From Comcast SportsNetNHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's vision of a bigger footprint for hockey is finally coming into focus.But it's not just the skyrocketing TV ratings for these playoffs in markets both traditional, like Philly, Boston and Chicago, and those traditionally slow to come around, like Los Angeles, Miami and Phoenix. It's the tire marks on the backs of the jerseys of some of the league's best players. The game has never been more popular, nor seemed so out of control.The latest to get run over was the Blackhawks' Marian Hossa, who was taken off the ice in Chicago on a stretcher and briefly hospitalized after absorbing a blow to the head from a shoulder hit launched by Phoenix's Raffi Torres. Everybody in the building saw it -- including apparently Bettman himself, who was in attendance -- except the four officials whose job it is to police that kind of mayhem. And because they didn't see it, according to a league statement issued after the game, they didn't call a penalty, despite the fact that Torres left his skates to deliver the blow."First off, I hope he's all right," Torres, a serial offender as cheap shots go, said after the game. "But as far as the hit goes, I felt like it was a hockey play. I was just trying to finish my hit out there, and, as I said, I hope he's all right."Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was so mad after the game that he was sputtering."It was a brutal hit. You can have a multiple-choice question, it's All of the above.' I saw exactly what happened, it was right in front of me, and all four guys missed it."The refereeing tonight," he added, "was a disgrace."It was. But even the best officiating crews are helpless against the tide of fights, cross-checks, hits to the head and sneak attacks that is overwhelming some otherwise very entertaining hockey. They aren't getting much help, either, from league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, whose decisions grow more bizarre with each incident that reaches his desk. Shanahan began by letting Nashville's Shea Weber off with a 2,500 fine -- roughly the cost of one shift -- after the All-Star purposely smashed the head of Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg into the glass at the end of Game 1 of their series. Then he suspended Chicago's Andrew Shaw and New York's Carl Hagelin for three games each after both hit opponents without obvious intent during the run of play.Cross-checking, hair-pulling, instigating fights -- Shanahan has handed out punishments for all those violations, too, with differing results. As a former player of some stature, he took the job determined to bring some predictability to the punishment his office doles out and even explained his decisions with accompanying video evidence. But lately those explanations have been all over the map. Players no longer know whether the line is being drawn at intent or result -- injuring another player -- or even the star power of the violator who winds up in the dock. So everybody, from Sidney Crosby to repeat offenders like Torres are getting in on the action.After winning 3-2 in overtime Tuesday night, Phoenix goalie Mike Smith was asked about the different sentences being handed out and whether he trusted the NHL front office to get each one right. In Game 2, the Blackhawks' Shaw ran over Smith, who has a history of concussions, behind his net and got the three-game sentence, even though the goalkeeper hasn't missed a minute of playing time. Even more maddening -- as far as the Blackhawks were concerned -- was that the length of Shaw's suspension wasn't announced until Tuesday afternoon, once it was determined Smith would play in Game 3. Had he been unable to go, presumably Shaw's suspension would have been even longer."I don't know if it's a trust factor. It's a tough job. Whether it's blatant, on purpose, or not. It's tough to get that read up there," Smith said. "Obviously, the head hits have to be cut down. It's people's livelihoods, not hockey ... people have families and kids at home and wives, and when we're getting into head and concussion issues around the whole league, I think we need to put a stop to it."But the NHL's commitment to limit concussions is either full-time, as it has been for the past few seasons and most of this one, or it's not. The league knows the difference, but it also knows that pandemonium on the ice is a lot easier for plenty of viewers to follow than a puck. Sold-out arenas and through-the-roof TV ratings across the board, including towns like Phoenix -- whose Coyotes may well be playing in another city next season -- are a testament to that.Back in January, even as the league was touting the fact that fights-per-game had dropped to low levels not seen since the mid-70s, Toronto general manager Brian Burke groused out loud about having to send his enforcer, Colton Orr, down to the Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate.Burke, who once held Shanahan's job, said his team was barely able to use Orr -- he appeared in just five of Toronto's 39 games -- because hardly anyone wanted to fight him. He predicted that abandoning the code that governed who fought and when would result in more players taking cheap shots and seeking revenge in even more dangerous ways."I wonder where we're going with it, that's the only lament I have on this," he said at the time. "The fear that if we don't have guys looking after each other, that the rats will take this game over."Too late. They already have.
Sam Panayotovich, Seth Gruen and Cam Ellis join Laurence Holmes on the panel.
0:00- Myles Garrett gets an indefinite suspension following Thursday night's ugly, helmet-swinging brawl between the Browns and Steelers. How many games should he miss including games in 2020?
7:50- The list of team that will attend Colin Kaepernick's workout has increased. The Bears have not confirmed whether or not they will be there. Why wouldn't they go?
12:30- Yu Darvish talks about sign stealing and also said he noticed something unusual at Miller Park. Christian Yelich fired back. The panel discusses the latest flashpoint in the Cubs-Brewers rivalry.
16:00- Harlem Globetrotters star "Big Easy" drops by the studio. He talks about what it's like to be a Globetrotter and entertaining thousands of people each night.
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The Bears running game woes are well-documented at this point in the season and now it is looking like rookie running back David Montgomery could be out on Sunday as he is officially a gametime decision for the matchup against the Rams, further complicating the issues plaguing the Bears.
Bears fans have been routinely thinking about the glory days of the franchise to distract themselves from what has been an up-and-down 2019 season. When one Bears fan took to Twitter to share a quick Matt Forte appreciation post, he got the attention of Forte himself.
Matt Forte 2014 stats- Rec: 104/808yrds, 1,038 Rush yrds. 10Tds. Just an appreciation post @MattForte22 👊🏽— StevieRamirez03 (@Ramirez03Stevie) November 13, 2019
I appreciate the love ✊🏽 https://t.co/taZoAJphW6— Matt Forte (@MattForte22) November 15, 2019
In 2014 and 2015, Forte's last two years with the Bears, he amassed 3,133 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns. After this Forte finished out his last two seasons with the New York Jets. Though Forte's last time on the field was the 2017 season, don't think that the veteran running back couldn't make a return if he absolutely set his mind to it.
A fan posited the question of: Would Forte return to the Bears if offered a one-year deal? And Forte responded rather quickly that he would definitely be interested if such an offer was on the table.
If bears offered a 1 year for final games would you accept?— Alan R Johnson (@AJohnson9225) November 15, 2019
Chicago sports fans all over the Twittersphere started to rejoice at the thought of Forte again donning a Bears jersey but when some asked Forte to not get them "worked up" about such an exciting idea, he hilariously replied that his plant-based diet has done wonders for his knees.
My knees feel pretty good on this plant based diet too 😂 🤷🏾♂️— Matt Forte (@MattForte22) November 15, 2019
Obviously the lighthearted nature of Forte's response suggests that while he probably could still return to the NFL and play at a good level, he more just wanted to show his continued support for the franchise that brought him into the NFL in 2008.