Bears

The weight - and the waiting - for the Blackhawks and the NHL

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The weight - and the waiting - for the Blackhawks and the NHL

The Blackhawks announced Monday that the Sept. 22 Training Camp Festival which officially opens the preseason at the United Center, is sold out.

The team also put tickets for its three preseason home games on sale. Now the question becomes whether all that plays out on time.

We're not any closer to knowing how things stand on the labor front, five weeks after the players gathered downtown ahead of negotiations with league management. The owners' initial proposal a couple of weeks later was drastic -- with 11 percent in revenues amounting to 450 million shifting their way. We're still waiting to hear the union's counteroffer.

Executive Director Donald Fehr returns to the bargaining table Wednesday after spending the last several days meeting with players in Russia and Europe. He says the Association is sifting through 76,000 pages (!) in documents before they can submit something. Glad I'm not the one reading that. You should be, too.

Yes, there's still time. But in about five weeks, players will start needing to know if they should plan on traveling to their cities of employment, and if negotiations continue while camps open after the exisiting CBA expires Sept. 15. As a result of all this weight that will grow heavier as each week passes, the transaction wire is at a virtual standstill, and will likely stay that way.

In Chicago, impatient fans wanting Stan Bowman to do something will probably be disappointed. I still believe the vice president and general manager has a move or two he's open to making down the road. He has pieces he can -- and very well might be willing to -- move. But the combination of the quiet, less-urgent landscape and his (correct) insistence not to make some move just for the sake of making one that won't benefit the club is part of the gridlock, like it or not.

There are those who think the Hawks are willing to stand pat because their chances have improved in the Central Division due to the losses suffered by Nashville and Detroit. Yes, as a result of the swings and misses by the Predators and Red Wings, St. Louis and the Blackhawks are generally considered the division favorites as we speak. The Blues haven't made any additions of note, either.

Look around the West. Based on what changes have taken place thus far, Minnesota's about the only team with a legitimate chance to jump into the top eight. An argument could be made for a maturing Colorado squad, and who knows when it will all come together for that loaded, but green group out in Edmonton that needs more answers in its own end. Dallas made some curious moves, but might be worse. I know they'll probably be easier for the Blackhawks to face than the team they had the last couple of years.

Vancouver added a nice piece in Jason Garrison, but not much beyond that, and still has the Bobby Lu Headache. San Jose hasn't really done anything, Phoenix seems to be worse, and odds say the Kings won't repeat.

It's not getting late yet in the labor negotiations, but it's not exactly early, either. But it is even earlier to draw judgments at this point on the makeup of the 2012-13 Blackhawks squad, and others.

With only one move of note, their standing has actually improved in their conference based on what's happened around them. But I don't think they're done, nor are others. Everyone calling the shots just seems to be sitting tight right now until there's more clarity on the much bigger issue this league faces.

I'll have more on this Blackhawks roster specifically later in the week.

Under Center Podcast: Saying bye to Elliott Fry

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Saying bye to Elliott Fry

On this episode of the Under Center Podcast, J.J. Stankevitz is joined by John "Moon" Mullin. To start, Moon takes a moment to remember Cedric Benson, who died in a motorcycle accident on Saturday night (00:30). Then, the guys discuss the Bears' surprise announcement that they released Elliott Fry, leaving Eddy Pineiro as the only kicker on the roster (05:40).

The guys toss to highlights from Matt Nagy's press conference on Sunday morning where he explains why the Bears decided to cut Fry now, how they think the move will help Pineiro and whether the competition is officially closed (07:55).

Finally, J.J. explains why the end of the kicking competition was just like the end of the Bachelorette (12:10), and which kickers on other teams the Bears may still have their eyes on in the upcoming preseason games (16:40).

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Under Center Podcast

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Death of former Bears RB Cedric Benson a blow – and a reminder

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AP Images

Death of former Bears RB Cedric Benson a blow – and a reminder

Getting the news that Cedric Benson had died last night in a motorcycle accident was a blow on Sunday. The former Bears running back and a passenger were killed when the bike they were riding collided with a minivan in Austin, Tex. As former Bears defensive end and Benson teammate Adewale Ogunleye tweeted Sunday, “What the hell is going on? The Bad news wont stop.”

Personally, this sort of thing hits hard. The passing of receivers coach Darryl Drake last week, former 1994 first-rounder John Thierry dying last November – of a heart attack at age 46 – Rashaan Salaam committing suicide in December 2016, and now Ced. That’s too many good dying young.

And yet even as the Benson news was sinking in, Bears beat colleague Rich Campbell over at the Tribune was celebrating the birth of his daughter. Not sure why that seems so striking, maybe just something about the circle of life, or just how there’s a spot of sunshine somewhere. 

As in so many of these things, the Ced death sparks memories, and in this case, good ones. Which may seem a bit unlikely, since Ced was one of the least popular Bears during his three (2005-2007) years after the organization made him the fourth-overall pick of that 2005 draft.

But things are not always as they seem.

Benson went through a 36-day holdout before reporting to the team, missing just about all of the 2005 training camp and preseason. When he arrived, the locker room seemed pretty set against him, for various reasons:

He was drafted as the replacement for Thomas Jones, the very popular tailback who’d been signed in the 2004 offseason but who failed to impress in the first year of a four-year, $10 million contract. He and Jones did not get along, coming to blows in one practice, and teammates were clearly Jones supporters.

But Jones had zero 1,000-yard years over his first five seasons; beginning with ’05 and the arrival of Benson, he went on a run of five straight seasons of no fewer than 1,100 yards, two with the Bears followed by three with the New York Jets after he engineered a trade to get out of Chicago.

And Ced was just…different. But to this reporter, different in good ways. He was very thoughtful; more than a few times, he’d have a question posed to him, then take an unusually long time before answering. But he was simply a thoughtful guy.

Case in point: I did a lunchtime sit-down with Ced outside the Olivet Nazarene mess hall during the 2006 training camp in Bourbonnais. To one of my questions, Ced said, “Hmm, that’s an interesting question. Let me get back to you about that one.”

Much later that afternoon, after a brutal, full-pad practice, I was walking away from the fields. Ced came running over, still in pads. “Hey,” he said. “I was thinking about what what we were talking about… .” And he had. And he also was honest about getting back to me. Yeah, I liked the guy.

The Bears let him go after a disappointing 2007 season and he caught on with the Cincinnati Bengals the next year. In 2009 the Bears went to Cincinnati and were annihilated 45-10, putting 215 rushing yards on a very good Bears defense and Benson accounting for 189 of those yards.

Afterwards I was able catch Ced before he left, and I was stunned to see how good he looked physically. He laughed at my surprise, then talked a long time about how he’d discovered a severe gluten intolerance. With that fixed, his complexion cleared up and he wasn’t dealing with the intestinal issues that any gluten-challenged fan out there knows too well. Anyhow, it was great to see a young man moving on to some sort of career, which included that year and the next two with more than 1,000 yards.

That it didn’t happen for him in Chicago was always a little puzzling. He was a phenomenal athlete, good enough to be drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an outfielder and play in their summer league.

He was a very, very emotional guy; at Halas Hall Sunday it was recalled how he’d cried during his conference call with the media following his drafting by the Bears. And he had his problem situations off the field, and he was waived in the 2008 offseason after a couple of arrests involving suspected alcohol abuse.

Those are probably the things too many people will remember about Ced. Too bad. There was much more to the young man. And as was said before, things — and people — are not always everything they seem to be. Under that heading I’d include Thomas Jones’ tweet on Sunday. From a supposed “enemy:”

“Woke up to the horrible news of Cedric Benson's passing,” Jones said. “My heart aches for him and his family. Sending love, peace and blessings their way. Gone way too soon my brother. Rest well young King. You will truly be missed…. “