Blackhawks

Deadline madness: Cubs expect Sveum to hold it all together

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Deadline madness: Cubs expect Sveum to hold it all together

Dale Sveum cracks open a beer and folds his arms across his chest. Tattoos run up to his biceps, where two ideas stressed by his late father, a Marine, are anchored.

Give em hell.
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

Win or lose on the road, Sveum sits in the managers office and lets the game wash over him. He shrugs. He rolls his eyes. He laughs. He speaks in a flat voice.

Sveum has a laptop on his desk, but says he doesnt surf the Internet or watch much SportsCenter.

Sveum really doesnt understand Twitter, where his players are traded 247. He has jokingly asked for the latest Whats the twits? and threatened to put any reporter who mentions Twitter in timeout.

No matter how Tuesdays deadline plays out, there will be no excuses from the Cubs manager.

Anything can happen at any hour, any minute, Sveum said. We just focus on what we got. Everybody in the rotations going to pitch and all the hitters are still here and we just dont worry about that. We cant worry about it. Its part of the game.

After slamming a cooler in the dugout and firing a plastic bottle against the wall on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, Ryan Dempster zipped up his Cubs 46 duffel bag and planned to weigh his options during Thursdays off-day.

Who knows what the roster will look like by Friday when the St. Louis Cardinals come to Wrigley Field? The sense is that Dempster will be hearing I Love L.A. at Dodger Stadium sometime next week.

But as Theo Epstein works the phones trying to dismantle this team and collect more prospects, the 40-57 Cubs have gone 16-9 since June 25, the day before Anthony Rizzo was promoted.

Weve been playing our best baseball while all this stuff (was going on), general manager Jed Hoyer said. Dale and the coaching staff handled that really well. Their focus, all along, has been on winning, even while rumors have swirled.

Dempsters tantrum at PNC Park was steps away from where he screamed at Mike Quade after being pulled from a game last season. That confrontation undercut the managers authority, confirming on television what the players were starting to think behind closed doors.

But Sveum who dressed up along with the players and went as Hellboy for this weeks Superheroes flight from St. Louis to Pittsburgh has a good feel for the clubhouse.

Theyve been the same with us from Day 1, utility man Jeff Baker said. As a player, you really respect that, because they understand how hard the game is. They work with you every day. Theres no front-running. Theyre not patting you on the back, being your best friend when youre getting hits and when youre not, they dont talk to you. Thats not how it is here.

Pitching coach Chris Bosio did the job for Lou Piniella and threw a no-hitter in the big leagues. First-base coach Dave McKay spent 26 years on Tony La Russas staff. Bench coach Jamie Quirk is in his 38th season in pro ball.

Sveum is also surrounded by an American League Rookie of the Year (Pat Listach), and the bullpen catcher (Mike Borzello) who warmed up Mariano Rivera the night the New York Yankees closer discovered his cutter.

Thats part of our jobs, to keep things together, whether theyre good or bad, Sveum said. Its always trying to keep the same atmosphere and the same work ethic and the same preparation. All of us, including my staff, (have been) through some horrible times (and) some great times.

You got to give the players as much credit as anything. I could walk in the locker room (and) even during the 12-game losing streak it was always the same every single day. Thats all you can ask for, and thats all you can try and create.

Whether people call it trying to change a culture or whatever, but thats the idea of everything we do: Try to be consistent in preparation and understanding about making yourself a better player every day, paying attention to details.

Answering questions from the media, Sveum doesnt get defensive or second-guess himself or try to entertain everyone. He almost always backs his players, unless they go off script from the game plan, like Carlos Marmol not throwing enough fastballs or Chris Volstad shaking off the catcher.

The coaching staffs been fantastic, second baseman Darwin Barney said. Everybody on this team has been very pleased and happy with the way that theyve been handling things, the way they communicate with people. That definitely has nothing to do with us not winning ballgames. Were just missing a few pieces.

For all the buzz at the trade deadline, thats the bigger question: How far is this team from contention? Epstein can have a vision for the next decade, but Sveum is the one who has to be out front every day, talking to reporters before and after every game.

Its the starting pitching thats going to dictate anything, Sveum said. Our offense is going to gradually get better and better. But I think when you go into the season, youll still put a competitive team together. You have to have all the pieces though.

You cant have an offense, no bullpen, one starting pitcher. You have to have three or four quality starting pitchers. You have to have a back end of a bullpen.

Its a whole combination of things that you have to put together during the winter, (so) that when you go into Opening Day next year, you got those pieces hopefully put together. Anything can happen, but you have to find those pieces and put them together at the right time.

Epstein and Hoyer rarely travel on the road with the major-league club. With the deadline approaching, Sveum said he hasnt been speaking with them any more than normal.

We talk about a lot of stuff all the time, but you dont have that interaction of talking about (moves for) the future, Sveum said. We have a great relationship, but right now they obviously have a lot on the table.

Sveum has to hope they play their cards right, because eventually this is going to become a lot less about feel and more about wins and losses, especially in a big market not known for patience.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night:

1. Blackhawks squander two leads.

For the 13th time in their past 16 games, the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. They had won their previous three instances when doing so, but couldn't seal the deal this time and fell to 5-6-2 in those 13 games.

What strung even more is that the Blackhawks held two one-goal leads and couldn't hang on to either of them. They have the seventh-worst win percentage (.571) when scoring the first goal this season with a 20-10-5 record.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to produce offensively.

If you're trying to look for a rare bright spot on the Blackhawks roster this season, here's one. Hinostroza registered a secondary assist on David Kampf's goal for his fifth point in six games, and was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for and seven against during 5-on-5 play for a team-leading shot attempt differential of plus-9 (also known as Corsi).

For the season, Hinostroza has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 32 games and he's doing so while averaging only 13:27 of ice time. His point-per-game average is up to 0.63, which is tied with Jonathan Toews for third on the team; only Patrick Kane (0.92) and Nick Schmaltz (0.71) are producing at a higher rate.

Hinostroza deserves more minutes, but at the same time his ability to produce on any of the four lines has allowed Joel Quenneville to put him in a bottom six role for balance.

"I like his speed," Quenneville said recently on why Hinostroza has been so effective. "I think with the puck, he's been good with it as well. More strength, on it, managing it, better decisions with it, and good plays off it. He definitely brings you energy and some speed, he can catch people with that quickness."

3. Ryan Hartman's benching.

Hartman was part of the fourth line that contributed to the Blackhawks' first goal of the game, and he was on his way to having a strong one. But that changed quickly after he took an ill-advised penalty in the first period.

Already leading 1-0, the Blackhawks had a 2-on-1 opportunity developing involving Hinostroza and David Kampf but Hartman was whistled for high-sticking at 17:06 behind the play. The Blue Jackets converted on the power play, and that was the end of Hartman's night.

He took only five shifts and finished with a season-low 4:16 of ice time, with Quenneville using it as an opportunity for a teaching moment.

4. Tomas Jurco building confidence back up.

It's been a tough season mentally for Jurco. He started the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs after failing to make the team out of camp, and compiled 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. 

It earned him a call-up on Jan. 8, with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman praising the way he progressed: "He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays. That's why we brought him up here."

The problem? He was a healthy scratch for five straight games and went two weeks without seeing game action with the Blackhawks. Not exactly the best way to keep someone's confidence building. And since then, he's been fighting for a spot in the lineup.

For the last three games, Jurco has been given a shot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane and he cashed in for his first goal of the season tonight and first since March 27, 2017. It's also the second straight game he's recorded a point.

While he may not be worth much if the Blackhawks were to deal him ahead of Monday's deadline, perhaps a change of scenery to a team that believes in him as a fit will bring out the best of his abilities. The Blackhawks tried and it just hasn't worked out.

5. Blue line observation.

This is more of a big-picture takeaway, but the Blackhawks have gotten only 20 goals from their defensemen this season. The Blue Jackets have gotten a combined 19 from just Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Last season the Blackhawks had 30 total.

The Blackhawks just haven't gotten the offensive production needed from their back end and it's so important as it helps alleviate some of the pressure off the forwards.

I asked Quenneville about this after Friday's game and here's what he had to say: "Whether you score or not, you need the D to be part of your attack, be it off the rush, in zone. But I think the whole game, the whole league is four-man rush game, five-man attacks, coming at you, night-in, night-out, wave after wave.

"But you need to get your D involved in your support on the attack and you need them on the offensive zone off the point. You need some shooters on the back end that can get them through as well. I think offensive production from the back end in today’s game really enhances your offense and your possession game."

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”