Commentary

Sharp helps give Hawks their edge

Versatile forward as big a part of Chicago's story as any of team's star players

Updated: June 12, 2013, 1:53 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Patrick Sharp had himself one heck of a media scrum going Tuesday afternoon … that is, until Patrick Kane showed up at the podium next to him a few minutes later and lured away a bunch of cameras within seconds.

It was a telling reminder that no matter what Sharp does, to the outside world he remains in the shadows of his more famous teammates.

Not sure the day will ever come when Sharp will play himself out of the shadows of Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, but as the playoffs yet again show, he's an equally important part of the Chicago Blackhawks' equation, tied with Hossa and Kane for the team lead in scoring with 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 17 games.

When Toews struggled early in the second-round series against the Detroit Red Wings, Sharp picked up his team and was a catalyst in helping the Blackhawks climb out of a 3-1 series hole, their season very much on the line.

"Sharp played very well against us," Red Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com on Monday. "He is dangerous because he has scoring touch but also the ability to create scoring chances for his linemates."

Holland just happens to also be part of the Canadian Olympic team brain trust, alongside Team Canada boss Steve Yzerman.

Patrick Sharp
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesPatrick Sharp is tied for the team lead with 14 points in 17 playoff games and has been a key contributor at both ends of the ice for the Hawks.
"Plays all three forward positions well, plays power play and the penalty kill, good on faceoffs," Yzerman told ESPN.com via email Monday. "He's a very valuable player."

Sharp's eyes lit up Tuesday during his media day session on the eve of the Stanley Cup finals when I relayed Yzerman's comments to him. Making the Canadian Olympic team clearly is a deep-rooted goal for the native of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

"It means a lot," said Sharp, who has played for Canada in two IIHF world championships. "Obviously, right now my commitment is to the team, the Blackhawks organization and my teammates. But I'm 31 years old and I'd be lying if I said Hockey Canada wasn't a personal goal of mine. I think every Canadian kid grows up putting the jersey on. You mentioned [Yzerman's quote] that I could play all three positions, I'd be willing to go there and tape sticks if that's what they wanted me to do.

"Again, my commitment right now is to win the Cup for the city of Chicago and our team. But [the Olympics are] definitely a personal goal."

A big performance on the big stage would go a long way toward at least earning Sharp an invite to the late August Olympic camp.

It might also help Sharp shed the underrated tag he still carries around. Maybe.

It's time people recognize Sharp for what he is: one of the game's elite forwards.

"He's a great player, maybe he's a bit in the shadow here, but maybe only from the media," said Hawks center Michal Handzus, who has played on the same line as Sharp most of the playoffs. "Because the players who play with him or against him, they know how good he is."

Handzus' perspective isn't forged in the two-plus months he's been back in Chicago. It's his third tour of duty with Sharp, having also played alongside him here six years ago and also with the Philadelphia Flyers when Sharp was a rookie.

He has seen the development of a player he pegged right away as a future star.

"I knew Sharpie first in Philadelphia, he was on the fourth line and sort of in and out [of the lineup]," Handzus said. "But I could already see at that time he was going to be a great player. He was a great talent with great speed.

"When he got traded to Chicago, pretty much all of us were happy for him because we knew he would get a chance."

That's exactly what he wasn't going to get in Philadelphia in 2005-06, the Flyers coming off a conference finals appearance before the 2005 lockout and thinking Cup all the way. Sharp wasn't going to get a real shot in Philadelphia to develop, despite showing the organization what he could do in the AHL in 2004-05 by putting up 21 points (8-13) in 21 playoff games en route to a Calder Cup title.

"I remember that when he had the puck, he was a great player, but the rest of his game he still had to work on," former Flyers GM Bob Clarke told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "We brought him up with the Flyers. Again, he was really terrific with the puck, but without it he still had to learn the rest of the game.

"And we were a good team; he wasn't getting any ice time to speak of. He wasn't playing regularly. So you start running out of time with these young players. If they can't get regular ice time, they can't develop.

"Obviously it's a trade we would regret. A third-round pick for Patrick is nothing."

In December 2005, a few weeks before his 24th birthday, Sharp was sent to Chicago along with Eric Meloche in exchange for Matt Ellison and Chicago's third-round choice (later traded to the Montreal Canadiens, who selected Ryan White) in the 2006 draft.

Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsSharp, taken by the Flyers in the third round of the 2001 draft and traded to Chicago in 2005, has established himself at all three forward positions.
Clarke made some great trades during his time as Flyers GM, keeping the team nearly always in contention, but he's the first to admit where this one ranks.

"It was a lousy trade on our part," he said. "But give credit to [former Hawks GM] Dale Tallon. No other team was lining up for him. Only the Blackhawks with Dale. …

"Patrick's a great player now. But when he got to Chicago, they were a lousy team, and they were putting in young players his age and just played them. They weren't trying to win; they were just developing players. It worked great for Patrick. He became the player that he would have become with us had we had the patience and time to develop him."

It's all worked out in the end for Sharp, who has one Cup ring already in his pocket and now has a shot at another. And he's wrapping up the first season of a five-year, $29.5 million deal. What could be any better?

Still, you get the sense that underneath the flashy smile and hunky looks that make female Hawks fans melt in their seats there remains a chip on the shoulder of Patrick Sharp.

"I get asked that question a lot," Sharp said. "It's not something I really spend a lot of time worrying about. But I feel like I'm a player that's on a good team with a number of great players that deserve a lot of the attention they get. If I'm one of those guys that goes under the radar and not gets focused on, that's fine by me."