Blackhawks losing their spark; Now what?

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Blackhawks losing their spark; Now what?

There was a time when you could see a fire in the Chicago Blackhawks.

You would have certain players, especially captain Jonathan Toews, seething and putting their angst into words. Even as much restructuring and readjusting that last years team faced, there was a big response before losing streaks got out of hand.

But as the Blackhawks losses have mounted in February, youre seeing less of that. The anger has dissipated into bewilderment and, to some degree, a feeling of resignation. This skid has been a punch to the Blackhawks midsection, and theyre struggling to catch their breath.

The Blackhawks havent had a losing streak like this since the 2008-09 season. And for a still young group thats used to winning a lot, there seems to be a sense of, What do we do now?

So is this just a total collapse, or were there cracks in the faade even during the best of times this season?

Even when we were in first place and it was tight, I think there were a lot of games when we werent that good, Duncan Keith said prior to Saturdays game. Now its caught up with us.

Thats true in a few aspects. Even in some of their victories they were giving up a lot of goals, as team defense and goaltending have struggled. They have yet to record a shutout this season, have yet to prove they can win those 1-0, 2-1, tight, low-scoring games.

The Blackhawks core pushed them to the top of the NHL standings through the first three months. But individual slumps happen, and unfortunately for the Blackhawks their top guys are all slumping at the same time. And the supporting cast hasnt been enough to buoy the Blackhawks through their troubles.

Coach Joel Quenneville has juggled lines trying to get something, anything. Nothing is working. Occasional healthy scratches for Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik havent bolstered their games, and other leashes have been way too short -- Brendan Morrison was a healthy scratch Friday, after just four games with his new team.

You need every guy in the room, said Patrick Kane, whos been way too quiet this season. When we were successful, whether last year or the year before, we had a lot of depth, a lot of players stepping up beyond their game. That goes for me and for anyone in the room.

And, yes, Kane called himself out too.

Its something where Ive got to pick it up, got to score goals. The onus is on a lot of guys, but first and foremost you look at yourself and try to figure out what you have to do better.

The Blackhawks have to figure it out quick. The teams in front of them are pulling away. The ones behind them are gaining. They need to re-ignite that fire.

We need everybody on board, Quenneville said. Were not thinking about standings right now. Were thinking of trying to win a game.

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

Bobby Howry wasn't aware of the fact he was part of one of the more infamous transactions in White Sox history until a few years after it happened. 

In 1997, with the White Sox only 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians, general manager Ron Schueler pulled the trigger on a massive trade that left many around Chicago — including some in the White Sox clubhouse — scratching their heads. Heading to the San Francisco Giants was the team's best starting pitcher (left-hander Wilson Alvarez), a reliable rotation piece (Doug Drabek) and a closer coming off a 1996 All-Star appearance (Roberto Hernandez). In return, the White Sox acquired six minor leaguers: right-handers Howry, Lorenzo Barcelo, Keith Foulke, left-hander Ken Vining, shortstop Mike Caruso and outfielder Brian Manning. Only Foulke had major league experience, and it wasn't exactly good (an 8.26 ERA in 44 2/3 innings). 

Howry was largely oblivious to the shocking nature of the trade that brought him from the Giants to White Sox until, before the 1999 season, he was featured in a commercial that referenced the "White Flag trade."

"I don't even know if I knew it was called that before then," Howry recalled last weekend at the Sheraton Grand Chicago at Cubs Convention. 

The trade was a stark signal that youth would be emphasized on 35th and Shields. Both Alvarez and Hernandez were set to become free agents after the 1997 season, and the 40-year-old Darwin wasn't a long-term piece, either. With youngsters like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee rising through the farm system, the move was made with an eye on the future and maximizing the return on players who weren't going to be long-term pieces. 

Sound familiar? 

It's hardly a perfect comparison, but when the White Sox traded Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox in December for four minor leaguers — headlined by top-100 prospects in Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech — it was the first rebuilding blockbuster trade the organization had made since the 1997 White Flag deal. Shortly after trading their staff ace at the 2016 Winter Meetings, the White Sox shipped Adam Eaton — their best position player — to the Washington Nationals for a package of prospects featuring two more highly-regarded youngsters in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. 

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And there still could be more moves on the horizon, too, for Rick Hahn's White Sox (Jose Quintana has been the subject of persistent rumors since the Winter Meetings). But for those looking for an optimistic outlook of the White Sox rebuilding plans, it's worth noting that the club's last youth movement, to an extent, was successful.

Only Howry (3.74 ERA over 294 games) and Foulke (2.87 ERA, 100 saves over 346 games) became significant long-term pieces for the White Sox from those six players brought over in 1997. And it wasn't like Schueler dealt away any of the franchise's cornerstones — like Frank Thomas, Albert Belle and Robin Ventura — but with future starters in Lee, Ordonez and Chris Singleton on their way the White Sox were able to go young. A swap of promising youthful players (Mike Cameron for Paul Konerko) proved to be successful a year and a half later. 

And with a couple of shrewd moves — namely, dealing Jamie Navarro and John Snyder to the Milwaukee Brewers for Cal Eldred and Jose Valentin — the "Kids Can Play" White Sox stormed to an American League Central title in 2000. 

"It was great," Howry said of developing with so many young players in the late 1999's and 2000. "You come in and you feel a lot more comfortable when you got a lot of young guys and you're all coming up together and building together. It's not like you're walking into a primarily veteran clubhouse where you're kind of having to duck and hide all the time. We had a great group of guys and we built together over a couple of years, and putting that together was a lot of fun."

What sparked things in 2000, Howry said, was that ferocious brawl with the Detroit Tigers on April 22 in which 11 players were ejected (the fight left Foulke needing five stitches and former Tigers catcher/first baseman Robert Fick doused in beer). 

"About the time we had that fight with Detroit, that big brawl, all of a sudden after then we just seemed to kind of come together and everything started to click and it took off," Howry said. 

The White Sox went 80-81 in 1998 and slipped to 75-86 in 1999, but their 95-67 record in 2000 was the best in the league — though it only amounted to a three-game sweep at the hands of the wild-card winning Seattle Mariners. 

Still, the White Flag trade had a happy ending two and a half years later. While with the White Sox, Howry didn't feel pressure to perform under the circumstances with which he arrived, which probably helped those young players grow together into eventual division champions. 

"I was 23 years old," Howry said. "At 23 years old, I didn't really — I was just like, okay, I'm still playing, I got a place to play. I didn't really put a whole lot of thought into three veteran guys for six minor leaguers." 

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

White Sox 2016 first round pick Zack Collins joins the podcast to talk about his future with the White Sox, when he hopes to make the big leagues and the doubters who question whether he can be a major league catcher.   He discusses comparisons with Kyle Schwarber, his impressions of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, why his dad took him to a Linkin Park concert when he was 6 years old and much more.