In keeping up with the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic theme this week, perhaps it's only fitting to compare two players on opposite sides preparing to do battle on New Year's Day in Chicago (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio, XM Radio).
Detroit's Johan Franzen
, drafted 97th overall in 2004, and Chicago's Patrick Sharp, selected 95th in '01, might not generate the daily headlines of their teammates, but they most certainly have a propensity for the dramatic nonetheless.
For instance, at the end of the 2007-08 regular season, Franzen led the Red Wings with 8 game-winning goals, while Sharp topped the Blackhawks with 7 game-clinchers.
Both second-line forwards, who each established career highs last season in goals and points, hope to play a big part for their respective team on Thursday in Chicago before an expected capacity crowd at Wrigley Field.
Franzen, nicknamed "The Mule" because of his ability to carry the load, posted 27 goals, 38 points and a plus-12 rating in 72 games during the 2007-08 season. Sharp led the Blackhawks and shared 13th in the League with 36 goals while posting 62 points and a plus-23 rating through 80 games.
"Sharpy is a great goal scorer; he always finds ways to get open," said Blackhawks wing Patrick Kane. "If I have the puck and I think a place is going to be open, he's usually standing there. We have a good time shooting together, too."
Additionally, Sharp and Franzen have become powerful assets on specialty teams. Franzen registered a career-best 14 power-play goals last season, while Sharp led the Hawks for the second-straight season in power-play goals (9) and shorthanded goals (7).
Franzen and Sharp are the focus of this week's Head-to-Head segment on NHL.com and we'd like to hear from you. If you were given the opportunity to build a franchise with either one of these game-changing forwards, who would it be? Send your thought to email@example.com.
This season, Sharp, who turned 27 on Dec. 27, has totaled 19 goals, 30 points, 7 power-play goals and 4 game-winners in 33 games. He also has 26 hits, 17 blocked shots and 18 takeaways.
Franzen, who turned 29 on Dec. 23, has posted 15 goals, 24 points, 4 power-play goals and 5 game-winners in 30 games. Like Sharp, Franzen is also active away from the puck as evidenced by his 47 hits and 11 takeaways.
The one advantage Franzen holds over Sharp is experience and production in the playoffs. During the Wings' run to the Stanley Cup last season, Franzen led the League with a franchise-record 13 postseason goals and 5 game-winners, even though he missed six games to injury. He also scored a team-record 9 goals in Detroit's four-game sweep of the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference semifinals.
In 40 career playoffs games, "The Mule," who is strong along the boards and can withstand much punishment in front of the cage, has 17 goals and 28 points. In 25 career regular-season games against the Blackhawks, Franzen has 4 goals and 7 assists.
After scoring 23 goals and 52 points in 2004-05 to help the Philadelphia Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate, the Phantoms, win the Calder Cup, Sharp was traded to the Blackhawks in December 2005, for forward Matt Ellison. On Jan. 17, 2008, Sharp signed a four-year contract extension to remain with Chicago through 2012-13 and, in October, he and defenseman Duncan Keith were named alternate captains.
Sharp, extremely agile and swift down wing, has just one goal in 12 career postseason games -- all with the Flyers. In fact, he hasn't yet played a Stanley Cup playoff game as a member of the Blackhawks. Despite his lack of playoff experience, however, Sharp has certainly excelled against the Red Wings in recent years. In fact, he scored a career-high three goals in a 5-3 victory over the Wings at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on Nov. 17, 2007. In 24 career games against the Wings, Sharp has 9 goals, 7 assists and 32 penalty minutes.
Internationally, Sharp scored 3 goals in nine games when Team Canada captured a silver medal in the 2008 World Championships. Franzen won a gold medal for Team Sweden at the 2006 World Championships, posting three assists and 12 penalty minutes in eight games.
Not as easy as you might have expected? After digesting the arguments, it's your turn to chime in and make the call. Will it be Sharp or Franzen? Send us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org
. Enjoy the Bridgestone Winter Classic everyone!