-- Four years ago, things couldn't have been more different for Patrick Sharp
After he'd played 22 games with Philadelphia in 2005-06, the Flyers traded him to Chicago along with Eric Meloche for Matt Ellison
and a third-round pick in the 2006 Entry Draft. At the time, the Flyers were a first-place team, while the Hawks, well, weren't.
In fact, they weren't even close -- and were having trouble drawing fans to United Center. At one point, the team even had players going around town literally giving tickets away. Now, the Hawks are the hottest ticket in town and one of the most talented, exciting young teams in the League. They're also back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1992 playing -- as luck would have it -- the Flyers in Saturday's series opener at United Center (8 p.m., NBC, CBC, RDS).
"I didn't know much about 'em," Sharp said of the Hawks, following a spirited practice Wednesday. "I'd been with Philly for four years and played in the minors with Philly. I'd stayed in the same city the whole time and really didn't know much about the Hawks -- other than playing against a bunch of these guys in the minors. It was real different."
It's also different now. A lot different.
Sharp came to Chicago an untested player looking for playing time. Since getting it, he has become one of the Hawks' most recognizable names and faces. He has scored more than 60 points in two of the last three seasons and had a career-high 36 goals in 2007-08.
In this postseason run, Sharp was shifted from wing to center on the second line by Hawks coach Joel Quenneville
and the transition was seamless. Sharp, an alternate captain, has seven goals to go with nine assists in 16 playoff games. Now, he's getting attention for trying to win the Cup by beating his old team.
"A trade you can look at two ways," Sharp said. "Either a team's giving up on you or another team is happy to have you. Anyone who's been traded a few times ... especially the first one, which is the hardest ... is out to prove they can play in the League and be an impact player. That's certainly what happened with me."
Still, he says there isn't ill will toward his old team -- he still has friends in the organization.
"There's certainly no hard feelings against the Flyers," Sharp said. "I enjoyed my time there. I respect their management and organization. I'm thankful that they traded me to a team that let me develop and get experience."
It wasn't always great fun developing in Chicago. Sharp's road roommate, Adam Burish
, knows just from listening to Sharp talk about his first season as a Hawk.
"He came here and they gave him an awesome chance," Burish said. "I don't think he scored a goal in 20 games, and he was just ready to kill himself. He was like, 'I hate hockey. I can't score. I stink. I'm living in a new city. I don't know what's going on here.'"
The patience the Hawks showed can be a lesson for other teams not to give up on promising players too soon.
"They stuck with him," Burish said. "They kept giving him the minutes. They kept giving him the power play time and the rest is history. He's just exploded."
Not just as a player, either. Sharp is also a pretty big draw around Chicago. He's even got his own weekly radio segment -- the "Sharp Attack" -- on a morning show for one of the most popular FM stations in the city. There is also a video segment he did for the Blackhawks, in which he profiles his one-year old, droopy-eyed, floppy-eared basset hound "Shooter" -- named after a nickname that Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith
uses for Sharp.
In the video, Sharp is shown stickhandling with a tennis ball in his front room while Shooter tries to snare it away from him.
"He's pretty good defensively," Sharp says.
The Flyers might want to watch the video on YouTube for tips. So far, no other team has kept the Hawks' aptly-named sharpshooter from finding the back of the net. Sharp scored three goals against Nashville in the quarterfinals, two against Vancouver in the Western Conference Semifinals and two more in the four-game sweep of San Jose in the conference finals.
"A trade you can look at two ways. Either a team's giving up on you or another team is happy to have you. Anyone who's been traded a few times ... especially the first one, which is the hardest ... is out to prove they can play in the League and be an impact player. That's certainly what happened with me."
-- Patrick Sharp
Considering that Ellison only played seven games for the Flyers and is no longer in the League, the Hawks clearly got the better end of the deal -- though Sharp refuses to look at it in those terms.
"Sometimes a change of scenery and a breath of fresh air can change the outlook on a player," he said. "I think I got a little bit better developing with the Blackhawks and having the opportunity to fail a little bit. I don't really care about the trade, to be honest with you, as far as who I got traded for. I'm here playing for my team, and I've got to play for my teammates."
They're more than happy to let him do it -- much as it might pain his roomie.
"I've got to hear about it a little bit every time we're on the road," Burish said, smiling. "He's got to tell me how sweet he is. I always tell him, 'No,' but I have to give him credit. He is a pretty darn special hockey player. I hope you guys don't print that, though. Otherwise, I'm going to hear a lot about it."