CHICAGO -- It was a question that Chicago Blackhawks Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman had grown tired of answering.
It came from reporters. It came from other GMs. It even came from agent Rick Curran, who represents Hawks star forward Patrick Sharp -- the guy at the heart of the inquiries who's heading into the last year of his current contract.
The question: "Is Patrick Sharp available in a trade?"
Wednesday afternoon at the United Center, Bowman definitively put that question to rest by announcing that Chicago had reached an agreement with Sharp on a new five-year contract. So, did Bowman ever seriously discuss trading Sharp when other GMs asked?
"No, honestly, it never went anywhere from there," Bowman said. "You can ask the other GMs. They would always ask about him and I would just say, 'No, we're not trading him,' and then move on to somebody else. It never went past that first question from them."
The new deal, which will begin with the 2012-13 season, is reportedly worth $5.9 million a year against the League's hard salary cap, according to the site capgeek.com. That would be nearly a $2 million raise per season from his current deal, which reportedly counts $3.9 million against the cap.
Ask Bowman, and he'll tell you that Sharp is worth every penny -- and not just for what he does in games.
"There are too many factors outside of just what we see from his play on the ice," Bowman said. "There's a lot of other things that (reporters and fans) don't see. He's a very important player for our group here and for that reason he's going to be here for a long time."
Hearing that last sentence was exactly what Sharp wanted all along. He found out about the new deal on Wednesday during an offseason workout and said it was a welcome relief.
"Getting this out of the way clears things up for me and allows me just to show up and be a good player and a great teammate and not focus on the individual stuff," Sharp said. "The money is great and there's no question about that, but I have a lot of faith and trust in my agent Rick Curran. He deserves a lot of thanks. I told him I wanted to stay in Chicago. I had no reason to leave. I let him handle the rest of it."
Bowman and Curran took it from there, eventually working out the deal in relatively short order. The Hawks needed about a month to get the new deal done, after being able to start negotiating on July 1. That in itself speaks volumes about how important the Hawks feel Sharp is to the mix.
It took nearly all of last season to reach an extension with star defenseman Brent Seabrook, though the Hawks were also more strapped for cap space at the time than they were while negotiating with Sharp. In fact, Bowman said many of the moves he made this off-season to help create cap space were done with the thought of re-signing Sharp sooner than later.
"In a lot of ways this is a move we've been planning for a long time," Bowman said. "There is no doubt about the fact that when you're looking at which players are a big part of your success, we knew Patrick was part of that and we had to find a way to get it done. Sometimes you have to make moves, but we've been thinking of this for a while. It didn't just sneak up on us. We've had a plan in place to make sure he would be here."
Just how important does Bowman consider the 29-year old Sharp, an assistant captain who can play center or either wing on the top two lines equally well, to be?
Important enough that Bowman referred to Sharp as, "kind of the fabric of our team."
"He's a very likeable guy, so he fits in with different groups on the team," Bowman said. "He's able to help younger players along, because he was that player who broke into the League and he started off on the fourth line in Philadelphia. He's kind of worked his way up and played a lot of different roles, so I think he can relate to people that way."
Sharp has also transformed himself into a star since being dealt to Chicago by the Flyers on Dec. 5, 2005 -- a trade that's worked out hugely in the Hawks' favor. Philadelphia got center Matt Ellison and a third-round pick in the 2006 Entry Draft -- which they traded to Montreal -- in exchange for Sharp and Eric Meloche.
Sharp was by far the steal of the deal in retrospect.
Ellison played a total of seven games for the Flyers, Montreal used that pick to select Ryan White and Sharp amassed 301 points (150G, 151A) in 427 regular-season games over parts of six seasons since joining the Hawks. More importantly, the Thunder Bay, Ont., native has become a crucial component in Chicago's top six forward rotation along with being clutch in the postseason.
In the 2011 playoffs, Sharp finished second on the Hawks with three goals and a pair of assists in a tough first-round series that ended with a bitter overtime road loss in Game 7 to the rival Vancouver Canucks. The season before, Sharp tied for the team lead in playoff goals with former Chicago forward Dustin Byfuglien by potting 11 markers and tallying 22 points during the Hawks' march to the 2010 Stanley Cup championship -- their first since 1961.
In all, Sharp has scored 21 playoff goals -- including nine on the power play and 17 assists in 46 postseason games spread over three playoff appearances with Chicago.
He then followed up the Hawks' Cup run last season by having a career year -- despite hobbling to the finish with a knee sprain that he played through after missing seven games. Sharp finished eighth in the League with a career-high 34 goals and led the Hawks in that category -- also finishing third on the team in scoring with a career-high 71 points (34G, 37A) in 74 games.
He was also named MVP of the 2011 NHL All-Star Game. Now, Sharp is anxious to work on bettering those numbers.
"I feel like the best is yet to come," said Sharp, who was Philadelphia's second pick (No.95 overall) in the 2001 Entry Draft. "I admire the way (Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews) have started their careers, and you look at a guy like Nick Leddy … playing as teenagers and having so much success in the League. I got a little bit of a late start NHL-wise, but I feel like I've improved every year the past six years and there's no reason to stop."
There's also no reason for Bowman to be inundated with questions about Sharp's future now. He's a Blackhawk for at least the next five seasons unless the business side of hockey changes things -- and even then Sharp has a modified no-movement clause in the new deal.
"It's something I thankfully won't experience for the next five or six years," Sharp said. "As players, you deal with a lot of outside distractions and clearly your own contract is one of them. The extension of the contract … when things are said and done, it might be 10 to 12 years as a Blackhawk. To me, that's a heck of a career and hopefully it goes longer. But I definitely consider myself a Blackhawk and I don't want to play anywhere else."