With the Blackhawks appearing finished in free agnecy and unlikely to pursue a trade, at least until the trading deadline, much of the focus for the fans has shifted to Patrick Sharp, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
This is the second consecutive season that the Hawks will enter a season with questions about a contract for a core player. Last year it was Brent Seabrook who had to deal with the speculation throughout much of last season, but eventually signed a new five-year deal at midseason.
Of course, there’s that question of whether or not Sharp is actually a member of the core group. Quite honestly, if Sharp hasn’t answered those questions by now, it’s never going to happen.
He might not have been more than a compliment when he was acquired from Philadelphia, but Sharp has absolutely proved himself as a part of the core. In fact, he could be a bigger key to success than Marian Hossa, if you look at each of them from every aspect of their game, both on and off the ice.
While the 2010-2011 season wasn’t always a banner year for the Blackhawks, it was every bit a career year for Sharp. He played consistently at a high level, until a knee injury against Phoenix called his season into question.
Of Sharp’s 71 points last season, 68 of those came in the 71 games he played in prior to the hit from Rostislav Klesla. He did contribute an assist in each of the last three games he returned for in the regular season, but his play did drop off a bit, no doubt due to how quickly he came back from the injury.
But Sharp’s impact for the Blackhawks goes beyond the numbers. One of the bigger veteran voices on the team, Sharp is a fantastic presence in the locker room. Aside from his leadership qualities, Sharp also has the ability to keep the team loose, as we’ve seen from his antics on Blackhawks TV.
The big questions facing both sides for a new deal are when a deal could be done, and how much it’s going to cost the Hawks to sign the veteran forward, who will be 30 years old in December.
Right now, Sharp could be considered a bargain, as he makes just a shade under $4 million a year. He’s certainly due for a raise, but it likely won’t be on that breaks the bank. A raise to the neighborhood of $5 million a season is likely a safe figure. Of course, whether it’s more or less than that depends on when he signs and what type of season he’s having at that point.
The concern of the Hawks not having the money to sign him are essentially gone. They have about $3 million in cap space now, and are only really committed to a bunch of one-year deals outside of the core group and the younger guys on the squad. This means even more money will be free next offseason, with cheaper talent coming up from Rockford in addition to whoever the Hawks might bring in at the trade deadline and next summer.
The timeline for a deal to get done is likely the bigger question. As nice as it would be to have a deal done with all of this free time before the season starts, it’s probably unlikely that it gets done before that.
But take solace in knowing the two sides have spoken already and both want a deal to get done. Obviously fans and the organization want Sharp in Chicago, and he has already noted his desire to stay. With that in mind, and the extra cap space, it’s hard to see this taking longer than Seabrook’s deal did and almost impossible to think that Patrick Sharp won’t remain a Blackhawk for the foreseeable future.