Cubs

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.

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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USA Today Sports Images

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.”