On Dec. 5, 2005, a trade was consummated that didn’t make much of a dent on the NHL radar.
As Tim Panaccio wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “[the] Flyers and Blackhawks surprisingly swapped part of their futures last night as center Patrick Sharp was sent to Chicago for rookie right winger Matt Ellison.”
The story goes on to quote then-Flyers GM Bob Clarke on the deal.
“We felt that with all the injuries we have had that Matt would bring more versatility to our lineup,” said Bob Clarke, the Flyers’ general manager. “He can play center and wing. We always felt that Patrick was a better center. We have lots of centers, even though we have some injuries right now. We just felt that Matt was a better fit for our team, although we realize that we gave up a good young player.”
Buried by Ken Hitchcock, Sharp was unceremoniously dumped by the center-heavy Flyers in an effort to bring in a wing that, in the eyes of the Philly media and front office, had a chance to make a more immediate impact.
Ellison would go on to play seven more games in his NHL career.
Sharp would lead the resurrection of the Chicago Blackhawks.
And I do mean it when I use the word “lead.” Sharp joined a 2005-06 Blackhawks roster that was highlighted by the Arnason-Bell-Calder line, and featured talented players including Rene Bourque and Radim Vrbata.
That roster also included a 31-year-old Martin Lapointe, a 32-year-old Matthew Barnaby and saw four goaltenders see action in the Indian Head. (Note: two of those goaltenders were Craig Anderson and Corey Crawford, both of whom are still in the NHL today.)
Three players on that 2005-06 Hawks team surpassed the 40-point plateau. That’s 40 points… not goals or assists. Points. In a full, 82-game NHL season. Calder’s 59 points led the team, as did his 26 goals. Only two Blackhawks players (Calder and Bell) reached the 20-goal benchmark that season as well.
Sharp, then just 23, scored nine goals and added 14 assists in 50 games to begin his Hawks career. And lots of people wondered who the kid was wearing Tony Amonte’s number.
Chicago owned the third overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, and used it on a center. Sharp was supposedly expendable because Philadelphia had too many centers, so the refrain must have felt all too familiar in his second NHL city. But this kid, was headed back to North Dakota for at least one more season, so Sharp wouldn’t have to compete for ice time with Jonathan Toews quite yet.
The other big news in the summer of 2006 was Hawks GM Dale Tallon somehow getting a decent free agent to consider Chicago. Marty Havlat joined the team and helped elevate the offense with Sharp. They scored 25 and 20 goals, respectively, in a 2006-07 season that saw Trent Yawney get the axe and Hall of Famer Denis Savard called upon to coach the team he once led.
But the Hawks were still bottom dwellers, and as such would make the first overall pick in the NHL Draft for the first time in team history during the summer of 2007.
That pick, a curly haired kid from Buffalo who also happened to be named Patrick, would come straight to Chicago and bring the previous summer’s top pick with him.
Kane and Toews joined Sharp for the 2007-08 season, and the renaissance began. Sharp led the team that year with 36 goals and they somehow, miraculously, won 40 games.
More wheeling and dealing during that season added names like Ladd and Eager, and other homegrown youngsters like a 22-year-old Brent Seabrook and 24-year-old Duncan Keith were starting to come into their own.
Two years after 59 points led the team, Kane (72) and Sharp (62) led a suddenly interesting Blackhawks team. Four players reached the 20-goal plateau that season, and eight – including three defensemen – had at least 30 points.
The 2008-09 season brought another change behind the bench, as Savard gave way to Joel Quenneville. Sharp was limited to 61 games but still scored 26 goals and the Blackhawks did the unthinkable: they qualified for the playoffs.
And not only did they get into the postseason party, but the Hawks ran all the way to the Western Conference Final – where they ran into a powerhouse defending champion from Detroit which had a superstar named Marian Hossa. The Wings were – as always – too much for the baby-faced Blackhawks, but the first playoff run in a decade put a no-longer-vacant United Center on display.
Of course the following season was one for the history books, and the following five seasons have been historic as the Blackhawks have become an in-progress dynasty.
And one of the few constants, from the blowout losses in front of 5,000 fans to the three Stanley Cup parades, has been Sharp.
Unfortunately, the NHL’s salary cap has not risen as quickly as the talent in the Blackhawks organization, and Sharp will be the highest profile cap casualty to date.
Sharp finished the 2014-15 season with 511 points as a member of the Blackhawks, which currently ranks 15th in the history of the franchise. His 239 regular season goals rank 11th, only four behind Pit Martin to qualify for the organization’s all-time top ten. Sharp’s 38 game-winning goals are eighth in team history and his 16 short-handed goals rank sixth in the history of the Chicago Blackhawks.
When he arrived, postseason production from any Hawks player was only a dream. But with Sharp in the core, this team has surpassed any of our wildest hopes for the franchise.
Sharpie will leave tied with Doug Wilson for seventh in team history with 80 postseason points. His 42 playoff goals are sixth in team history, and his five postseason game-winning goals in the Indian head are as many as Bobby or Dennis Hull, Jim Pappin and Darryl Sutter produced here.
He won three Stanley Cups here, and was named an All-Star Game MVP. He also won a gold medal for Canada.
The Blackhawks – and their fans – have failed when sending away iconic players in the history of the franchise like Steve Larmer, Doug Wilson and Jeremy Roenick. In 2010, many of the players who departed were still young and developing into the NHL stars some of them have become today. And after 2013, the exodus was much smaller.
Now, we have an opportunity to act appropriately as one of the best leaves us.
In the future, fans will ask “who is this Amonte guy wearing Sharpie’s number?” And, someday, someone else will probably receive the number. But what we cannot forget is that Patrick Sharp is one of the finest to ever represent the Chicago Blackhawks.