This is one rumor I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about. The idea of Patrick Sharp returning to the Chicago Blackhawks almost seems too good to be true. Frankly, it probably is too good to be true. It’s not like we’ve heard any word that the Blackhawks and Stars have discussed Sharp since their 2015 trade, either.
But the name is coming up. The Athletic’s Brian Hedger broke down some possible left wing targets for the Hawks and mentioned Sharp’s name on Tuesday. A day later, Elliotte Friedman speculated in his 30 Thoughts column about a possible Sharp/Blackhawks reunion.
Of course, he didn’t say much — “Speaking of reunions, in my endless quest to find Chicago another forward, does Patrick Sharp become a possibility?” — but it seems like there’s some momentum behind the idea of the Blackhawks at least giving this route a shot. Even if we haven’t heard any concrete rumors tying Sharp to the Hawks, people in the know are bringing it up.
But is it actually feasible given everything we know about the salary cap and the needs between the two teams? Let’s take a look.
Why a Sharp reunion makes sense
There are myriad reasons why Sharp coming back to Chicago would be fantastic. He’s a talented left wing who is one season removed from recording 20 goals and 55 points in Dallas. He’s familiar with the system Joel Quenneville operates having spent so much time playing in it. And, well, he’s a former fan favorite who could quickly scratch the “former” off his title if he came back.
Now that the Stars are falling out of the playoff picture with a 19-19-8 record, they could try to begin reloading by moving some upcoming free agents like Sharp. It makes him an undeniably interesting option for Chicago.
In terms of hockey fit, Sharp would be among the better options available to the Blackhawks. He’s only recorded four goals and five assists in 20 games this season, but he’s still putting pucks on net. In that sense, it would be a smart buy-low opportunity of sorts. The Hawks could definitely use someone with Sharp’s scoring ability in the top six.
And while his possession numbers have fallen off this season, there’s some important context there. Sharp is taking fewer offensive zone starts than at any point in his career, and he’s not getting time with the Stars’ superstars like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Instead, Sharp’s top three partners this season have been Devin Shore, Jason Spezza, and Radek Faksa. Unsurprisingly, Sharp’s numbers are far better with Spezza than the other two.
So acquiring Sharp could be an ideal move by the Blackhawks. He’d be a strong candidate to help Jonathan Toews’ line get back on track given his skill and familiarity. And with his contract and $5.9 million cap hit set to expire at the end of the season, the team would have the flexibility to let him go or try to re-sign him at a more reasonable cost. Sharp also has a no-trade clause, but it’s hard to see him blocking a trade to the Hawks.
Unfortunately, that price tag is also part of what makes this tricky.
Why a Sharp reunion doesn’t make sense
The Blackhawks would have to not only find a way to meet the Stars’ asking price, but also fit Sharp’s cap hit onto their books. Those two variables create a situation where a lot of pieces would need to fall neatly into place for the two sides to agree to a deal.
The first one that needs to be addressed is the money, because it doesn’t matter if the two sides find a deal they like if it puts the Hawks over the cap. That can’t happen, so any deal involving Sharp would need a heavy dose of creativity.
The Blackhawks, if they keep their current 23-man roster until the trade deadline on Feb. 28, would be able to add roughly $3.34 million in cap space on that day, per Cap Friendly. They could push that number up a bit by going down to 21 or 22 men for the upcoming six weeks leading up to the deadline, which would allow them to bank extra cap space. But either way, they’re not going to have the room to add Sharp to their books next month without clearing salary elsewhere.
So that leads to the natural question of how would you do that. One way would be to convince the Stars to retain a portion of Sharp’s salary. If the Hawks can get to the deadline with the ability to add a roughly $4 million player, maybe they could get Dallas to retain the remaining $1.9 million to make it work.
You would need to pay a premium for the Stars to do that, though, so suddenly an expensive rental becomes even more so. Remember how the Hawks gave up Phillip Danault and a second-round pick to Montreal for Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann last year? Part of why the cost was so high for Chicago was that the Habs retained part of the salary on each player. If it was a simple swap without retained salary, the Hawks surely would’ve given up less.
So unless the Hawks were considering an even larger deal with outgoing salary, you’d need to be ready to give the Stars some really good pieces to get the deal done. Would a top young forward like Tyler Motte, a second-round pick, and a lower-level prospect suffice? Or would the Stars push for the inclusion of a young blue liner like Gustav Forsling or Ville Pokka? The Stars would have a lot of leverage if the Hawks also need them to retain salary for a deal to work.
Likelihood of a Sharp deal
The odds are low because of everything listed above. Even if the Blackhawks identify Sharp as the guy they want to acquire, figuring out how to make the salary cap numbers work while satisfying the Stars would be challenging. This applies to most big names the Hawks could target before the trade deadline, but Sharp’s higher cap hit of $5.9 million makes it that much more difficult. It’s just a lot of money to fit into an already tight situation.
The fit would be almost perfect, though, so you can see why the speculative wheels are already moving here. Sharp would be a prime addition for the Hawks, even if there are a lot of hurdles to making it happen. Don’t hold your breathe, but with guys like Friedman bringing up the possibility, we have to admit — it would be pretty sweet.