Quiet offseason better than Blackhawks' rivals


Quiet offseason better than Blackhawks' rivals

It's been a quiet offseason for the Blackhawks with their only roster move thus far being the signing of free-agent defenseman Sheldon Brookbank.

But is it possible that by standing pat, they've actually improved? Most teams in the Central Division have suffered a substantial departure without making any significant additions.

The Red Wings lost future Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom when No. 5 decided to retire. They also traded another one of their top-4 defensemen when they sent Brad Stuart to the San Jose Sharks and watched 25-goal scorer Jiri Hudler sign with the Calgary Flames.

Detroit was considered one of the favorites to land Ryan Suter, Zach Parise or both, but didn't sign either. To date, their biggest additions have been forwards Mikael Samuelsson and Jordin Tootoo. While they're still trying to lure Shane Doan out of Phoenix, this has been a very un-Red Wing-like offseason.

Speaking of Suter, his exit from Nashville greatly impacts a Predators team built around one of the NHL's best defensive units. But he wasn't their only significant loss. Supremely skilled right winger Alexander Radulov chose to go back to the KHL rather than re-signing. In nine regular season games, Radulov scored three goals with four assists. He had a goal and five assists in eight playoff games.

While the Columbus Blue Jackets weren't a threat to the Blackhawks, they dealt their best player, Rick Nash, to the New York Rangers for three players and a draft pick. Most experts believe they got "fleeced." Nash, 28, is a five-time All-Star who has scored at least 30 goals in each of the last five seasons despite being surrounded by minimal offensive talent.

The St. Louis Blues were impacted the least by the free agency scene. Only two players from last year's roster aren't under contract and they remain unsigned. Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and center Jason Arnott could still return and even if they don't, St. Louis might not feel too big of an impact by their loss.

The Blackhawks racked up 101 points and finished sixth in the ultra-competitive Western Conference last season while playing without Jonathan Toews for 23 games. With better health and the weakening of some division rivals, keeping the current roster could still result in a better 2012-13, and thus, a possible deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”