Cubs

Follow the money

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Follow the money

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

The big story this week was the unprecedented penalties handed down by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the New Orleans bounty scandal. Wow. That got everybodys attention. I think most of the folks I talked to thought the penalty was a bit much, but thanked god it wasnt their team, especially since we all know that this is not an isolated incident. I have no doubt that Goodell had to act in this way since it became public. At that point the Saints did this to themselves. I find it interesting that it was noted that this investigation had been going on for years. The troubling part is that this did not deter Gregg Williams and the Saints from curtailing the practice. Again, I believe it was because these incentives were so much part of the tough-guy culture and existed for so long that those involved did not see the harm, pardon the pun. Much like Martha Stewart, the lying when confronted only increased the penalty. And also like a gun-toting-in-the-sweatpants-at-a-nightclub wide receiver and a delusional, hair-dyed, Howdy-Doody look-alike ex-governor, examples must be made of. Theres nothing like a very public flogging to keep the masses in check.

Now as I said here last week, I think some of this is over-blown in the fact that this is portrayed as players repeatedly taking wild-eyed head-shots and tackling at knee level only. The game moves too fast for that. Wouldnt an obsessed media notice? Are the Saints penalty numbers far above the rest of the league? But core aggression, achieved by almost any means, is always going at the heart of a game of violence. Stuff is going to happen. The players understand the world of mayhem in which they exist. Bounty or not, a hit that knocks someone out is going to get notice: From players. From coaches. From fans. And, lets not forget, be shown repeatedly, around the clock on ESPN and the NFL NETWORK! If it bleeds it leads!

Now call me cynical, but Im wondering in what different ways the NFL could benefit from this. During the past year, concussion issues in sports have been discussed more than any time ever. Goodell has been out front on this, touting a concern for player safety. But is he exactly the right guy to be doing this? After all, hes in charge of a business that is built on violence and high-speed collisions. Can a cattle farmer be an animal rights activist? Also since hes in charge, he must be aware of the 39 lawsuits from over 850 former players over concussions. I would think those lawsuits stand a chance against a league that used to sell biggest hits videos on their own website. Wouldnt a good preemptive strike against damages be to show that your on and off-field business model had changed? (Or is it an admission of guilt?)

Culture change doesnt come easy, and I commend Goodell for at least trying to move the bar to a more palatable place. But, with the money that is involved Im finding it hard to believe that all of his motives are altruistic. Then again, if he really is the savior, he can purify the sport by dealing with the real elephant in the room: The fact that the NFL is the most popular sport in this country because its the easiest to gamble on.

Im thinking if there was going to be a how-not-to book written on how to negotiate a player contract, it should be done by Matt Fortes agent. Lost in the woods is always my first thought when I hear the latest update of his contract saga. Forte is not in a position of strength, usually the determining factor in a negotiation, but he and his team dont seem to understand this. I know that this must be very frustrating for him, but what can he do? What he shouldnt do is send out woe is me tweets lamenting the fact that the Bears signed another running back. Honestly?Theres no crying in football! Michael Bush is a beast of a back and a great compliment to Forte. What Forte should do is stay quiet, and double-down that he wont get hurt and play on his 1-year deal. After this season Im sure the Bears wont want to use the tag again, then he can do what he wants. If they do use it again, he will have made about 20 mildo in 2 seasons, so quit the whining or sign a new deal. Or better yet, get some better advice. Im available!!

The thing about John Elway as a player was that he always seemed to get better the more dire the situation. Ever heard of The Drive? Need I say more? Well it seems he save a little of the Elway magic for his job as President of the Broncos. As Ive written here before, part of Tim Tebows allure for me was watching Elways reaction to it. One of the best quarterbacks ever watching this hack. First the team was pressured to put him in. Then he wins a bunch of games to get them into the playoffs. The Elway reactions, facially and verbally, were priceless. He should teach that vacant smile to beauty contestants to use as they are asked questions about topics they have no clue about, like say about anything you would read in a paper. Then after the shocking playoff win against the Steelers, Tebow was the QB of the future, right? Wrong, worst mechanics-ever breath! John Elway is a freaking genius! How could he get rid of his polar quarterbacking opposite, in a city head-over-heels in love with him and not hear one word about it? Sign Peyton Manning, thats how! Even if Manning is done, who cares? Tebow is someone elses problem. (Of course Ill have more on that, but that topic is an entire blog in itself, my little foot soldiers!) He gone! And in the world of Elway, thats all that matters. Plus, youre selling your fan base that you are trying to win now with a future Hall-of-Famer. And he got a fourth-round draft pick! I cant get over what a brilliant move it was on Elways part. Has he ever thought of politics? Better yet, does he want to run my Eagles?

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

After finishing 30th in goals against average (3.55) and 31st in penalty kill percentage (72.7) this past season, the Blackhawks are clearly making it a priority to patch up their defense this summer. And that's been evident with the acquisitions of defensive-minded defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta.

But it raises some interesting questions about the future of the Blackhawks blue line.

With the de Haan and Maatta additions, the Blackhawks now have five defensemen under contract through at least the 2021-22 season: Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million cap hit), Duncan Keith ($5.538 million), de Haan ($4.55 million), Maatta ($4.083 million) and Connor Murphy ($3.85 million). That's $24.8 million tied up to five guys.

The money isn't the primary concern, though. It's the limited amount of roster spots available. The Blackhawks don't have to immediately figure out how it's going to work a year from now and beyond, but it makes you wonder how the cards may eventually be shuffled.

Let's run through the situations:

— Erik Gustafsson had a breakout season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He's obviously not part of the five current players under contract after next season, putting the Blackhawks in a spot where they have to consider trading him or be comfortable with letting him walk for nothing if he isn't re-signed. (They could always trade his negotiating rights after next season and pull off a sign-and-trade as well, if it came to that).

And even if Gustafsson is re-signed, the Blackhawks would then have six players locked up for the 2020-21 season and on, and that's enough to submit a lineup.

— Henri Jokiharju, who was drafted No. 29 overall in 2017, is probably ready to take the next step and become an everyday player. Where does he fit into the long-term plans?

— Adam Boqvist, who was taken No. 8 overall in 2018, likely needs one more year in the OHL before making the jump to the NHL, which would put him on a timeline to become part of the Blackhawks next season. Does he occupy that sixth spot if another one isn't opened by then?

— Nicolas Beaudin, who was drafted No. 27 overall in 2018, is expected to start the upcoming season in Rockford after four years in the QMJHL but might be NHL-ready by the 2020-21 campaign.

— And then there's Ian Mitchell, who's returning to Denver for his junior season and will serve as the team's captain. He's said all along that he intends to sign with the Blackhawks once he's finished with college, but does the organization value him enough to create a spot for him when he's ready?

To make things a little more complicated, the Seattle expansion draft is set to occur in 2021 and the same rules will apply as Vegas in 2017.

The Blackhawks have the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. All players with no-movement clauses at the time of the expansion draft (and who decline to waive them) must be protected; Keith and Seabrook have a NMC. And all first- and second-year pros are exempt; Jokiharju would have to be protected.

As of this moment, the Blackhawks are likely to use the eight-skater option, but they will also have valuable forwards to protect. They're going to lose a good player one way or another, and it's probably going to come from the defensive group. All of this comes into play when weighing roster decisions for next season and beyond.

As stated above, the Blackhawks do not have to make an immediate decision on the future of their blue line corps. They can play out the 2019-20 season with the group as currently constructed. But the decisions the Blackhawks have to face next season could impact how Stan Bowman operates the rest of this summer and throughout the upcoming campaign.

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