Its been a strange November here in Chicago. Winter came early, and much like the Chicago Bears, like a slap in the face. The Bulls and Blackhawks started off a bit bumpy, have overcome some core injuries and ended the month hot. The White Sox were the first to strike in free agency while the Cubs have been silent, at least on the personnel front, as the Wrigley renovation is finally underway. Lets take a look back at this month in Chicago sports.
Chicago Blackhawks – 9-5
The Blackhawks started the month of slow, dropping three of their first four games. Early this month lines were constantly changing as coach Joel Quenneville attempted to find the right combinations. Corey Crawford returned to the lineup after being injured for most of October, but they lost Patrick Sharp to a lower body injury on November 4. Despite losing Sharp and, later this month, Trevor van Riemsdyk, the Blackhawks finally found their offense thanks mostly to their Kane, Richards, Versteeg line. Brad Richards, off a slow start to the season, seems to be finally finding his role with the team and has been right at home playing alongside Kane and Versteeg.
While their offensive awakening has helped the Blackhawks return to the form we have come accustomed to seeing, it has been their defense that has really impressed. They are second overall in the NHL in Goals Against, and first in Penalty Kill Percentage (91.3%). The team finished 5-1 on their “circus trip”, no easy feat, and won eight of their last ten games.
December looks to be a challenging schedule, which kicks off Wednesday with three tough games in a row, against St Louis, Montreal and Nashville.
It has been an up and down start for the Bulls as the Derrick Rose saga continues. In the first month of the season, Rose has only started and finished five of the team’s 17 games. But when he has played the entire game, he has looked very good helping the Bulls to a 5-0 record in those games.
But Rose hasn’t been the biggest story for the Bulls. Jimmy Butler has looking like an all-star early this season as he tries to prove to the Bulls he is worth more than the four year, $40 million contract he turned down before the season started. Butler leads all Bulls in scoring and is ranked third in the East behind only LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Its hard to say if Butler can keep this up, especially given the 40 minutes per game he is playing (1st in the NBA by more than a minute), but at least for now the Bulls are greatly improved on offense.
Pau Gasol is quietly having an all-star season as well, averaging a double-double and giving the Bulls the low post presence on both ends that they’ve been searching for. But the most exciting thing for me is the success of the Bulls’ bench. With an early season injury to Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic has taken advantage. He appears to be a better player than I thought he would be, with his ability to spread the floor and hit three pointers, but also drive to the hoop and rebound. Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich help round out what looks to be one of the best second units in the league.
The key to the Bulls is staying healthy. They are undefeated when their intended starting lineup plays, which has only happened five times. It will be an ongoing storyline worth watching as the season moves along
Chicago Bears – 2-2
And now, the bad news. As in, “Bad News Bears”. And they are living up to the name. The Bears entered this month coming off the bye week with an opportunity to get their season back on track, but it all came tumbling down as they gave up 55 points to the Green Bay Packers. They followed that up with wins against two bad teams (Minnesota and Tampa Bay) but continue to underachieve on both sides of the ball. The offense still hasn’t clicked, the play calling has been unoriginal and unproductive, and the defense has fallen to one of the worst in the league, giving up 28.1 points per game (tied for 30th with Oakland). They got off to a good start on Thanksgiving against the Lions, opening up with a 14-3 lead in the first quarter, but bafflingly continue to keep the ball out of Matt Forte’s hands and ended up losing 34-17 as any playoff hopes they might have had were ripped from their delicate grasp.
Its difficult to identify what the Bears will be playing for in these final four games other than pride. The bigger question will be how much of the coaching staff will be turned over and how soon it will or won’t happen. The obvious choice would be to replace everyone from the GM on down, but the Bears have not been known to make such bold moves.
In other news, Lance Briggs has been placed on season-ending IR, and has likely played his last game as a Chicago Bear. While Briggs has been a Hall of Fame player for most of his career here in Chicago, he’s been merely a distraction in his last two seasons.
Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox
The Cubs started off the month strong, bringing in Joe Maddon as their manager and thus bringing tangible hope to the North Side. With his winning reputation and locker room shenanigans, Maddon is exactly the kind of manager the Cubs needed to bring excitement to the upcoming season while they hope to replace “rebuilding” with “contention”.
The acquisition of Maddon was supposed to spark a big free agent splash, but so far it has been all quiet on that front. The Cubs missed out on Russell Martin, and are in discussions with Jon Lester, although there is nothing eminent as he continues to meet with teams. The Wrigley renovation is finally underway, but hit a snag this month as the team announced that the bleachers might not be ready in time for Opening Night. It’s always something, isn’t it?
While much of the focus in the offseason as been on what moves the Cubs would make, the White Sox struck first and signed first baseman Adam Laroche. The 35-year-old first baseman agreed to a two-year, $25 million contract, and will likely fill the role left vacant by Paul Konerko.