Except for my college years, I have had the privilege to live in the city of Chicago. I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago and also lived on the north side for a spell, specifically in the Lakeview area. My entire life, I have been a fan of Chicago’s major professional sports teams, except for the White Sox. No, I do not hate the Sox, even though I am a (currently, and not always) diehard Cubs fan. I was actually a Sox fan until the 1994 strike, and at the time, Frank Thomas was my favorite baseball player. In my household, sports and an affinity for them were almost mandatory, thanks to my mother. Admittedly, I have nothing on Bill Swerski’s “Superfans,” but I have no qualms with letting anyone know where my pro sports loyalties lie. Yes, this includes my allegiance to the mostly hapless Cubs.
Saturday, June 8, the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings from the playoffs, winning the Western Conference Finals, 4 games to 1. After right winger Patrick Kane scored what seemed to be the winning goal with just under 4 minutes left in regulation, Kings center Mike Richards, playing in his first game since Game 1 due to a concussion, notched the equalizer with just 10 seconds left to play. After a scoreless first overtime, Kaner completed the hat trick 11:40 into the second extra session, sending 22,237 fans at the United Center into a frenzy. The rest of the team swarmed Kane, captain Jonathan Toews didn’t touch the Clarence Campbell Bowl, the team took the customary picture surrounding a guy in a suit and their trophy, and Blackhawks fans from Chicago to Uranus celebrated like it was 1999. For a brief moment, the victory made most Chicagoans forget about their love for other Chicago pro sports teams and how much they have frustrated us of late.
Chicago Cubs: With a current record of 25-35 after yesterday’s 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs are still at least a year or two from being legitimate title contenders. It’s wonderful that the Cubs have a top-10 farm system, but farm systems don’t win ballgames. The St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Pirates are the class of the National League Central at the moment, but the Cubs haven’t been as bad as their record. Their Pythagorean W-L record is 30-30, which for this group of 25 would be reason to celebrate if it weren’t just the Pythagorean W-L. Even though this squad has been a bit better and more competitive than the 2012 version, this is still a bad Cubs team that will probably finish 2013 in the neighborhood of 100 losses. Bright side: Another high draft pick. Not-so-bright side: More mostly craptastic baseball to watch through this summer.
Chicago Bulls: Nearly everyone and their grandmother got tired of the hoopla surrounding point guard Derrick Rose and his possible return from a torn ACL, which he suffered at the end of Game 1 in the first round of last year’s playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers. It got to the point that even the most ardent Rose supporters didn’t want to hear his damn name anymore. Playing without Rose for the entire ’12-’13 season, the Bulls grinded and finished 45-37. They also actually won a first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. Unfortunately, the Miami Heat ain’t the Nets and dispatched the Bulls in 5 games, winning their second-round series, 4 games to 1. I had serious questions about this team before the season, and they still exist. There are nights, when fully healthy, that the Bulls look like legitimate title contenders. There are others, when fully healthy, that the Bulls look like a very good team that won’t ever get over the hump. Rose should be ready for the start of the ’13-’14 season, thankfully. Still, I’m not sure this is a team that can consider itself better than the Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and even a healthy and properly-coached Los Angeles Lakers team. I actually expect some fairly large moves to be made this offseason, hopefully involving small forward Luol Deng and/or power forward Carlos Boozer.
Chicago Bears: For some strange reason, tons of Bears fans were fooled by the Bears’ performance during the first half of the 2012 season. I assume they totally disregarded the weak schedule and at times, anemic and inconsistent offense. In addition, an opportunistic and not necessarily elite defense that made all sorts of wild plays in the first half wasn’t nearly as effective in the second half, which put more pressure on the Jay Cutler-led offense. Oy vey. After the Bears missed the playoffs despite finishing 2012 with a 10-6 record, Lovie Smith and Co. were shown the door. Replacing him at the helm is renowned quarterback guru and former CFL head coach Marc Trestman. Cutler will probably be better under Trestman, but he’s still Jay Cutler. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher retired after failing to re-sign with the Bears and not getting much attention from other teams. 2011 first-round draft pick Gabe Carimi was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yesterday…for a sixth-round pick. The Bears defense got a bit younger, but I’m not sure if they’ll be any better than they were last season. 2013 could be better for the Bears, but they’ll need more than a little bit of luck to even reach the Super Bowl, in my opinion. Bear Down, though!
Chicago White Sox: To the delight of more than a few White Sox fans, Kenny Williams left his general manager position to take a higher one within the organization. Replacing him was the highly respected Rick Hahn, who probably actually values building a decent farm system and not being the pretentious maverick that Williams was. Granted, Williams did make moves that partially led to the Sox’ 2005 World Series title, but he has also made moves that can be attributed to the team’s awful list of prospects and current state of mediocrity. I’d also like to assume that Hahn would never blame poor attendance on the recession and make bold proclamations that make even residents of a mental ward chuckle. The Sox currently have a record of 27-34, Paul Konerko is hitting .235, Adam Dunn is hitting .165 with a slugging percentage of .398, John Danks is still overpaid and manager Robin Ventura would probably relive his “fight” with Nolan Ryan than suffer through being the skip of a team that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But, hey, there’s still southpaw Chris Sale…
Besides the Cubs, the other teams I mentioned aren’t really all that terrible. However, they’re not even in the same stratosphere as the Blackhawks. This can be written with confidence even though the Blackhawks didn’t even make it past the first round in the 2011 and 2012 playoffs. The Hawks have a great mix of young and older talent, and are led by a great head coach, Joel Quenneville. They’re also a very deep team, with scoring punch on lines 1-4 and a solid stable of defensemen. Oh, and starting goalie Corey Crawford and his backup, Ray Emery, are pretty damn good, too.
It’s true that the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup Finals matchup with the Boston Bruins will be tougher than any of their previous playoff series this postseason, but I don’t see them wilting under the pressure in the same fashion that the Pittsburgh Penguins did in the Eastern Conference Finals. In fact, I think a team that has won 7 of their last 8 games is amped to play for their Stanley Cup title since 2010. As frustrating as this team can be at times, they’re also very exciting to watch. It’s also exciting to think about their future, with young established players at the pro level and some of the best prospects in the game waiting for their shot to skate with the big boys. Ignoring the future and concentrating on the present, the Blackhawks are the hottest and best ticket in town, and could salvage what may be a very disappointing 2013 for fans of Chicago’s major pro sports teams. *looks around, ends transmission*
P.S. No shade to the Chicago Fire and Sky. I love y’all, too.