Trading Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets opened up a whole lot of capital for the Chicago Blackhawks, who got a number of young players in return for cheap. If they are able to develop Marko Dano, Artem Anisimov, former (and once again) Blackhawk Jeremy Morin and Corey Tropp over the next few seasons, they’ll see a return that was worth trading one of their top scorers and internally-developed prospects.
What moving Saad also did for the Blackhawks, however, was make it possible to retain one of their top scorers and veteran player, Patrick Sharp.
Sharp had 43 points and 16 goals in 68 games during the 2014-2015 season, with Jen Lute-Costella demonstrating that his value to the team didn’t always come in points production, but also in helping players acclimate to the faster pace and demands that comes with the transition to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Sharp’s responsibilities on his many line combinations were changed from finisher duties to workhorse duties. Sharp has been tasked with finding a way to get the puck out of the defensive zone and into the offensive zone while his new linemates have learned the ropes of the Hawks’ system. Those linemates, mostly Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen, both joined the team as full-time additions late in the season. Both obviously are skilled, particularly the unbelievably crafty Teravainen, but it takes time to find a rhythm together.
So why would the Blackhawks want to trade a player like Sharp, who can be a workhorse one year and a skilled sniper the next? To make things even more difficult, Sharp has a no-movement clause built into his contract which went into affect at least one season ago.
It might seem that trading Sharp is more trouble than it’s worth. After all, his upside is still tremendously high. But keeping him may be more trouble than it’s worth.
Rumors about Sharp’s off-ice conduct abound, and reached the point that Sharp had to address them in an informal press conference in front of his stall.
Whether the rumors are true or not, they make the Blackhawks’ image more difficult to control, something their media team surely cannot be thrilled with and something that the front office probably keeps in mind when reviewing potential offers from other teams this offseason.
Sharp is an excellent player. While Chicago is certainly trying to develop more players like Sharp, they aren’t there yet, and there are very few wingers who could replace him.
Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues
While the Blues and Blackhawks are highly unlikely to deal with an in-division rival, Steen and Sharp are comparable in goals scored and have a similar cap hit. Steen may not have the assist numbers that Sharp puts up when paired with talent from the top two lines, and Sharp might be a little more costly than Blues GM Doug Armstrong likes, but the trade makes sense.
Sharp brings the footspeed Blues head coach, Ken Hitchcock, has targeted as his main change for the Blues next season. Additionally, he brings the sniping and playmaking ability the Blues lost when they traded away Oshie to the Washington Capitals.
Steen, on the other hand, brings a larger body to Chicago and a tremendous work ethic. His cap hit is only $100,000 less than Sharp’s, but he’s a player who can be that workhorse or can step up and score
The Blues gave Steen an extension with a much higher cap hit than they would have otherwise because they were convinced he was going to be a goal-a-game scorer. And for a while he was, putting up tremendous numbers the first half of the 2013-2014 season. While he isn’t Maurice Richard, Steen certainly knows how to create opportunities for himself and his linemates on the ice.
James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs
Listen, the Leafs are selling off anything with a price tag attached. Why not James van Riemsdyk as well?
Van Riemsdyk hasn’t surpassed Sharp yet in stats, but he’s producing very similar numbers in points to what Sharp put up when he was 26 himself, though JVR lags behind in goals. He’s a good skater, skilled with his stick and fast on his feet. Though he sometimes lacks defensive awareness, Quenneville’s drills and system would improve that aspect of his game quickly.
We know Sharp would be a great addition to any team; he’s able to work with players who are new to the NHL and old hats at this game. He’s got three Stanley Cup rings and the experience that comes with that; he’s worth a lot to the right team. Toronto could, indeed, be that team.
Toronto has $8 million available in cap space, giving them a large amount of room to work with.
Netting van Riemsdyk for the Blackhawks would be a coup in more ways than one; Chicago would be one of the few franchises in the NHL to have a pair of brothers on the team, and two brothers who are highly regarded as players.
Van Riemsdyk’s cap hit with an AAV of $4.25 million per season might be too much for the cash-strapped Blackhawks, which would be the main problem standing in their way when it comes to acquiring him. The Blackhawks might have to sell off both Sharp and Bickell before they could think about taking on van Riemsdyk’s salary. Though, as the cap rises and van Riemsdyk’s salary remains the same, whichever team holds van Riemsdyk’s contract will think themselves very lucky indeed. Why shouldn’t it be Chicago?