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Friday, December 19

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Fire Fri Dec 19 2014

Chicago Fire Winter Transfer Season Breakdown

Chicago FireSnow is a phenomenon often taken as a given in wintertime, but it really often relies on a rather specific set of circumstances falling into place before things come tumbling down from the skies. The conditions, from low-pressure weather systems to the presence of atmospheric particles that act as ice nuclei around which crystals form, are many and complex. So too, then, is the situation the same for Major League Soccer in the winter transfer season, that it relies on a confluence of events happening at just the right moment to produce something wonderful, though it can often end up ruining things just the same.

Take the MLS season, for instance, which is one of a handful of domestic leagues in the world that doesn't adhere to the FIFA calendar. That schedule, set by the sport's international governing body, sees a majority of countries leagues play their season from August to May, with several week-long breaks implemented to allow for international team play. MLS operates on a schedule that runs from March until November, and does not always allot space for international games along the way. More discussion on that will be had later, though.

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Benjamin Cannon / Comments (0)

Bears Thu Dec 18 2014

The Wrong Bear Is Losing His Job

Chicago Bears"As long as Jay is healthy, he'll be playing quarterback for us."

That was Marc Trestman 10 days ago. He was fully behind his much-maligned quarterback, who as the highest-paid player in the NFL this season, had back-breaking expectations. After another terrible performance against the Saints following a week where his offensive coordinator ripped him anonymously, and then admitted to it without any repercussions, Trestman decided to turn his starting quarterback into a scapegoat by benching him for Jimmy Clausen.

Don't get me wrong, Cutler has been terrible this season. He leads the league in turnovers. Among QB's who have played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps, Cutler ranks 23rd out of 29 according to Pro Football Focus. They don't take into account whether he's checking into or out of plays correctly because they have no clue. They simply rate each play based on his accuracy, decision-making (throwing to the correct/open receiver), and results. It's as bad on paper as it's looked on the field.

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Chad Ruter / Comments (0)

Blackhawks Wed Dec 17 2014

Mumps Outbreak Could Sideline More in NHL

Chicago Blackhawks When you hear the name Sidney Crosby and the word viral in the same sentence, it's usually synonymous with an amazing goal that's been replayed over and over again through Social Media. Unfortunately for Sid the Kid and a handful of others in the NHL, the only thing viral these days is located in the parotid gland and is in the form of mumps.

Mumps is one of those infections that harkens back to a time when, as a kid, you were sent to friend's house to become exposed to chickenpox followed by three weeks of homework in bed. That's why anything not referred to as "shingles" for adults seems unthinkable to be contacted, especially those who are considered to be in the best of shape.

Crosby is being monitored by team doctors as he rests, and Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said he's being watched "on a regular basis." But with the infection beginning to spread across the league, questions are being raised as to how this started, what's being done to eradicate it and, for Hawks fans, who on the team might have been infected?

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Jim Crago / Comments (0)

Bears Tue Dec 16 2014

Trestman & the Bears Are a Complete Abomination

Chicago BearsI was wrong about Marc Trestman. When he was introduced as the successor to Lovie Smith, I was blinded by the fact the Bears were bringing in an offensive mind -- someone who could bring the organization into the 21st Century when it comes to moving the ball. He was completely opposite of Smith, as most new NFL coaches are. The next Bears leader will undoubtedly be straight out of the hard ass, disciplinary school of coaching. I'll be more skeptical this time around.

The numbers looked shiny. Trestman had won two titles in the CFL, and had coordinated some of the best offenses in the NFL during the '90s and '00s. But I ignored cautionary words from Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, who stated, "Marc Trestman is a very smart coach and I got along well with him, but I think some of the guys are going to challenge him. How he responds to that will play a very important role in future and the future of that team."

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Chad Ruter / Comments (0)

White Sox Mon Dec 15 2014

Cabrera Signing Fills Holes for White Sox

Chicago White SoxFor the last few years, the White Sox had serious issues with simply getting guys on base. Also for the last few years, the Sox employed Dayan Viciedo as a regular starter in the outfield.

On Saturday night the team addressed those issues and signed Melky Cabrera to a three-year, $42 million contract.

The deal is a very fair one for one of the more productive outfielders in the game. The 30-year-old Cabrera has been a tremendous offensive player since 2011. He hits both lefties and righties well and he had a line of .309/ .351/ .458 and a WAR of 11.8 over the four seasons.

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Mike Chamernik / Comments (0)

Blackhawks Thu Dec 11 2014

Strength of Loonie Deciding Factor in Cap for Blackhawks, NHL

Chicago Blackhawks Remember in college when you were scraping under the couch cushions to scrounge a few coins to buy a meal of ramen noodles followed by a few rounds of 15-cent drafts at the local bar? It seemed hopeless as you already checked a few days prior, not to mention your roommate already claimed the remaining 60 cents between the used sofa and radiator.

Then, as if your prayers were miraculously answered, you reached into your coat pocket and pulled out a crinkled up 10 dollar bill and proceeded to drop to your knees and pray to whoever made this glorious wish come true. You were so thankful, in fact, that you decided to splurge all 10 bucks on yourself and friends as if it was your last night in town.

That same elation is what the Hawks and many other teams in the NHL felt on Monday after commissioner Gary Bettman announced at the Board of Governors' meeting that if the Canadian dollar remains steady, the projection for each NHL team would be an extra $4 million towards the cap. It would be huge boost for teams who currently hover around the cap line, which includes the Hawks.

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Jim Crago / Comments (0)

Cubs Wed Dec 10 2014

Cubs Open Up Wallets for a Catcher and an Ace

Chicago CubsThe plan has been clear since the very first day. The franchise and the ballpark had to be broken down, and rebuilt from the ground up. The last 48 hours are the manifestation of more than three years of blood, sweat, and patience. On opening night in 2015, a videoboard will show replays to the paying customers, Jon Lester will be on the mound, and Miguel Montero will be behind the plate as his battery-mate. It's time to get excited.

Though it seemed like it took forever, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez all developed quickly with even more reinforcements waiting in the wings. Shrewd trades brought the Cubs three hard-throwing relievers who can be counted on every day, a possible ace in Jake Arrieta, and a strike-zone nipping control artist in Kyle Hendricks. Their closer came via a $50,000 gamble in the Rule 5 draft. Drafting, international talent, sign-and-flip free agents and a vast number of trades put the Cubs in position to open up their wallets in a big, yet responsible way.

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Chad Ruter / Comments (0)

White Sox Wed Dec 10 2014

All Roads Lead to Abreu as White Sox Get Samardzija, Robertson

Chicago White SoxThe White Sox had their happiest day in many moons on Monday. General manager Rick Hahn signed closer David Robertson and traded for All Star pitcher Jeff Samardzija.

Robertson will help a dreadful bullpen and Samardzija will team with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana to form the American League's best 1-2-3 rotation combo. More importantly, the two acquisitions shifted the Sox into win-now mode and even lowered their World Series title odds from 50-to-1 to 25-to-1.

How insane is it that all this happened? As recently as the end of the 2013 season, the Sox looked to be in an absolute mess, a team filled with low-value veterans and low-rated minor leaguers.

But, almost in an instant, everything flipped when the Sox gambled on Jose Abreu last October.

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Mike Chamernik / Comments (0)

Fire Tue Dec 09 2014

Chicago Fire: Expansion Draft Uncertainty Comes To Bridgeview

Chicago FireThere is something subtly nefarious about Major League Soccer's Expansion Draft, an uneasy air that hangs like the smothering silence, perfuming the moments directly following a fight. Are these apologies sincere? Will things ever be the same? This rankness occurs because the Expansion Draft necessitates that each MLS team specify the players on their roster they wish to protect and those whom they will leave vulnerable, potentially allowing them to be snatched away at random.

These moves are part of the business, surely, as players in the professional sports are a uniquely liquid asset when contract situations do not interfere. But for the soccer players in MLS, the Expansion Draft has a potent psychological effect, essentially placing them into one camp, valuable, or the other, expendable. That there can be only 11 protected from draft consideration means that several key players find themselves momentarily separated from their home side.

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Benjamin Cannon / Comments (0)

Cubs Tue Dec 09 2014

Jason Hammel's Return Won't End in Trade

Chicago CubsProfessional athletes aren't naive. They can look at a roster just as easily as you can, and make a pretty good guess at how well the team is going to fare. They're probably going to be more accurate in their assessment too. When Jason Hammel agreed to a one-year deal with the Cubs for the 2014 season, he knew precisely what he was getting into.

The best case scenario for him came to fruition: a stellar start to the season made him a key cog in the Cubs acquisition of consensus top three prospect Addison Russell. Chicago offered Hammel a rotation spot and an opportunity to show what he can do when healthy, and in return, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were able to sell high and add a highly valuable prospect. They parted ways on amicable terms, with Hammel even telling the media he wouldn't be opposed to returning.

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Chad Ruter / Comments (0)

Fire Mon Dec 08 2014

With MLS Season Over, Chicago Fire Begin Rebuilding

Chicago FireIt has been said here before but it bears repeating that 2015 is going to be a big year for Major League Soccer. It will see the addition of new teams in Orlando and New York City, as well as attention-getting designated player signings like David Villa, Frank Lampard and Kaka. Quite simply the profile of the league will have never been higher. With such exposure comes a chance for teams around the league to cement their reputations, for this surely is the time for a host of new first impressions. Much like the pains a student entering high school will take to strategically position themselves anew, so too will the Fire have the ability to reframe themselves in the eyes of new fans.

Even before the postseason ended with this past Sunday's MLS Cup final, the Fire had made some moves which showed a desire to significantly rebuild the team. Shortly after the end of the regular season the team chose to re-sign only six players -- of a total 17 -- who were out of contract. Among the 11 who found themselves potentially on the outs included team mainstays Gonzalo Segares and Bakary Soumare, though the team is open to negotiating new contracts after a new collective bargaining agreement is established. Both of last season's loanees, Benji Joya and Grant Ward, saw their loan options declined as well.

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Benjamin Cannon / Comments (0)

Blackhawks Mon Dec 08 2014

Blackhawks Back on Top in the Central

Chicago Blackhawks After a bit of a slow start from the Hawks the first few months of the season, Joel Quenneville's crew finds itself back atop the Central standings after a 3-1 take down of the Predators in Nashville this past Saturday evening. The Hawks are red hot these days, no thanks to blistering play from Patrick Kane, Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg on the second line; goalies Antti Raanta and Scott Darling stepping it up between the pipes for an ailing Corey Crawford; and puck possession as a team, which currently is ranked first in the entire league in CORSI-for percentage at 55.1 percent.

The Hawks have won their last six games and nine of their last 10, which included going 5-1-0 on the annual Circus Trip. The result has produced a one-point difference in the standings, leapfrogging said Predators and positioning themselves a mere four points away for most in the West. And this is all without consistent scoring from Marian Hossa and a sidelined Patrick Sharp.

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Jim Crago / Comments (0)

White Sox Fri Dec 05 2014

Sox Target Samardzija but Beware the Rumor Mill

Chicago White SoxThe rumors started and heated up over Thanksgiving weekend. The White Sox are interested in A's starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija.

The Sox asked the Athletics about the former Cubs ace that Oakland acquired in the middle of last year, but also a bunch of other teams would like to get Samardzija, too.

Minds have already started to wonder what the Sox would look like with Samardzija in the No. 2 slot in the rotation. The club would be in on making a postseason run this season, but the Sox would possibly be sacrificing their long-term future if the free-agent-to-be leaves them after 2015.

I could break down the numbers and daydream about Shark on the Sox all I want, but I really don't think the speculation is true. I have a long-running theory -- the more a pro sports trade or signing is rumored, the less likely it is to happen.

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Mike Chamernik / Comments (0)

Blackhawks Thu Dec 04 2014

Crawford Misstep Provides Opportunity for Raanta

Chicago Blackhawks After a long and successful Circus Trip where the Blackhawks went 5-1-0, they finally were welcomed home with 10 extra points in the standings, a surging second line and solid play from its goaltender in Corey Crawford, who in his last five games is 4-1-0 with a 1.60 GAA and a .937 save percentage.

And what's most impressive about this recent stretch is the quality of opponent which the Hawks are facing. It certainly isn't a portion of the schedule facing a couple of "tomato cans" as former Chicago Bear Doug Buffone so eloquently states on his radio show, but rather a run through some of the toughest teams in the league.

Outside of a 4-1 loss in Vancouver on Nov. 23, which came on the second half of a back-to-back night of play, not much has slowed down the Hawks in the last 10 games or so, and that's pretty much been the case coming into the season: injury and fatigue. Turns out, as of Monday night, you now can add a Rise Against concert to that list.

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Jim Crago / Comments (0)

Blackhawks Mon Dec 01 2014

Blackhawks' Second Line Beginning to Gel

Chicago Blackhawks Coming into the annual Circus Trip a few weeks ago, the Hawks were looking every which way to score goals after outshooting its opponents by a wide margin. Lines were being scrambled and questions began to surface as to whether or not the offseason acquisition of Brad Richards, a Stanley Cup winner with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Conn Smythe winner back in the 2003-'04 season, was worth the $2 million for one year.

This year's Circus Trip looked far more daunting than last year's edition, mostly due to the strength of opposition. Six games, over 5,000 miles traveled and one Thanksgiving feast later, the Hawks and Brad Richards find themselves with 10 extra points in the standings thanks to great play on the road, which all began with the Hawks' second line.

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Jim Crago / Comments (0)

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