The Dallas Stars wanted Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya for their hockey prowess, first and foremost. Sharp gives them arguably the most potent top line in hockey with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Oduya gives them a steady defensive presence they so desperately need to become more than a one-dimensional team.
Of course, the Stars also wanted Sharp and Oduya for their experience and their wisdom — their ability to guide a young, up-and-coming roster through what they hope is their first deep playoff run.
But it’s not as if the two former Blackhawks have been holding court in the dressing room every day, as doe-eyed twenty-somethings stare slack-jawed in wonder.
“I don’t think it works like that,” Oduya said. “You come in very humble in team surroundings. You want to find your spot on the team and kind of go from there — just play the same way, act the same way as you’ve done before. That would be the way I can fit into the team.”
There were no formal welcome-back tributes or videos during the Hawks’ 4-0 victory over Dallas in Saturday night’s preseason finale, but the two ex-Hawks were warmly cheered every time they were shown on the scoreboard. Sharp was spotted chatting up Hawks staffers in the hallway outside the dressing rooms before the game, acknowledged fans as he hit the ice for the first time in warmups, and lingered at center ice during warmups to fist-bump and hug a few former teammates. He had a brief chat with Jonathan Toews in the center-ice faceoff circle before the two headed off the ice.
“I’m not going to lie, it was pretty tough to play out there, seeing the red jerseys and all the guys out there,” Sharp said afterward. “But that’s something I’m going to have to deal with when we start Thursday.”
Sharp said the hardest moment was “probably just landing in Chicago and driving in. I haven’t been here since the week after we won [the Stanley Cup]. It kind of feels like home, so it was a little difficult.”
Sharp spent 10 seasons with the Hawks, winning three Stanley Cups and becoming one of the faces of the franchise. His old teammates were looking forward to playing against him both now and in what is sure to be a heated Central Division race. Kane said he’s been in touch with Sharp frequently while he’s dealt with his off-ice troubles over the past two months.
“Sharpie was one of my better friends here for the past eight years, and I had a really good friendship with him,” Kane said. “Talked with him a lot, especially over the offseason the past couple months. It seems like he’s doing pretty well. He’s found a nice little spot there with Benn and Seguin on the top line. Wish him all the best except when he plays us.”
It was a nostalgic night, with three former Hawks starting for Dallas — Sharp, Oduya, and 2010 Stanley Cup champion Antti Niemi. But the Hawks also got a nice glimpse of the future, as 23-year-old Artemi Panarin had the primary assist on the first two Hawks goals in his preseason debut after battling an upper-body injury the last two weeks. Early in the game, he used some fancy stickwork through traffic to create a scoring chance. On a second-period power play, he got on the scoresheet when Marian Hossa batted in Panarin’s rebound off a tremendous Toews pass through the crease. And Patrick Kane scored on a Panarin rebound early in the third to make it 2-0. Hossa added another goal late in the third, and Andrew Shaw capped the scoring with 1:01 left.
Corey Crawford started and stopped all 13 shots he faced before leaving midway through the second period. Joel Quenneville said he was a “little tight,” and that the move was just “precautionary.”
NOTE: Quenneville said after the game that Michal Rozsival “could be” headed for long-term injured reserve, which would sideline him until November, but would free up a little salary-cap space.