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NHL lockout is finally over!

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NHL lockout is finally over!

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- They walked into a Manhattan hotel, knowing they were running out of time to save their season.After 16 hours of tense talks, the NHL and its players finally achieved their elusive deal early Sunday morning, finding a way to restart a sport desperate to regain momentum and boost its prominence.Ending a bitter dispute that wiped out a large part of the hockey season for the third time in less than two decades, the league and its union agreed to the framework of a 10-year labor contract that will allow a delayed schedule to start later this month.On the 113th day of a management lockout and five days before the league's deadline for a deal, the bleary-eyed sides held a 6 a.m. news conference to announce there will be a season, after all.NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Donald Fehr both appeared drained, wearing sweaters and not neckties, when they stood side by side at the hotel and announced labor peace."We have reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper," Bettman said. "We've got to dot a lot of Is, cross a lot of Ts. There's still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon."Lawyers will spend the next few days drafting a memorandum of agreement.The stoppage led to the cancellation of at least 480 games -- the exact length of the curtailed schedule hasn't been determined -- bringing the total of lost regular-season games to a minimum 2,178 during three lockouts under Bettman.The agreement, which replaces the deal that expired Sept. 15, must be ratified by the 30 team owners and approximately 740 players."Hopefully, within just a very few days, the fans can get back to watching people who are skating, and not the two of us," Fehr said.Fehr became executive director of the NHL Players Association in December 2010 after leading baseball players through two strikes and a lockout.Players conceded early on in talks, which began in June, that they would accept a smaller percentage of revenue, and the negotiations were about how much lower."It was a battle," said Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey, a key member of the union's bargaining team. "Players obviously would rather not have been here, but our focus now is to give the fans whatever it is -- 48 games, 50 games -- the most exciting season we can."With much of the money from its 2 billion, 10-year contract with NBC back loaded toward the Stanley Cup playoffs in the spring -- and now perhaps early summer -- the league preferred to time the dispute for the start of the season in the fall. Management made its decision knowing regular-season attendance rose from 16,534 in 2003-04 to 16,954 in 2005-06 and only seven teams experienced substantial drops.Flyers chairman Ed Snider told The Associated Press he was glad a partial schedule had been salvaged."I'm thrilled for our fans, I'm thrilled for all of our people that work around our sport that have been hurt by this," he said. "I'm thrilled for the players, for the owners. I'm just sorry it had to take this long. The great thing is, we don't have to look at it for hopefully 10 years, or at worst eight, and that's good stuff."Still, the lockout could wipe out perhaps 1 billion in revenue this season, given about 40 percent of the regular-season schedule won't be played. And while the stoppage was major news in Canada, it was an afterthought for many American sports fans."They could have gotten here a lot sooner," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based sports business consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd. "They didn't hear a hue and cry from the fans, especially in the United States, when hockey wasn't played. That's very distressing. That indicates there's a level of apathy that is troubling. In contrast, in the NFL when there was a threat of canceling a preseason weekend, the nation was up in arms."At downtown Detroit's Rub BBQ Pub, manager Chris Eid said he was "ecstatic" when he heard the news. He said the settlement was a big topic of conversation among his afternoon customers."Everyone misses hockey," Eid said.Hockey's first labor dispute was an 11-day strike in 1992 that led to 30 games being postponed. Bettman, a former NBA executive under David Stern, became the NHL commissioner in February 1993. He presided over a 103-day lockout in 1994-95 that ended with a deal on Jan. 11, then a 301-day lockout in 2004-05 that made the NHL the first major North American professional sports league to lose an entire season. The NHL obtained a salary cap in the agreement that followed that dispute and now wanted more gains."It was concessionary bargaining right from the beginning," Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "As the players, you kind of understand that and you accepted that. As much as you didn't want to, we understand that the nature of professional sports has kind of changed with the last couple CBAs starting with football and basketball."This deal was reached with the assistance of Scot Beckenbaugh of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a veteran of the 2004-05 NHL talks, then Major League Soccer's negotiations in 2010 and NFL and NBA talks the following year. Beckenbaugh spent Friday walking back and forth between the league's office and the hotel where players were staying, meeting with each side to set up the final talks."Fans throughout North America will have the opportunity to return to a favorite past time and thousands of working men and women and small businesses will no longer be deprived of their livelihoods," said George Cohen, the FMCS director.Sam Flood, NBC Sports' executive producer, said his production team was "counting the seconds until the season begins." NBC announcer Mike Emrick said players will have more pressure because of the shortened schedule."The effect of even a two-game losing streak will be four," he saidThe NHL's revenue of 3.3 billion last season lagged well behind the NFL (9 billion), Major League Baseball (7.5 billion) and the NBA (5 billion), and the deal will lower the hockey players' percentage from 57 to 50 -- owners originally had proposed 46 percent.This was the third lockout among the major U.S. sports in a period of just over a year. A four-month NFL lockout ended in July 2011 with the loss of only one exhibition game, and an NBA lockout caused each team's schedule to be cut from 82 games to 66 last season.As part of the deal:--Players will receive 300 million in transition payments over three years to account for existing contracts, pushing their revenue share over 50 percent at the start of the deal.--Players gained a defined benefit pension plan for the first time.--The salary cap for this season will be 70.2 million before prorating to adjust for the shortened season, and the cap will drop to 64.3 million in 2013-14 -- the same amount as 2011-12. There will be a salary floor of 44 million in those years.--Free agents will be limited to contracts of seven years (eight for those re-signed with their former club).--Salaries within a contract may not vary by more than 35 percent year to year, and the lowest year must be at least 50 percent of the highest year.--There were no changes to eligibility for free agency and salary arbitration.--The threshold for teams to release players in salary arbitration will increase from 1.75 million to 3 million.--Each team may use two buyouts to terminate contracts before the 2013-14 or 2014-15 seasons for two-thirds of the remaining guaranteed income. The buyout will be included in the players' revenue share but not the salary cap.--The minimum salary will remain at 525,000 this season and will rise to 750,000 by 2021-12.--Either side may terminate the deal after the 2019-20 season.--Revenue sharing will increase to 200 million annually and rise with revenue.--An industry growth fund of 60 million will be funded by the sides over three years and replenished as need.--Participation of NHL and its players in the 2014 Sochi Olympics will be determined later in discussions also involving the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation.

Why the White Sox are ready to take the next step: Free-agent additions

Why the White Sox are ready to take the next step: Free-agent additions

The White Sox are heading into the shortened 2020 season with the same expectations they had back when they thought they’d be playing a 162-game schedule: to leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode.

They sure look capable of doing just that. And while it wouldn’t be possible without the emergence of the young core last season, you can’t build a contender solely from homegrown stars.

Rick Hahn followed through on this February 2018 declaration that “the money will be spent” with a super busy offseason that saw him add to nearly every facet of the roster. He remade the White Sox lineup, adding some power and on-base skills after the team sorely lacked in both areas a year ago. He added some dependability to a starting rotation that still seeks answers from its young, talented arms. And he even strengthened the back end of the bullpen with a proven late-inning option.

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All that work got fans super excited, and though the moves were a mixture of short- and long-term contracts, they all mesh together to provide the kind of fuel that can power the White Sox drive toward the top of the AL Central.

First was Yasmani Grandal, who signed before Thanksgiving, and though he — and everyone else, for that matter — has been overshadowed during “Summer Camp” by rookie five-tooler Luis Robert, he’s probably the most important newcomer to this 2020 group of South Siders. Robert will, the idea is, be around for the better part of the next decade, and superstar status might not be far off, if his teammates’ reviews are a reflection of reality. But Grandal sees the White Sox future in their pitching, the reason he keeps giving for why he bought into Hahn’s long-term vision and signed the biggest free-agent deal in club history.

A catcher, Grandal plays a position where it’s hard to find a long-term fill. White Sox fans don’t need to be reminded of that and can probably rattle off the name of everyone the team’s tried there since A.J. Pierzynski’s departure. Grandal is rated highly as a pitch-framer, a valuable skill until the robots come for the umpires’ jobs. He’s got good defensive numbers and is known as a quality influence on pitchers. The White Sox have a lot of young hurlers, some who still need to figure things out at the major league level — or have yet to even get there — and Grandal is going to be around for at least the next four years to shepherd them into what the team hopes is a lengthy contention window.

But Grandal is a huge upgrade with the bat, too. No offense to the All-Star numbers James McCann turned in during the first half last season, but Grandal has a much longer track record of being one of the more productive offensive catchers in the game. He was an All Star, too, last season, a career year that saw him hit 28 homers, drive in 77 runs and — perhaps most importantly — walk a whopping 109 times. That walk total was one of baseball’s highest last season and a gigantic addition to a White Sox lineup that, as a team, had the fewest walks in the game in 2019.

Grandal was the big fish that bought in first, but it might be Dallas Keuchel who ends up serving as the White Sox version of Jon Lester. Keuchel has a Cy Young Award and a World Series championship on his resume. He knows how to win, and he’s bringing his veteran know-how to that same young pitching staff. He’s already receiving rave reviews for how he’s worked with the White Sox young arms.

“Talking about Dallas, you don’t have enough time in a daily day to say all the positives he brings to the table,” White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said last week. “He’s the ultimate professional, a guy who goes out there and is an amazing teammate. What he builds, the chemistry in that clubhouse, and takes guys under the wing, the way to go about it as a true professional.

“His history has shown he’s a winner in every aspect, on the field and off the field, in the clubhouse. We are very very fortunate as an organization to have him to help us as an organization and help everybody in that clubhouse.”

But it’s his dependability every fifth day that will be the biggest plus for the White Sox, who outside of Lucas Giolito struggled to find much consistency from their starters during the 89-loss campaign a year ago. If White Sox fans turn up their noses at a Cubs comp, though, then let’s call Keuchel a potential Mark Buehrle type. Like the South Side legend, he’s got a closet full of Gold Gloves, and he’s accomplished what he’s accomplished without exactly blowing people away like Michael Kopech. With Keuchel and Giolito paired at the top of the starting staff, the White Sox have a reliable 1-2 punch that would sound pretty good as the first two starters in a playoff series.

RELATED: White Sox staff leader Lucas Giolito ready to rock, hopeful for multiple aces

To get there, though, the White Sox will have to outslug — or slug right along with — the division-rival Minnesota Twins. Before the previous offseason, this team just wasn’t capable of doing that. Grandal adds some power to the lineup, as does Robert and another newcomer in Nomar Mazara, but the White Sox have a new big bopper in Edwin Encarnación. The guy’s hit at least 30 home runs in each of the last eight seasons. Like José Abreu, he’s a proven and consistent veteran slugger who provides not just production but the peace of mind that the production will be there. He also brings an imaginary parrot.

The White Sox lineup is significantly more menacing with Encarnación in the middle of it, and for a team that ranked toward baseball’s bottom in both home runs and slugging percentage last season, it’s one heck of an upgrade.

“It gives us depth,” McEwing said of Encarnación last week. “It lengthens an extremely good lineup. It was a good lineup before. It makes it extremely longer. And the professionalism, Eddie, you can’t put a number on it. You can’t put a measure on it what he means to this ball club, not just in the clubhouse but on the field. When he steps in the box, it’s a presence that is the model of consistency in what he has done throughout his career and what he’s capable of doing. It means so much to every individual in that locker room and every time we step on the field, it’s a different presence.”

And it’d be wrong to exclude Steve Cishek from this group. He’s the newcomer at the back end of the White Sox bullpen. Teamed with Alex Colomé and Aaron Bummer, a unit that was a strength last year is now stronger. While Hahn will be the first to remind you of the volatility of relief pitching from one season to the next, Cishek brings a nice track record, including some high-stakes moments during his two-year stint with the Cubs. That time on the North Side showed durability, if nothing else, as Joe Maddon called on Cishek a whopping 150 times in two years.

The White Sox are obviously in the position they’re in because of the meticulous work of bringing young talent into the organization and getting it to the big leagues. But it’s free-agent splashes that truly move the needle in a fan base starved for championship contention. The White Sox did that, too, over the winter, reaching the always planned-for phase of the rebuild when they started adding win-now pieces.

Grandal and Keuchel are multi-year additions that fit in with Hahn’s long-term planning. Encarnación and Cishek? Maybe more like hired guns. Regardless, they’ll all have an impact on the 2020 team, and their presence is a big reason why the White Sox look ready to take the next step.


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Bears tight ends ranked among NFL's worst by Pro Football Focus

Bears tight ends ranked among NFL's worst by Pro Football Focus

The Chicago Bears have a lot of tight ends on their roster. Nine, to be exact. Of those nine, rookie second-round pick Cole Kmet is the most exciting, while veteran free-agent signing Jimmy Graham is the most baffling.

Tight end was one of Chicago's biggest weaknesses in 2019 and Ryan Pace did his best to fix the problem this offseason. Whether or not he accomplished that goal is up for debate.

According to Pro Football Focus' recent ranking of all 32 tight end groups, he didn't. The Bears came in at No. 26.

The Bears are taking a see-what-sticks approach to the position, as seven other players are competing for the last one or two spots, but this unit’s success will be determined by what Graham has left in the passing game and how ready Kmet is to be a viable contributor as a receiver and as a run blocker. Even with the hefty offseason investment, Chicago’s tight ends come with plenty of question marks.

Graham will be the most heavily scrutinized of the bunch in 2020. The Bears signed him to a two-year, $16 million deal in free agency following a season where it looked like Graham was better suited for retirement than a lucrative multi-year deal. He's a big reason why Chicago's tight ends are still viewed as weakness. As PFF aptly stated, the Bears are, at best, a question mark when it comes to the position.

If Kmet doesn't quickly adjust to the NFL game and make an impact early in his pro career, the Bears' offense will be hamstrung once again by its lack of playmaking tight ends.