Hockey

We’ve been setting you up bit by bit for the season, but we haven’t gotten a chance to muse much. And musing is what we do best. So before the Hawks have their dress rehearsal tonight, thought we’d go through some things (that weren’t covered on the podcast, which was most things, which you can find here).

-I’ve been meaning to get to this one for a while, and it’s Stan Bowman’s take on Kirby Dach. Now, everything that follows is obviously moot if Dach can’t ever actually suit up due to concussion, and it doesn’t sound like that’s going to be tonight. On the ground, he’s going to Europe but probably isn’t going to play in the exhibition game in Berlin or in the season opener. Which is fine, as this weird schedule opener will actually give the Hawks an additional 3-4 practices before the home opener against the Sharks on the 10th. So there’s plenty of time to acclimate Dach for whatever audition he’s going to get.

And the gist of this piece is that he’s going to get it. Stan even hints at keeping him longer than the nine games even if he proves to need more time in the WHL, though that would be kind of silly. The beauty of the schedule here is that after this Euro opener, the Hawks next seven are at home. Which means seven games that Coach Cool Youth Pastor, if he even realizes he can do such a thing, can put Dach in the right spots and keep him away from tricky matchups. Obviously, you can’t go through a season doing that, but it would certainly give us an idea of what Dach can do and what he can’t when set up for success.

Whether Dach sticks or not will be an indication of what exactly the Hawks want out of this season. We’ve been debating this for two years without any answer, because whenever they deign to actually answer a question about what the goals are here it’s always some mealy-mouthed argle bargle trying to halve the line of competitiveness and development. We still honestly have no idea if the Hawks think the playoffs are a must this year, or if their eyes are really on next year and the one after when Dach, Boqvist, and Ian Mitchell are for sure on board. And we won’t, because transparency isn’t something they can spell over at 1901 West.

It would seem to me a third straight playoff-less season would mean everyone is fired, but we’ve though that before. And considering how much it feels like they’ve eaten through their season ticket base, that would be the factor applying the most pressure. They didn’t really have this last year as they remained competitive, but if they’re out of it in March I wonder how many patches of red seats we’ll be seeing in the stands (or won’t be seeing thanks to NBCSN Chicago’s spelunking-like filters).

So if the goal has to be playoffs, then Dach is here. Plain and simple. You’re not as worried about development, and he could walk in right now and be a better third center option than Anton Wedin or David Kampf. Put him between some two-way conscious wingers, and you might have something. If the Hawks send him down, then you have a pretty good idea this season isn’t the priority (and it might not have to be). That is unless he looks completely lost, which I heavily doubt he will.

Dach is a little awkwardly fit because even at home, Dylan Strome also needs sheltering. Ideally, you could trust Strome to not have to be coddled with hammock shifts every time, but we’re not there yet. If he could be, you could start Dach exclusively in the offensive zone and you’d probably have something.

I wonder if some of this Bowman thinking isn’t really hoping that Dach comes up, absolutely kills it, and makes the Strome negotiations in the summer easier. If Dach looks like he’s going to be a #2 or even #1 center by the end of the season, and Strome is knocked down the depth chart, well you’re not so eager to just hand him $6M or $7M are you? It’s definitely a factor.

Either way, Bowman sounds a little more aggressive with this prospect than he has about ones in the past. Part of that is he has a coach who won’t have his own agenda this time around, but I think he knows he’s got something here and he’s not going to get in Dach’s way.

-And when I say putting Dach between two two-way conscious wingers, I’m looking straight at this Saad-Kubalik combination. The Hawks seem intent on making Alex “Fetch” Nylander happen, so he’s with Toews tonight and Kane is going to have ya-ha time with The Hounds Of Justice (well, “The Shield” line was Perlini with DeBrincat and Strome but we’re keeping it). Putting David Kampf between the two of them makes for an effective checking line, and saw Saad control play from a third line spot last year, but there’s more they could be doing.

I am kind of happy Colliton has already decided to see Andrew Shaw in a 4th line role, though it’s probably already knowing what he can do in the top six and give someone else a look. Still, if this is any indication that Beto O’Colliton is a little more infatuated with what Drake Caggiula can do than Shaw, man won’t this be a fun season? This was one of our complaints about the Shaw trade, is that if Caggiula is healthy and fully blown out he kind of does the same things, though maybe not with the hands. Watch this space.

Football

Ooooh, it’s roster cuts time! Now, I’m as bottom left politically as a person can get, so naturally I wish every single body in camp had a future playing professional football. However, until the NFL creates a legitimate minor league, roster cuts make me both sad and excited. Sure, lots of guys are ending their years or careers after Thursday’s game against Tennessee. The game itself is sure to be terrible, and I can’t imagine a worse way to spend my evening. You’ll see people you haven’t seen all preseason logging heavy minutes (bring on the skill position players who have single-digit jersey numbers!), and it will most assuredly be the worst football of the season for any fan that doesn’t routinely watch Washington or Miami play in the fall. So, before the game, I’m going to list some of the most intriguing bubble players/competitions to watch just in case you’re as desperate to kill a weeknight as I am and will be glued to the awful FOX broadcast.

Tight End: Ian Bunting, Dax Raymond, Ben Braunecker, Bradley Sowell, Jesper Horsted
Five guys, one roster spot (maybe two). Hate to say it, Bears fans, but I’m taking Braunecker to make the roster. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these dudes make the practice squad.

Running Back/Wide Receiver: (I have to combine these because I think C-Patterson screws up how we look at the numbers for this part of the depth chart):
Kerrith Whyte Jr, Taquan Mizzell, Marvin Hall, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley, Ryan Nall.
I think Ryan Nall, Smoke Mizzell, and Marvin Hall all fail to make the team. Prove me wrong, Smoke!

Cornerback: Clifton Duck, John Franklin III, Kevin Toliver II, Michael Joseph, Stephen Denmark
I think there’s a chance to find our biggest surprises in terms of roster moves on defense, since who knows how Chuck Pagano wants his DBs to look/play like. We do know they will have to be versatile, since he asks his CBs to shadow receivers instead of play one side of the field like they would in Vic Fangio’s old scheme. If I was a betting man (I am), I’d expect to see Toliver make the 53, Denmark get stashed on the practice squad or PUP list, and what the hell, PUT JF3 ON THIS ROSTER!

Outside Linebacker: James Vaughters, Isaiah Irving, Kylie Fitts
To be honest, I don’t think the Bears will give up on any of their draft picks, even if it means cutting Vaughters. I’d like to see him make the team, and while he very well could, if he doesn’t he will for sure be on another team’s 53.

Inside Linebacker: Josh Woods, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Mathieu Betts
Josh Woods makes this team, y’all. He has been damn near unstoppable this preseason and has a nose for the ball. I can see him being a quality special teams coverage guy, and you can never have enough of those.

So, that’s about what I got in terms of what I’m looking for in the Tennessee game on Thursday. I’m honestly just looking to see who I can envision covering punts and kickoffs, because all the bubble guys that suit up on Sundays this fall will be there because they can play all four phases of special teams.

Okay, I’m not telling the whole truth. I’m also seeing who I should take in my XFL dynasty fantasy draft too. If you say Tanner Gentry I swear to god I will make you watch Tommie Harris film for 24 hours straight and write an essay titled “What Could Have Been.”

Football

AKA “The James Vaughters Game”

-If it wasn’t for James Vaughters and Kerrith Whyte Jr, tonight would’ve been a total waste of a Friday, even though it’s not like I was doing anything else. Two of my favorite bottom of the roster skill position players had a bad night, Marvin Hall trying his “bad Devin Hester” impression on for size, and Smoke Mizzell fumbled twice as a running back.

-Whyte makes Hall expendable, and he and Javon Wims looked awesome tonight. Fuck it, put Tarik, David Montgomery, Kerrith Whyte, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Allen Robinson out there for a play or two and see how weird Nagy can get.

-Clifton Duck had the best defensive play of the preseason so far, and I’m excited to see what else he can do this preseason. I also think Duke Shelley looked good, and once again safety play was solid. The backup spots in the secondary are up for grabs, so it’s nice to see a couple young guys come in and compete.

-Bradley Sowell got WORKED multiple times in this game. Tight end is not going to be a team strength going into this season. Can Akiem Hicks play tight end? Ian Bunting was nowhere to be found tonight.

Pace, your tight end room. WOOF.

-But really, let’s talk James Vaughters. He looked great again tonight, and he was blowing up on Twitter after his flawless strip/sack/recovery. I’m hopeful that he continues to push to make this roster, since I don’t have much faith in the rotation behind Mack/Floyd/Lynch. Seems like the Bears draft a lot of linebacker projects and they kind of just hang around until their rookie deals expire before they are cast off into the ether. Vaughters was screaming off the edge all night tonight. I could say something that makes me sound like a “football journalist”, like “Well, I need to see the all-22 tape of every one of his snaps”, but that’s not realistic. He passed the eye test tonight and last week as well.

However, it needs to be said that we fall into this trap every single year. “The preseason is boring and doesn’t matter” always turns into “________ needs to be on the 53 man roster and should see meaningful game time this season.” It was Tanner Gentry before him, because every season it seems like we do the same thing as sports fans. We want this to mean something, because we’re excited to be watching football again. We want this to be important, because we want these guys to have jobs this year. We want this to matter, because we love the underdog. James Vaughters is totally the underdog.

Is James Vaughters going to be remembered after tonight? Do we go back to think pieces about the kicker battle, or are we going to fall for the former UDFA who has bounced around both the NFL and their non-union Canadian equivalent for the last four years? I think you’ll see some big time Bears writers doing pieces on his history, because the narrative is so good and everyone loves a good story.

Inspiring story aside, the dude had 11 career sacks up in Canada, which is worth at least 8 sacks here in the US.

Football

Bad football rules because you know that it’s only a matter of time before the games start to count and I gotta say I was super geeked to watch the Bears play again. I’d say that the game tonight went about as well as the first preseason game could be expected to go, especially in the modern age when keeping starters out is the standard. Was it boring? Yeah. But it was a PRODUCTIVE boring. So, since the clock has just struck zero on 60 minutes of Bears football, I have some quick reactions I’d like to share even though I’m three White Claws deep and have to get up for work in 7 hours.

-Deon Bush was all over the field, which was more impressive than the interception he was gifted via an awful throw. If a starter gets hurt, he is a player easily above replacement level and could fill in nicely (and has in the past). I can see the Bears having a tough time deciding if they want to extend him for next year.

-Please keep David Montgomery off special teams FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. He looked so good, and the more time he gets in this offense, the better he’ll get. He and Cohen are gonna be sick together. I want Matt Nagy to unironically use those two and Patterson in a T-Formation. Can a play call be ironic? Whatever.

-Josh Woods flashed a lot in run support (and forced a fumble), but got sucked inside twice on two big runs. I’d like to see more of him this preseason and maybe he can challenge for a backup ILB spot this year.

-I love the pass interference challenge rule, but only because the one thing I want more of when watching preseason football is insurance commercials. I wrote this joke sober and I was lukewarm on it, but it’s preseason for Bears writers just like the players so I’m keeping it in and I’ll look at the tape tomorrow and make adjustments.

-Javon Wims popped off the screen again. I think this dude is legit, and will make the team. I think he’ll be used like Nagy used Demarcus Robinson in Kansas City. I can see him catching 20 passes for this team and scoring a couple times.

-Speaking of that Wide Receiver room: Marvin Hall is FAST, and yes, these are the kinds of takes I get paid the big bucks to formulate. I’m pumped to see what he can do with the first team punt return unit, if he makes the squad (I hope he does). Unfortunately, I think Taquan Mizzell Sr is the odd man out, which is a shame. Unless Kerrith Whyte really screws up or the Bears decide to keep 4 Running Backs on the 53, he won’t make it. Hopefully he catches on somewhere else because I like Smoke a lot and I think he can contribute to a roster somewhere.

Everything Else

A quick thought parade of the Hawks’ preseason opener

-Most of these guys aren’t going to be anywhere near an NHL arena near you this year, and if they are ask for you money back. However, Nick Schmaltz being head and shoulders above really anyone on either team is something you’re more than allowed to be encouraged by. Schmaltz’s hands and vision made flashes last year, and if he carried the confidence he looks to have now into the season there’s really no reason to think he can’t be a genuine #2 center in the NHL. Of course, I’m sure Q will coach the actual movement he showed on the 5-on-3 to set up the goal right out of him, because the Hawks just don’t do that don’t you know?

Everything Else

Just a few quick notes on tonight’s what-have-ya, contested mostly by guys who will be running a rink in Medicine Hat or the like in five years.

-I was most interested in watching Forsling and Kempny. Both showed composure on the puck, especially Kempny. It’s hard to get a read on him in particular when he’s still not facing the quality of players he’s going to in a couple weeks, but at least he showed a willingness to skate himself out of trouble and try and find a pass. Unfortunately for him, there were like two forwards on his team who could receive said pass cleanly.

As for Forsling, same thing but man is he small. Even if he’s willing he’s going to get crushed by NHL bodies. This is probably what will send him back to Sweden this year. There are small d-men around the league. Jared Spurgeon comes to mind. Toby Enstrom is another. Spurgeon is quite sturdy though, something of a fire hydrant. Enstrom is just really smart with great hands. Forsling has maybe two or three games to show he has the latter.

Everything Else

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Photo Credit-Todd Reicher

Ladies and Gentlemen…your 2014-15 IceHogs

With some late roster moves coming down in the last few days, it would appear that the opening night roster is nearly set in Rockford for the 2014-15 campaign. As Norman Dale would say, let’s see what kind of hand we’ve been dealt here…

Everything Else

Have to clean up the stuff from last night’s game, so let’s do that.

-The first thing that was obvious is that last night’s bottom pairing of Michal Rozsival and Kyle Cumiskey absolutely drowned against what was basically Montreal’s bottom six and a bunch of Hamilton Bulldogs. No Gallagher, Galchenyuk, Desharnais, Patches, Plekanec, and yet whoever was out against this pairing had their way. Look, I know Rozsival will never look fast, and especially in training camp, but it was hard to not be alarmed. Yes, the games he does play, which won’t be all of them obviously, will be weighted with easy zone starts and opposition. But that doesn’t make me feel better right now, especially with the strong chance that Leddy isn’t going to be around to push the play the other way and save him.

They keep telling me Cumiskey is the surprise of camp, and I see that he can skate pretty well, but he’s playground recess in his own end. His gap to Drayson Bowman was simply awful while Rozie was getting beat to the front of the net, and had it been better maybe that pass is never made. Maybe they’re pumping Cumiskey to soften the blow of any Leddy trade, and he plays the same side unlike Rundblad. But based on what I’ve seen this preseason, that’s not an answer to any question I’m asking.

Everything Else

Watched most of the Hawks dance in Saskatchewan with the Oilers online yesterday, perhaps in an attempt to use anything to wash that Bears taste out of my mouth. Although the feed was pretty poor, taken straight from the scoreboard there, a couple things worth noting.

-Unless there’s a trade of him, I’m guessing that Versteeg-Shaw-Bickell combo is probably going to be your third line on Opening Night. I still find it pretty curious how much they’re pumping Versteeg through the media. The whole thing smacks of “methinks the lady doth protest too much,” but it could be he actually does look good another year removed from knee surgery. He’s still completely superfluous on this team and his salary makes him kind of a millstone. But whatever. He does look better.

I also find it fucking hilarious that even the Oilers radio team was on an “EARN YOUR MONEY BICKELLMAN!” rant during the game. I don’t know what people expect from Bickell during the regular season, but he was more than fine last year despite what his coach thought.  Anyway, the unit looks fine for now.