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Blackhawks are looking Sharp

by Dan Rosen

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp leads
the team with 33 goals so far this season.
Patrick Sharp video highlights 
All the zeroes printed on his new contract offer sheet were enough to make Patrick Sharp lift a pen and sign the document. But back in January, the Chicago Blackhawks winger wasn't just signing over his services for a great deal of cash.

"Obviously that is a lot of money and that was appealing," Sharp said of his new multi-year, multi-million dollar contract, "but coming to the United Center in January and seeing the full crowd; having the young guys there and with the turnaround the team is making -- there is talk on the street, a buzz -- it's something I want to be part of in the future."

That Sharp was in position to sign a long-term contract is proof of just how far he's come in two-and-a-half seasons with the Blackhawks.

Sharp was essentially dead weight in Philadelphia two years ago. He had only five goals and three assists through 22 games as a Flyer in 2005. He was a fourth-line winger. He was a healthy scratch at various times. He was expendable.

"My career was up in the air," Sharp said.

It was no surprise at all when the Flyers shipped him to Chicago along with Eric Meloche for Matt Ellison just two months into the season.

Sharp was at a crossroads. He could go one of two ways.

"The light went on when I was traded," Sharp said.

It appears to be one of those long-lasting bulbs.

After registering 23 points in 50 games with Chicago to close out the 2005-06 season, Sharp rededicated himself with a difficult and regimented offseason training program.

"I didn't want to have any regrets in my career," Sharp said.

He hired a personal trainer from his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. He focused and scored 20 goals for the first time in his career last season.

"He was committed to turning his career around and helping us win," Chicago GM Dale Tallon said. "He really turned into a leader for us, a quiet leader."

Sharp could do more. He knew it. Blackhawks coach Denis Savard knew it. Tallon did, too.

Thanks to the emergence of Toews and Kane, who have rejuvenated the Windy City hockey market, Sharp is having the season of his life. He leads the Blackhawks with 33 goals and is second to Kane with 51 points. He's a plus-18 after playing to a minus-15 rating last season.

More importantly, Sharp has found his hockey home. Two months ago, Tallon rewarded him with a crisp new contract offer. Sharp rewarded the Blackhawks' patience and dedication to him by signing the four-year deal on Jan. 17.

"I always say I feel I played a lot more than I should have the last couple of years in Chicago and because of that I developed into a good player," Sharp said. "That's another reason I stayed for the four years. They put the time in to develop me when we were losing, and now I want to be there for when we win."

Over the last month and a half, defensemen Brent Seabrook and Brent Sopel also signed long-term deals to remain Blackhawks.

"We felt it was necessary to tell our fans we're committed to guys like that," Tallon added. "If they're going to make a commitment to us, we're going to do the same for them."

Sharp thought he was progressing in Philadelphia. He was a key member of the Philadelphia Phantoms during their run to the Calder Cup in 2005, recording 23 goals and 29 assists in the regular season, plus another 21 points in 21 playoff games.

The knock, though, was that Sharp wasn't too keen on playing defense, not good when you're in a Ken Hitchcock system, which only makes it more ironic that he's now one of the League's best snipers in shorthanded situations.

Up meant dedicating himself to hockey and to the Blackhawks' rebuilding project, which at the time did not include Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews. Down meant… well, Sharp already knew what down meant and where it would leave him.

Since arriving in Chicago, Sharp has 11 shorthanded goals, including seven this season, which ties him with Ottawa winger Daniel Alfredsson for most in the League. He plays close to 19 minutes per game, and in all situations.

Sharp's emergence as an offensive threat has the 'Hawks poised to make a run at a playoff berth.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, are still hanging around in the Western Conference playoff race. If they secure a top-eight spot over the next month, they'll officially be way ahead of schedule. If they don't, at least the smudge has been wiped off their glass ball.

Without question the Blackhawks now have a much clearer vision of what their future looks like. It shows Sharp, Kane and Toews on top line for years to come.

"I think we have a good balance when we play together," Sharp said. "I always tell them that I won't touch the puck unless it's in the offensive zone and I'm shooting."

Toews drives the middle like a Cadillac. Kane dishes off such sweet passes that it almost feels like the Harlem Globetrotters theme song should be blaring throughout the United Center. Sharp is there to finish off the play. Pretty or ugly, it doesn't matter.

"He really has blossomed nicely with Kane and Toews," Tallon said.

Through which Sharp has also turned into one of the Blackhawks' true leaders.

How's that for a change of pace from his Philly days?

"I would like to be the go-to leader," said Sharp, who is an alternate captain. "There are born leaders, and then leadership is also something you can develop and get better at. As I play in the League, I get more comfortable with my personal ability. I'm comfortable with my experience."

On Jan. 17, he showed how comfortable he is in Chicago, too.

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