Andrew Shaw returns and Marian Hossa was in the building today as the Chicago Blackhawks will host the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 6 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series tonight. Shaw was disappointed he had to miss the last three for his hit on Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith in Game 2. He said at the time he was looking for the Blackhawks to hit a Game 6 so he could get another chance.Im thankful the boys pulled it out. Winning these next two would be huge, said Shaw, who isnt going to change his game too much. Im obviously going to play the same way, but maybe stay out of it after the whistles. I have to play between the whistles but Ill still have that gritty play.Coach Joel Quenneville said Shaws energy should be a factor immediately.He was a tough guy to lose because hes useful and versatile in how you use him in the lineup. Hes relentlessly around puck areas, very noticeable, he said. We missed him in certain areas. Just the fact that hes the all-out competitor you like, these guys seem to jump up.With Shaw returning, the healthy forward scratches look to be Brandon Saad, Jamal Mayers and Brandon Bollig. Mayers has been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games after not being one through the regular season. Mayers said it was disappointing, but hell stay prepared.We won the last game and Im focused on that. Its not about me, its about the team, he said. If we move on Ill stay ready and Ill support my teammates.Hossa was here, a good sign that hes at least getting around after that hit he took from Raffi Torres in Game 3. But hes still out for tonight.Its good to see him, Quenneville said. I talked to him last night and (good) seeing him here today. Theres no news, but Im sure his teammates are glad to see him, as well.Meanwhile, Viktor Stalberg will look to erase a rough Game 5 in which he took four minors. Stalberg said Quenneville approached the situation with humor.After the fourth one he put me out there and said, Vik, youre up, try to stay out of the penalty box, OK? and just started dying laughing, Stalberg said. That wasnt what I was expecting, but that was good for me. And I responded by getting out there and was involved in that game-winning goal (by Jonathan Toews). So it felt good to give something back there.
If the NFL’s proposed collective bargaining agreement is ratified, seven teams from each conference will make the playoffs in 2020— a change that will immediately alter the league's player movement landscape in the coming weeks and months.
Under the proposed structure, the Los Angeles Rams would’ve been the NFC’s No. 7 seed in 2019, with the 8-8 Bears finishing one game out of a playoff spot (really, two games, given they lost to the Rams). But as the Tennessee Titans showed last year, just getting into the dance can spark an underdog run to a conference title game. The vast majority of the NFL — those not in full-on tank mode — should view the potential for a seventh playoff spot as a license to be more aggressive in the free agent and trade market as soon as a few weeks from now.
So, should the Bears look at this new CBA as reason to be more aggressive in pushing to acquire one of the big-name quarterbacks who will, or could, be available this year? After all, merely slightly better quarterback play could’ve leapfrogged the Bears past the Rams and into the playoffs a year ago.
The prospect of Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr or Andy Dalton representing that upgrade feels tantalizing on the surface, right?
But the CBA’s addition of a seventh playoff team does not, as far as we know, also include an addition of significantly more cap space available to teams in 2020, even if the salary cap has increased 40 percent over the last five years. An extra $25 million is not walking through that door to add to the roughly $14 million the Bears currently have in cap space, per the NFLPA’s public salary cap report.
So that means every reason we laid out why the Bears should not make a splash move at quarterback remains valid, even with the NFL lowering its postseason barrier to entry.
The Bears’ best bet in 2020 remains signing a cheaper quarterback like Case Keenum or Marcus Mariota (who shares an agent with Mitch Trubisky, potentially complicating things) and banking on roster improvements being the thing that gets them back into the playoffs. Adding a quarterback for $17 million — Dalton’s price — or more would hamstring the Bears’ ability to address critical needs at tight end, right guard, inside linebacker and safety, thus giving the Bears a worse roster around a quarterback who’s no sure bet to be good enough to cover for the holes his cap hit would create.
Does it feel like a good bet? No, and maybe feels worse if it’s easier to get in the playoffs in 2020. But a Trubisky-Keenum pairing, complete with a new starting right guard to help the run game and more than just Demetrius Harris to upgrade the tight end room, is a better bet than Dalton or Bridgewater and a worse roster around them.
Also: This new playoff structure will tilt the balance of power significantly toward the No. 1 seeds in each conference. The last time a team made the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye was after the 2012 season, when the No. 4 seed Baltimore Ravens won the title. Otherwise, every Super Bowl participant since hasn't played on wild card weekend.
So while the Bears may become closer to the playoffs if the new CBA is ratified, they won’t be closer to getting a No. 1 seed. And that holds true even if they were to find a way to sign Tom Brady.
Getting in the playoffs can spark something special. But the Bears’ best path back to meaningful January football still involves an inexpensive approach to addressing their blaring need for better quarterback play.
Is it ideal? No.
But it’s far less ideal to be in this situation three years after taking the first quarterback off the board with 2017’s No. 2 overall pick.
The Bears are expected to be extremely busy in their effort to upgrade at tight end this offseason. In fact, they've already made their first move with the signing of veteran Demetrius Harris, but it's unlikely he'll be the only new player added at the position over the next few months.
The most appealing free-agent tight end who's likely to hit the open market is Falcons pass-catcher Austin Hooper, who was recently dubbed the ideal target for Bears GM Ryan Pace once the spending frenzy gets started.
Hooper is exactly the type of performer the Bears currently lack. He can provide a reliable outlet to make life easier on quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
Granted, the 25-year-old tight end shouldn't be viewed as a Travis Kelce-like difference-maker in head coach Matt Nagy's scheme, but he's the best option in thin free-agent and weak draft classes.
Hooper would be the dream acquisition for Chicago, but the dollars are unlikely to make sense. According to Spotrac, Hooper's market value will command a five-year, $49.9 million deal, or $9.9 million per season. If the Bears inked Hooper to a contract like that, they'd have nearly $19 million tied up in tight ends in 2020 (Trey Burton's contract counts as $8.5 million against the cap next season).
As much as Bears fans want more production at tight end, that's just too steep a price to pay regardless of how important the position is for Nagy's offense.
The better route for Pace to pursue is the 2020 NFL Draft, where Chicago could be the first team to draft a tight end in April. This year's class of tight end prospects is without a clear first-rounder and with the Bears' first pick coming at No. 43 overall, there's a good chance they could have their pick of the litter.
Prospects like Notre Dame's Cole Kmet, Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, and Washington's Hunter Bryant will all be given strong consideration in the first half of the second round.
It'll be another strike against Pace's work in free agency if he's forced out of the Hooper market because of the contract he gave Burton in 2018. But maybe it's for the best. He hasn't been very good at identifying tight ends since taking over as Chicago's GM in 2015 -- Khari Lee, Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Burton -- and probably shouldn't be trusted with the checkbook while searching for another one this offseason.