In 67 playoff games with the Hawks, Saad has 15 goals and 19 assists with a plus-16 rating. And if it weren’t for a tough-luck loss in Game 7 against the Kings in the 2014 Western Conference Finals, he might have had his name in consideration for a Conn Smythe Trophy, too.

Unfortunately for Saad, his career might forever be linked to Artemi Panarin’s because of the 2017 trade that brought the power-forward back to Chicago. But for as good as the Panarin/Artem Anisimov/Patrick Kane line was for a while – and that line doesn’t happen without Anisimov coming to Chicago in the first Saad trade – there might not have been a better two-way line in the NHL at one point than Saad/Jonathan Toews/Marian Hossa.

Whatever nickname you choose for him, Brandon Saad earns a spot on our Blackhawks All-Decade team as the left winger on the third line. 

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Alex Nylander on healthy scratch, feedback from Jeremy Colliton and role with Blackhawks

Alex Nylander on healthy scratch, feedback from Jeremy Colliton and role with Blackhawks

Alex Nylander's first couple weeks of the 2019-20 season have been interesting. He started on the top line and scored a goal in the season opener but by the third game found himself on the outside looking in.

Nylander sat out for one game before drawing back into the lineup on Monday, where he was placed on the fourth line with Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith. He logged a team-low 8:20 of ice time, but scored the second goal of the game that turned out to be the game-winner.

While he was disappointed about being a healthy scratch against Winnipeg on Saturday, Nylander took the positives out of observing the action from afar and taking a step back to collect himself.

"Of course you always want to be in the lineup but that could've been good for me to watch the game and learn from that game and take what I learned from that game into my game," Nylander said. "It was obviously something you don't want to do, you want to be in the lineup as much as possible and obviously stay there. I played a good game last game so I'm just going to build off that and keep doing what I've done all training camp, be confident and make my plays."

Nylander and head coach Jeremy Colliton sat down on Wednesday and watched every shift the 21-year-old took in Monday's 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. And the review was positive.

"I thought he was very good," Colliton said. "Eleven shifts, he was probably good for five, great for five and he had one tough one. He helped us win. He was a big part of our win the other night. It can be a little easier for him when he's playing less to really focus on the quality when he's out there. It may not be a bad thing for him as he grows into an everyday NHLer."

Nylander said he appreciated having that kind of line of communication with his head coach. He was drafted No. 8 overall in 2016 but hasn't been able to break through at the NHL level, so he's been open to any kind of constructive criticism.

"It's been really great," Nylander said. "Obviously I want to have a positive mindset every day here and get better. Getting feedback from my linemates as well as the coaches has been really good, just taking everything in and applying it to my game."  

The Blackhawks are trying to being patient with Nylander, but they're also trying to find a balance between giving him a long leash and holding him accountable. That goes with any young player.

"It's a combination of giving a guy enough room to make some mistakes and that's how he's going to grow but it's also accountability," Colliton said. "Sometimes you got to get a guy's attention. But he's responded great. Got no issues with his work ethic. He came out of the lineup for one game and I think he did everything right after that. Just how he approached practice, how he approached the media, being asked about it and how he approached his chance when he came back to make a difference for us."  

For now, Nylander will remain on the fourth line because the four-line rotation worked so well in their previous game. But it's clear he wants to have a large role on the team. He's just got to earn it on a consistent basis.

"Just focus on every shift I get here and obviously want to be good every shift and show that I want to be back on the top line or get more ice time," Nylander said. "But I've just got to play good here, work hard every shift and take advantage of who's out there and use my skill out there and just try to make plays and be good defensively as well."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.