Cubs

Kane comfortable with switch to center

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Kane comfortable with switch to center

Patrick Kane said he enjoyed playing center this season, felt comfortable with it and played some of his best games there.

Thats good, because it sounds like the Blackhawks are figuring hes their No. 2 center moving forward.

The question of the Blackhawks needing a No. 2 center was asked quite a bit this season. But general manager Stan Bowman believes the team already has that in Kane. And he said that Kanes play there, either at No. 2 or at No. 1 when Jonathan Toews was absent, was a big reason why the Blackhawks got into the playoffs this season.

He carried our team the last month of the season, put us on his back and got us into the playoffs, Bowman said of Kane. We had tough times, we had gone through prolonged losing streak, the pressure was on and he stepped up to be our No. 1 center. The notion he cant play center or isnt good there has been dispelled. Not only did our team play well, he played well.

Coach Joel Quenneville announced it during a preseason game in Detroit that they would try Kane at center entering this season, and it was a surprise to hear. But theres no doubt that Kane handled the pressure of the position well. He and Marian Hossa built up good chemistry on a line together, and Kane had 24 points in his first 25 games at center.

So if hes back there again next season, and it certainly sounds like he will be, hes fine with that.

I come up the ice with a lot of speed in the middle, and its natural for me to do that anyway, Kane said today. When I was at wing I played like a center anyway, come back to get the puck and get up ice. Sometimes its exciting to play new positions, so it doesnt matter to me. When you look at this year, when the team was successful, I was at center.

So Kane will probably prepare for center, which will be a bit different than all the seasons he prepped for wing. Faceoffs were an issue Kane was around 42 percent this season. And Kane said he needs to get stronger overall.

Yeah, playing center obviously youre down low more, so I want to get stronger there. But it doesnt change much, Kane said. The biggest thing for me is, Im healthy going into this offseason. There are no problems; Im going right in and working on my body. Last summer I had surgery (on my wrist) and other problems. Now Im excited about just being healthy.

And the Blackhawks are apparently set in moving forward with Kane at center. Hes proven he can do it. Whether or not hes the full-time answer there is still the question.

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. The catch is visible in the video above.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

On top of the defense he has become known for, he is hitting .326. That's good for fifth in the National League in batting.

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

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Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

Dion Sims is still here, which is the outcome he expected but perhaps wasn’t a slam dunk — at least to those outside the walls at Halas Hall. 

The Bears could’ve cut ties with Sims prior to March 16 and saved $5.666 million against the cap, quite a figure for a guy coming off a disappointing 2017 season (15 catches, 180 yards, one touchdown). But the Bears are sticking with Sims, even after splashing eight figures to land Trey Burton in free agency earlier this year. 

“In my mind, I thought I was coming back,” Sims said. “I signed to be here three years and that’s what I expect. But I understand how things go and my job is come out here and work hard every day and play with a chip on my shoulder to prove myself and just be a team guy.”

The Bears signed Sims to that three-year, $18 million contract 14 months ago viewing him as a rock-solid blocking tight end with some receiving upside. The receiving upside never materialized, and his blocking was uneven at times as the Bears’ offense slogged through a bleak 11-loss season. 

“The situation we were in, we weren’t — we could’ve done a better job of being successful,” Sims said. “Things didn’t go how we thought it would. We just had to pretty much try to figure out how to come together and build momentum into coming into this year. I just think there were a lot of things we could have done, but because of the circumstances we were limited a little bit. 

“… It was a lot of things going on. Guys hurt, situations — it was tough for us. We couldn’t figure it out, along with losing, that was a big part of it too.”

Sims will be given a fresh start in 2018, even as Adam Shaheen will be expected to compete to cut into Sims’ playing time at the “Y” tight end position this year. The other side of that thought: Shaheen won’t necessarily slide into being the Bears’ primary in-line tight end this year. 

Sims averaged 23 receptions, 222 yards and two touchdowns from 2014-2016; that might be a good starting point for his 2018 numbers, even if it would represent an improvement from 2017. More important, perhaps, is what Sims does as a run blocker — and that was the first thing Nagy mentioned when talking about how Sims fits into his offense. 

“The nice thing with Dion is that he’s a guy that’s proven to be a solid blocker,” Nagy said. “He can be in there and be your Y-tight end, but yet he still has really good hands. He can make plays on intermediate routes. He’s not going to be anybody that’s a downfield threat — I think he knows that, we all know that — but he’s a valuable piece of this puzzle.”