The Blackhawks’ most pressing needs in free agency are on the blue line and down the middle, but when a three-time Stanley Cup champion, four-time 30-goal winger and longtime fan favorite is willing to sign for rookie-level money, how can you pass it up?
Patrick Sharp never wanted to leave Chicago, and he was more than willing to take a pay cut to come home. So when free agency opened on Saturday, Sharp signed a one-year contract worth up to $1 million ($800,000 salary, plus $200,000 in an easily attained games-played bonus) with the Hawks. The 35-year-old veteran who helped build the Hawks from a laughingstock into a powerhouse will join two-time champion Brandon Saad as the Hawks once again try to get the band back together.
Sharp isn’t the only player coming home to Chicago next season. Tommy Wingels, an Evanston native and New Trier grad, also will sign with the Hawks, according to a source. Wingels is a two-time 15-goal scorer with the San Jose Sharks who possibly can play a bottom-six center role (which the Hawks need assuming Marcus Kruger is traded). Contract details were not immediately known, but Wingels fell into the Hawks’ price range after two straight off seasons, and had just seven goals and five assists in 73 games with the Sharks and Senators this past season.
Sharp was one of many salary-cap casualties over the years. He was traded to the Dallas Stars after the 2015 Cup run in a deal that netted Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt, neither of whom lasted a year in Chicago. After scoring 20 goals in his first season with Dallas, Sharp scored just eight goals in 48 games last season, as a concussion sidelined him for a pair of four-week stints early on, and hip surgery ended his season in March.
With his age and injuries, it’s impossible to know just how much he has left. And though a league source said Sharp was eager to return to the Hawks and willing to take a massive pay cut from his most-recent $5.9 million cap hit, sources indicated in recent weeks that the Hawks were lukewarm about bringing him back. That’s largely because these twilight reunions haven’t all worked out, and Stan Bowman wants the team to get younger and faster in the wake of a first-round sweep by the Nashville Predators. Andrew Ladd, Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya all came back with mixed results.
But by offering a big hometown discount, Sharp presents very little risk for the cap-strapped Hawks. He can keep the second-line left wing spot warm until Alex DeBrincat or some other young player is ready to take it, while providing some punch on the power play.
The Hawks also signed goaltender Jean-Francois Berube and defenseman Jordan Oesterle to two-year contracts for some organizational depth. Berube, 25, went 3-2-2 with a .889 save percentage for the New York Islanders last season. He has appeared in 21 NHL games and will slot in as the No. 3 goalie behind Corey Crawford and Anton Forsberg. Oesterle, 25, had seven goals and 25 assists for the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors last season. He appeared in 25 NHL games over the last three seasons with the Edmonton Oilers.
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