Blackhawks

Bulls open critical road trip in Milwaukee

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Bulls open critical road trip in Milwaukee

Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011
Posted 11:18 a.m. Updated 6:32 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

MILWAUKEEThursday nights home win in a marquee matchup over the Heat might have made league observers take the Bulls more seriously as true championship contenders, but to the team itself, it was just another game. Okay, maybe it wasnt that insignificant, but dont expect them to have a letdown performance in Saturdays contest against the Central Division rival Bucks.

Every game is important and I think that the last couple games just prove to you how difficult the NBA is. You beat a team like Miami; the day before, we lose to Toronto, Joakim Noah told CSNChicago.com before the teams morning shootaround at the Bradley Center. So, it just shows you have to be mentally prepared and you have to be ready for all obstacles.

Still, one would think preserving their perfect record against divisional opponents would be a motivating factor, right?

We didnt set out to do that. If we could, wed win every game. I think that were on a run right now. We came back from beating a good team. Weve got the opportunity to play a good team tonight to see how good we really are, said Derrick Rose, pooh-poohing that notion. Milwaukee has had a lot of injuries. A lot of their key players were out, banged up and that really can hurt your team. Trades and all that stuff, getting used to playing with each other, changing lineupsthats toughand they just havent had time to play with each other, really.

Rose professed that the Bulls remain an insular bunch, concerned with only their self-perception, winning games and continually improving.

We dont really care about what other people say. If anything, we knew in the beginning that we were going to be an all right team with the way that we work, the way that we practice and all that stuff. We go hard, so where were at right now or the way that were playing, were not surprised because we work so hard in practice and we trust in and have confidence in each other, said the All-Star point guard. Hopefully, but weve just got to continue to win. Winning takes care of everything. Youve got to notice us one day.

Concurred Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: Each game, we just worry about the opponent were facing. All that stuffthe recordthat doesnt mean anything. To win tonight is whats important, so we focus on that. the big thing for us to have a good shootaround. This team is dangerous. Theyre getting guys back, theyre playing at a high level, so we know that we have to be ready right from the start of the game and establish a defensive identity to the game.

Not only is Thibodeau unconcerned with the fanfare garnered from the Heat win, the basketball lifer is truly preoccupied with how his squad will fare against the Bucks, who went from last years plucky Fear the Deer campaign to a disappointing, injury-plagued season thus far after being saddled with high preseason expectations.

That game is gone. I think you take it game by game and certainly analyze why you either win or why you lost, and then you move forward from there. The big thing is the improvement. If you keep looking back and youre not ready for this game, then it hurts you. If you learn from it, it prepares for your next game, then its good and thats what were trying to do, is each and every game, to move forward, to correct the mistakes that weve made in the previous game and keep adding, try to build the right habits. I think when we get to the playoffs, you want to make sure were building those habits that can make us successful down the road, said Thibodeau.

The big thing has been the injuries for Milwaukee. Bucks center Andrew Bogut had the big setback last year and hes continuing to work through it. To me, he still has great impact on the game because he anchors their defense, hes a great shot-blocker and hes a tough guy to stop when he gets good positioning. And then Brandon Jennings, when your point guard and your center get hurt, its tough to overcome and they have a lot of new guys. Swingman Carlos Delfino being out with his injury, that hurt them. But theyre dangerous. Theyre an extremely well-coached team, they have a defensive identity and now that theyre getting their players back, its a team thats hard to guard, they share the ball, the move the ball great. Its a great drive-and-kick team.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

2019 NHL free agent focus: Five potential targets for Blackhawks

2019 NHL free agent focus: Five potential targets for Blackhawks

Stan Bowman has had a busy last couple weeks. He pulled off a pair of trades, landing defensemen Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan from the Eastern Conference. He drafted center Kirby Dach with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft that could turn into a franchise-changing player. And now he’s in the middle of negotiations with pending restricted and unrestricted free agents.

With the defensemen group starting to take shape, it appears free agency will be used to fill out the forward group. That could come via trades, also, but it really depends on the market.

So let’s identify five potential UFA targets for the Blackhawks ahead of Monday, when players are officially able to sign contracts:

1. Ryan Dzingel, LW

When Dzingel was with the Ottawa Senators, he was playing top-six minutes and earning power-play time because the Senators weren’t very deep. After getting traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the deadline, he struggled to be a fit there, didn't play much on the power play and was healthy scratched for one game in the playoffs.

But he still has value, although it may not be in an area that the Blackhawks need (penalty kill).

Dzingel, a Wheaton native, set a career high in goals (26), assists (30) and points (56) in 78 games this past season with the Senators and Blue Jackets. He can play in the top-six but might be more effective as a middle-six winger on a good team.

According to Evolving Wild, Dzingel is projected to earn a contract of four years with a $4.25 million cap hit. 

2. Anders Lee, LW

It’s a little surprising that the New York Islanders and their captain haven’t made any progress on a long-term extension. At the same time, it’s pretty clear that Lou Lamoriello is looking to make a big splash this summer in his pursuit of Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, and needs financial flexibility to negotiate.

Lee is a perfect complementary top-six left winger who would look great next to Jonathan Toews or opposite Patrick Kane. He’s got size at 6-foot-3, 231 pounds, is reliable, scored 40 goals in 2017-18 and has a strong work ethic. Those qualities check a lot of boxes the Blackhawks are looking for.

Where it gets tricky is what his contract may look like. He's projected to receive in the range of a seven-year deal that carries a $6.5 million cap hit. The dollar amount is doable, but the term could scare the Blackhawks away as they prepare to sign Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome to long-term extensions next summer.

3. Gustav Nyquist, LW

The Blackhawks have been interested in Nyquist's services in the past, so they'll certainly look into him as a possibility now that he hits the open market.

Nyquist has scored at least 20 goals in four of his past six seasons, with 28 being his career high. But he's not known to be a goal scorer. He's a pass-first, playmaking-type winger and makes players around him better because of it. Nyquist is a consistent 45-55-point player.

His next contract is projected to be in the six-year, $5.6 million range, which — like Lee — is a fair dollar amount but the term may not be something the Blackhawks are crazy about. Bowman appears to be focused on free-agent forwards who can be signed on shorter-term deals.

4. Joe Pavelski, C/RW

Perhaps the most intriguing player on the free-agent market for the Blackhawks is Pavelski, who’s served as the San Jose Sharks captain but may not fit into their plans going forward because of their cap crunch.

Yes, he will turn 35 in July. And yes, he has a ton of mileage on his body. But he’s showing no signs of slowing down. 

Pavelski is a five-time 30-goal scorer who’s coming off a 38-goal season, can play both center and wing, and is an absolute gamer, a leader on and off the ice who shows up when the lights are shining brightest. He’s also not afraid to go to the dirty areas and is widely considered to be one of the best at deflecting pucks, which comes in handy on the power play.

What makes him an attractive piece is that Pavelski could be a player that makes an immediate impact but wouldn't require a long-term deal. He's projected to earn a three-year contract with a cap hit of $7.4 million. If the Blackhawks can get him at two years, that would be ideal. But like Patrick Marleau a few years ago in Toronto, his camp is probably looking for that third year.

5. Corey Perry, LW

Days after he was bought out by the Ducks, Perry’s name surfaced as a possibility for the Blackhawks. And it makes sense because the Blackhawks aren't looking to hand out long-term contracts.

Perry is 34 years old, a former Hart Trophy winner and 50-goal scorer, and is still a productive player when healthy. But that's the biggest concern. He missed 51 games this season with a knee injury, returned ahead of schedule and never looked the same on the ice.

Per the CBA, Perry can sign a one-year, bonus-laden deal and it appears that's what he'll do. A one-year contract in the $2-3 million with bonuses would be a low risk, high reward move for the Blackhawks.

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Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

The Cubs lost an entirely forgettable game on Tuesday night, dropping the second of their four games against the NL East-leading Braves by a score of 3-2. They left four men on base, only managed four hits, ran into two outs, and made one error in a game that was over well in time for a Clark Street nightcap, or three. 

What was memorable about Tuesday night was the performance of Adbert Alzolay, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect who was making his first major league start. The final line: 4.2 innings pitched, one hit, one run, four walks and four strikeouts. It’s certainly not the prettiest line you’ll see in tomorrow’s box scores, but the 24 year old passed the eye test with flying colors. 

“Everything was good - he was outstanding,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “I just think he hit a well there at the end. We just have to get him more used to that. Listen, he’s been injured in the past, he’s coming back - you’ve got to be real sensitive to the number of pitches and workload you put on him, because you can see how good he’s going to be.”

Things got off to an inauspicious start for Alzolay, whose first pitch of the game was crushed 413 feet into the left field bleachers for a leadoff homer, courtesy of Braves’ outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. It would prove to be the only hit and run that Alzolay allowed on the night. 

“It’s just one pitch,” he said. “You have to keep working - the game continues. I was just starting the game, so if you lose your mind in that situation than you’re not going to last a lot of innings.

“Even after the home run, he came right back and said, ‘I’m fine’,” Maddon added. “Then he went up and got three really good hitters out. I liked the mound demeanor, we’ve just got to get him a little further along in regards to being stretched out.”

After coming out flat with his secondary pitches during his 4-inning relief appearance on June 20th, Alzolay flashed better command and execution of both his curveball and changeup. Half of his strikeouts came on the curveball - one to get left fielder Austin Riley in the 2nd and one to get Acuña in the 3rd. After throwing 13 changeups in his debut, Alzolay double that number on Tuesday (27). 

“I’m feeling really confident throwing the pitch in any count,” Alzolay said of his changeup. “Tonight I threw it a couple times when I was behind in the count and I got a good result after that, so I’ll just keep on throwing it.

“For us to get confident at something, you have to practice, you have to execute it, and you have to use it in the game,” said catcher Willson Contreras, who plated both of the Cubs’ two runs with a double in the 4th. “For him to be able to throw the changeup for a strike, and strikeout people, it’s really good - especially at his age.”

Maddon couldn’t answer when Alzolay would make his next start. With Kyle Hendricks eyeing a return around the All-Star break, there would seemingly be a few more opportunities ahead of the rookie. Given what he showed on Tuesday night, it’d be hard to argue against it.

"He can be really good in the big leagues," Contreras said. "He still needs to make adjustments like all of us, but with the confidence he has, the ability he has, and the way he prepares before the games, it's going to take him a long way."