Sharp underrated everywhere but Blackhawks’ locker room
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com May 12, 2013 7:12PM
Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Michal Handzus
Updated: May 12, 2013 11:09PM
It was no surprise that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews scoring zero goals in the first round series against the Minnesota Wild was a hotter angle than Patrick Sharp scoring five.
Kane and Toews are neon-like emblems of the Blackhawks’ rise from the muck of the NHL to Stanley Cup championship elite status. Kane is the playmaking wizard with the puck. Toews seemingly is around every good thing that ever happens to the Hawks.
Patrick Sharp is just Patrick Sharp. He wasn’t a bally-hooed draft pick. He arrived in town without fanfare. He never was a teenage prodigy. He was neither the goofy kid nor the mature-beyond-his-years, 22-year-old captain. He doesn’t win awards. All he he does is act his age and score goals.
And even when you inquire about the secret to his success, it still comes out — perhaps unwittingly — like a bit of a backhanded compliment.
‘‘He knows how to get open. And when he does, he doesn’t miss often,’’ Kane said. ‘‘He’s always finding himself good chance, whether it’s around the net or in the slot.’’
Kane stopped himself. ‘‘I don’t want to pump his tires too much,’’ he quickly added. ‘‘But he’s a good teammate, a good friend. He’s been awesome in the first round.’’
Nobody wants to pump anybody’s tires on this team — it seems to be an inside joke in the Blackhawks’ locker room. But rarely is anyone asked to even try with Sharp. He would be the go-to star in a lot of NHL locker rooms. But with Toews and Kane around, Sharp easily blends into the background.
‘‘Those are things that I can’t really control what outside influences have to say or think about our team,’’ Sharp said. ‘‘Those are two elite players you’re talking about. They get a lot of attention and that’s fine. That’s the way things are. That doesn’t bother me one bit.’’
In a way, it helps Sharp keep his edge. ‘‘It’s always nice to read things about yourself and hear compliments about yourself. But it doesn’t do me any good,’’ he said. ‘‘I feel like I play my best when I’m motivated and ready to go out there.
‘‘And we have a good team. The [championship] belt that we have [which is awarded by a teammate to a teammate after each victory] gets passed around to a lot of different people for a lot of reasons.’’
Even as a goal-scorer, Sharp is well-rounded. He
s fast and has a big, quck shot but he scores ugly goals when the team needs them most. It was Sharp who smartly tested Wild third-string goalie Darcy Kuemper with a 50-foot slap shot in Game 4 and struck gold. He’s more versatile than he looks.
‘‘I’ve always been proud of the fact that I can play in all situations,’’ said Sharp, who has scored 199 regular-season goals in the NHL — the first against former Hawk Ed Belfour in 2004. ‘‘I broke into the league as a fourth-line player, as a penalty killer — that’s something I take pride in. Given the opportunity, I feel I can do that. I get a lot of credit for putting up points and scoring goals, but I like to think I can play in all situations.’’
Unlike the Kane and Toews, who were targeted for stardom as teenagers, Sharp has been fighting for recognition throughout his NHL career. A third-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011, Sharp helped lead the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms to the Calder Cup in 2005, with a sweep of the Chicago Wolves. But as a Flyers prospect he was far down a list that was headed by teammates Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Sharp — who wore five different uniform numbers in 66 games with the Flyers — ultimately was deemed expendable. He was traded to the Hawks in 2005 for Matt Ellison because Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke and coach Ken Hitchcock didn’t know what they had.
‘‘Patrick is a natural center, not a wing, and we have too many centers,’’ Hitchcock told reporters after the trade.
Ellison played five games and was sent to the minors and ended up playing seven total games for the Flyers. Sharp quickly was moved to right wing and became a star. Well, not a star. He became a scorer with a knack for avoiding the spotlight.
Sharp led the Hawks with 36 goals in 2007-08, but that was the debut season of Kane and Toews. In a turning-point victory over the Vancouver Canucks in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals, Sharp had a goal and three assists — but Toews scored a hat trick and had five-point game in a 7-4 victory that gave the Hawks a 3-2 series lead and propelled Toews into Conn Smythe Award contention. In Game 6 of the Cup Finals in 2010, Sharp scored the goal that tied the game at 2-2 — trumped by Kane’s game-winner, of course.
Sharp has not been ignored as a Blackhawks star. But the 2010 postseason run to the Stanley Cup remains a shining example of his ability to find the shadows. Sharp was second on the team in goals (11), third in points (22), second in plus/minus (plus-10) and fifth in assists (11) in the playoffs. He led the team in shots-on-goal — an underrated statistic.
And no Hawks player was more consistent: He scored in 15 of 22 games. He never went more than one game without a point. He was a minus player in only four games. Six of his last seven goals either tied the score or gave the Hawks the lead. In the Finals, he had four goals, six points and was a plus-7 against the Flyers. Yet he literally was not in the conversation for the Conn Smythe Award. Toews was a deserving winner. Duncan Keith, Antti Niemi or Dustin Byfuglien could have won it as well. But Sharp had a heluva postseason resume to not even be considered.
‘‘He’s always been pretty underrated ever since I came here, maybe one of the most underrated guys in the league,’’ Kane said. ‘‘And I don’t know if that’s because we have so many players here or what. But it’s always been kind of unfair to him, I guess. He’s a great player, a huge part of the team and always seems to score timely goals.’’
With five goals in the opening-round victory over the Wild, Sharp can’t be overlooked forever. Well, he can. But like everybody else in hockey, Sharp plays to win championships no matter how it’s done. If the Hawks win another Stanley Cup, Sharp gladly will live with being the guy who knows how to get open.