Patrick Sharp: Blackhawks Fans Need To Accept Him As Number 2 Center

When Jason Arnott, coming off 31 points with two teams last year, signed with St. Louis, many Blackhawks fans abused their Kleenex boxes and vented on Twitter that the team couldn’t win.

The rallying cry the entire summer has been two things: size and a center for the second line.

And yet fans are taking for granted a simple reality: the second line center is already in Chicago, and his name is Patrick Sharp.

Yes, most Chicagoans continue to have a love affair with a line of Sharp with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. And why shouldn’t we? When they’re on the ice together, they’re electric; for a month last year, the line averaged nearly two points per night.

But there’s another reality at play here, and it’s called need being more important than want.

Consider how Sharp stacks up against other centers in the NHL.

Last year, 108 players in the NHL took more than the 508 faceoffs Sharp took. He won exactly 48 percent of his draws, which, while not spectacular (like Toews’ 56.7 percent), is decent. Of those 108 skaters, 28 won a lower percentage of faceoffs than Sharp did, putting him right around the bottom quarter of the group.

OK, so maybe his performance last year at the dot didn’t blow you away. But look at his history, you know precisely what you’re going to get from him; in the previous four seasons with the Blackhawks, Sharp won 48.4 percent of his 2,634 faceoffs, alternating seasons over and under the 50 percent benchmark.

Where Sharp’s value skyrockets is when we look away from the faceoff circle. If you look at the top ten centers in the NHL in scoring last year, a group that would include Sharp, six of the ten had a better faceoff percentage than Sharp. But only eight centers in the entire league scored more than Sharp’s 71 points.

To put all of this into a Cliff Notes expression of Sharp’s relative value, only the following players scored at least 71 points and won at least 48 percent of their faceoffs last year (min. 500 faceoffs):

  • Henrik Sedin
  • Brad Richards
  • Eric Staal
  • Jonathan Toews
  • Ryan Kesler
  • Anze Kopitar
  • Patrick Sharp

In this year’s weak free agent class, there wasn’t a better option at center than Sharp. Indeed, the only player on this list that was available was Richards, and the Hawks certainly weren’t going to throw the king’s ransom at him like the New York Rangers did.

Furthermore, if we look back at the two goals of this summer’s spending, skating Sharp with Toews and Kane defeats the purpose of one of those goals. Sharp can score with the best in the league, but he does nothing to protect Kane. The Blackhawks need to put some size opposite Kane to protect one of the games elite players, and Sharp doesn’t accomplish that goal.

Sharp isn’t going to magically see his point total disappear if he leaves Kane and Toews this year. A pretty decent player by the name of Marian Hossa happens to be on the second unit for the Hawks.

In a perfect world, Dave Bolland would step up his game and become the second line center that the organization hoped he would become when they handed him a salary of over $3M per season. But he won only 45.1 percent of his faceoffs last year, and has struggled through two injury-filled seasons after establishing a career-high with 47 points in 2008-09.

While everyone would love the Blackhawks to have a roster as close to perfect as the Oilers of the mid-1980s, that’s not realistic in the salary cap era we live in now. Having a player with the skills of Sharp on the roster is an advantage the organization should take advantage of, and fans should accept.

Sharp should, and likely will, be your second line center in Chicago this fall.

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13 Responses to Patrick Sharp: Blackhawks Fans Need To Accept Him As Number 2 Center

  1. Ivan says:

    could happen. wouldn’t be offended if it did. if it does, perhaps sharp is better suited to center kane and someone with size on the left wing, bickell perhaps? my rationale is that sharp is a more gifted scorer than distributer of the puck, while kane is pretty handy at dishing. move hossa up with toews and someone else that compliments and your top two lines are more balanced (potentially).

    with all of the guys that CAN play center on the hawks next year (frolik pending) it might just be an open audition for that second line role. as long as the hawks are winning games the pressure isn’t on to sign a ‘sure thing’ whatever that could be.

  2. Joe says:

    I agree with Ivan, if we’re forced to have Sharpie play center again, I like him on a line with Kane who is also a good playmaker and can distribute – the two of them have shown very good chemistry. Playing Hossa regularly with JT will give him the set-up man he’s been waiting for the past couple of years. As for Frolik, I hope he is signed I thought he was starting to gel towards the end of last season and could see him as a possible regular 2nd or 3rd line centre which at the very least would give the team the option of moving Sharp to the wing when necessary…

  3. hockeynut says:

    Expect Sharp’s goal totals to go down if he plays an entire year at center. He and Kane should play together for sure. Brunette, Sharp and Kane is an interesting combination to me anyway.

  4. Brad Stevenson says:

    For Sharp to play centre one more year, until Kruger, Pirri, and/or McNeill (or even Hayes) are ready to fill the void, is no problem…there is definitely a connection between Sharp and Hossa…and last year, had Kopecky had any kind of hands he would of had 30+ goals…

    Brunette-Toews-Kane
    Ben Smith-Sharp-Hossa
    Bickell-Bolland-Frolik
    Stahlberg/Carcillo-Kruger-Mayers/Morin

    Seabrook-Keith
    Montador-Hammer
    O’Donnell-Leddy

    Crawford/Salak

    This lineup is good enough to get us to the final four, mainly because we will be much harder to play against, plus our star players will have a little more room to skate on the ice…

  5. jeff says:

    Brunette with Kane and Towes is yummy. To me Hossa and Sharp are finishers, are we really going to pair up Smith with these two?

    Everyone makes a big deal of our lack of a number two center but the Blackhawks have the best 1st and 3rd line centers in the game.

  6. Buddy says:

    @jeff, did you just say Toews is the best 1st line center in the game?

  7. Steve says:

    @Buddy

    If he didn’t I will. I mean who is a better blend of compete, leadership, grit, size, speed, top end skill, PK, faceoff, PP.

    Should I go on? I like his mix. He wasn’t the Conn Smyth and Most Outstanding Forward at the winter show for nothing.

    His O numbers will keep coming.

    #1 C’s score short-handed goals with less than 3 minutes to go in game 7′s.

    But that is just me.

  8. Buddy says:

    @Steve

    Sidney Crosby. ’nuff said.

  9. Steve says:

    I started to write about Sid but while good, he is injured. So I should have listed durability in with Johnny.

    It would be tough, and it is hard to complain about either one, but Toews gets it down. Now when I see Pitt do so good without Sid, maybe he isn’t doing it all after all.

    But you are right, he is good, but it is certainly not ’nuff said.

  10. Buddy says:

    No way man.

    Crosby is so far ahead of Toews, it’s not even funny. The only center even close to Crosby right now is Datsyuk.

    No offense to Toews, but comparing him to Crosby is like comparing Manny Malhotra to Patrick Sharp. It doesn’t matter what edge Toews has over Crosby defensively, that’s not going to make up the 30+ point difference between the two.

  11. Mike says:

    Toews is a top 5 center, but sidney crosby, as much as i hate to say it, is the best center in the league

  12. jeff says:

    If you were a GM and had to pick a center to lead your team, would you pick a concussed Crosby whose cap hit is far higher (2.4m) than our durable warrior Toews?

  13. Tre says:

    @Ivan: I like Bickell skating with Toews and Kane. He’s a beast and though not the best offensively, he has good vision and hands and does score. That could be a very strong line.

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