In a way, we’ve already done this before.
When the 2015 season ended, with the Chicago Blackhawks capturing a third Stanley Cup title that June, there was no denying it: the NHL’s salary cap was coming for Patrick Sharp. The math didn’t add up anymore, and the then-33-year-old Sharp was traded to the Dallas Stars in the offseason, ending a decade-long run with the Blackhawks.
But Sharp returned to the Hawks last summer and wrapped up his NHL career on Saturday night. A veteran of 939 NHL games, Sharp got video tributes at the United Center on Friday and in Winnipeg on Saturday.
But the farewell this time is different, because the player is different. When Sharp was traded away in 2015, it was at the end (and probably a year after) a prime that included four 30-goal seasons and one (2013-14) when he was the team leader in points during the regular season. It was a farewell to a player who arrived in the deepest depths of the Blackhawks descent into anonymity during the early-2000s but helped engineer the ascent into NHL history. It was a farewell to a player who helped seal Game 5 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final with this missile:
It was a farewell to a player who had five goals in a five-game 2013 Western Conference Quarterfinal defeat of the Minnesota Wild. It was a farewell player who moved down to the third line that was one of the biggest X-factors in Chicago’s 2015 Stanley Cup Final victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But Patrick Sharp wasn’t that player anymore. We all knew it. He probably knew it, too, taking an $800,000 salary that was more appropriate for a fourth-liner than someone of his pedigree.
There were still glimpses of that old Sharp this season, including one in the first game of the season, when Sharp skated past the Pittsburgh Penguins’ defense and fired a wrister past Matt Murray during a 10-1 dismantling of the Penguins:
But Father Time remained undefeated, with Sharp putting up numbers of 10 goals and 11 assists during his final 70 games, numbers that would be acceptable for any other fourth-liner, but didn’t feel right for the lofty standards Sharp had set with his own performances earlier in his career.
Like virtually every other aspect of the 2017-18 Blackhawks season, Sharp’s part in it will likely fade into the background of the more memorable moments from his career. There was the OT winner against the Red Wings in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the four-point game against Vancouver in the 2010 postseason or his breakaway goal against the Blues in the 2014 playoffs, among a slew of others. Pick your favorite, because there are plenty to go around.
If there’s a silver lining to all of this, it’s that Sharp got one final victory lap in Chicago, one final moment of recognition in front of the crowd he dazzled for a decade, an experience that’s exceedingly rare in the nomadic world of professional sports:
Thanks (again), Sharpy.