Cubs

Mayers' return brings about questions for Blackhawks

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Mayers' return brings about questions for Blackhawks

With our Tracey Myers confirming that Jamal Mayers will return to the Blackhawks for a second season, one question is answered, while also creating others.

The coaching staff and management loved what Mayers provided making him the best veteran acquisition from last off-season, along with Ray Emery. Thats further reason to take Joel Quenneville at his word that he was just looking to try something different after Game 3 versus Phoenix, hoping Brendan Morrison might provide a little more of some much-needed offense after getting himself in his best shape since his serious knee injury more than a year earlier. And Morrison played his best three games as a Hawk. It unfortunately came at Mayers expense, and it was evident it cut into his pride after he consistently did what was asked of him the previous six months.

Whatever hard feelings there may have been, bygones are now bygones. So if Daniel Carcillo and Andrew Shaw are lineup regulars, that pair and Mayers return to provide next years squad those edgesandpapertoughness ingredients if not overwhelming size.

Now it also leads one to wonder about where that leaves Mayers on the fourth line and Marcus Kruger on the depth chart. If Patrick Kane does, indeed, become the second-line center, and Dave Bolland remains a part of this team, Kruger either centers the fourth line with Mayers at wing, or becomes a wing himself somewhere in the lineup.

Either that, or Stan Bowman might be looking to wheel-and-deal for some roster changes. There are 13 forwards on the roster now, not including restricted free agent Brandon Bollig, or Brandon Saad, who may very well be worthy of an opening night roster spot. Include them, and thats 15 to fill 12 spots.

They dont have a lot of maneuverability, either, factoring in the money theyve already committed with about 6 million in salary cap space at the current cap, which could very well shrink whenever a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

The unrestricted free agent list isnt particularly sexy in terms of depth or the money the Hawks could currently spend. So maybe there could be some moves or departures on the horizon as this puzzles pieced together this off-season.
Working off the Latest Template

Every sport -- and every league -- is a copycat league. Two years ago, when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, it created a philosophy that de-emphasized elite goaltending if there was enough competency in the crease and excellence around it to capture hockeys Holy Grail.

As we get ready for this Kings-Devils Stanley Cup Final, we encounter one franchise that greatly altered its philosophy with the hiring of a head coach Dale Tallon fired in Florida.

The Devils now move. They forecheck relentlessly, almost to perfection these last two rounds, and each of Peter DeBoers players are on the same page on what to do when their aggressiveness is set in motion. And that old-man goalie might not be great anymore, but hes still very, very good and allowed himself to adjust his style within this new system.

The other is a team that couldnt buy a goal for most of the season, but a coaching change, a couple of call-ups and its massive size have worked in combination with stellar goaltending to steamroll its way through three rounds. The Kings post-season began with absolutely nothing to lose as an eighth seed. Theyve evolved into a monster thats been the best team in hockey over the past six weeks.

The teams the Devils and Kings defeated the Rangers and Coyotes - each made it through two rounds by committing to their respective systems that often suffocated opponents who had some pretty good firepower.

So, looking at the conference finalists, how much will other teams around the league try to use that template and attempt to create a similar style? How far do the Blackhawks go in seeing those elements as the secret to this years post-season success? And if theyre so inclined to try to get closer to that style, how much would they need to change, personnel-wise? If not, do they have the personnel in place to overcome those styles next season?

Style and systems have trumped seedings in this years quest for the Cup.

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Whether the Cubs trade a member of their position player core this winter — i.e. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras — is to be determined. Both have been fixtures of rumors this offseason, and the Cubs may make a deal to replenish their barren farm system and retool their roster with the organization’s long-term stability in mind.

Yu Darvish, on the other hand, is a different story.

No, the Cubs won’t be trading Darvish this winter, despite the inquiries they received at the Winter Meetings this week, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

A year ago, this would be an entirely different conversation. Darvish was coming off a disappointing debut season on the North Side in which he made eight starts and posted a 4.95 ERA in 40 innings. He didn’t throw a single big-league pitch after May 20 due to a lingering arm issue that led to surgery last November.

2019 was only Year 2 of the lucrative six-year contract Darvish signed in February 2018. But between the injury and his struggles before it that season, the narrative entering 2019 was shifting towards Darvish being a potential bust.

The narrative around Darvish is obviously much different now, thanks to the stellar second half performance he put together last season. In 13 starts, the 33-year-old delivered a 2.76 ERA, striking out 118 batters compared to a measly seven walks in 81 2/3 innings.

Not only was Darvish walking the walk, but he was talking the talk. He was determined to turn things around after posting a 5.01 ERA in the first half, asking then manager Joe Maddon to start the Cubs’ first game after the All-Star break. The result? Six innings of two-hit, no-run ball with eight strikeouts and one walk. Darvish's comeback was officially on.

Bust? Darvish is far from it now. He opted in to the remaining four years of his contract earlier this offseason, calling the Cubs "perfect" for him.

If the Cubs were entering a rebuild, fielding Darvish trade offers would make plenty of sense. He's owed $81 million through 2023, a bargain compared to the deals Gerrit Cole (nine years, $324 million — Yankees) and Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million — Nationals) earned this offseason. Darvish's contract is desirable, and trading him would help alleviate the Cubs' notoriously tight payroll situation, freeing up money for them to put towards other needs.

But the Cubs aren’t rebuilding, and trading Darvish would create a tremendous hole in a rotation with plenty of uncertainty after next season. José Quintana is set to hit free agency after 2020 and Jon Lester could join him, if his 2021 option doesn’t vest (he must pitch 200 innings next season for that to occur). Heck, even Tyler Chatwood's deal is up after 2020.

In one season, Darvish has elevated himself to the No. 1 pitcher in the Cubs rotation. The Cubs won't be better next season if they trade Bryant or Contreras, but they'd still be competitive and acquire assets for the future.

One player doesn't make a team in baseball, but the Cubs need Darvish in their rotation, not someone else's. Unless they're absolutely blown away by a trade offer, Darvish isn't going anywhere.

Bears QB Big Board, 6.0: It's Mitch Trubisky's job to lose

Bears QB Big Board, 6.0: It's Mitch Trubisky's job to lose

Just when it appeared like Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky was entering his final half-season as the team's unquestioned starting quarterback, the last month happened.

Trubisky's play has steadily improved over the last five games and reached what may have been his watermark moment in Week 14 against the Cowboys. He completed 74% of his passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns while adding a season-high 63 rushing yards and a score on the ground. It marked the second week in a row that Trubisky's completed over 74% of his passes; he connected on 76% of his throws a week earlier against the Lions.

Trubisky's recent success is a far cry from the mentally broken player he was after the first month of the season. He has his confidence back. In fact, he's playing with more confidence than he's ever shown as a pro. His recent success is a direct and obvious result of his evolution between the ears.

The Bears were circled as a team that was likely to be in the quarterback market this offseason because of how terrible Trubisky looked early in 2019. And there's still a chance that GM Ryan Pace will look to add some healthy competition to the roster, but if Trubisky continues to play well, that competition will be for the backup job. 

It's also worth noting that one of the more appealing quarterback targets this offseason probably won't make it to the open market. Titans starter Ryan Tannehill continues to enjoy a remarkable comeback season and appears destined to sign a long-term extension with Tennessee sooner than later. After Tannehill, the discount quarterback rack includes names like Andy Dalton and Marcus Mariota, players who a month ago would've been viewed as marked upgrades over Trubisky.

It doesn't feel like that's the case anymore.

Barring a massive regression from Trubisky over the next three games, it's starting to feel like he's winning back Chicago's confidence one game at a time. 

With all that in mind, here's the updated Bears QB Big Board entering Week 15:

Bears QB Big Board (Dec. 12, 2019)

1. Mitch Trubisky (Bears)
previous: 2 (Dec. 3)

2. Andy Dalton (Bengals)
previous: 1 (Dec. 3)

3. Ryan Tannehill (Titans)
previous: 3  (Dec. 3)

4. Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
previous: 4 (Dec. 3)

5. Marcus Mariota (Titans)
previous: 5 (Dec. 3)

6. Teddy Bridgewater (Saints)
previous: 6 (Dec. 3)

Outside looking in (list cut down to three)...

-Jake Fromm (Georgia)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

-Jameis Winston (Buccaneers)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

- Cam Newton (Panthers)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

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