LAS VEGAS —This wasn’t what Patrick Sharp had in mind when he came back to Chicago. He had hoped that a longer offseason would allow his surgically repaired hip to fully recover, that he’d be able to regain his speed and his scoring touch, and that rejoining the Blackhawks would reinvigorate his career.
Instead, Sharp has been a healthy scratch eight times since Dec. 21, including five of the last seven games before returning to the lineup Tuesday night against the Golden Knights. He has just six goals and seven assists in 47 games, has averaged just 13 minutes of ice time per game, and has been largely relegated to a bottom-six role.
But while Sharp has been disappointed in his own play, Hawks general manager Stan Bowman wasn’t expecting him to be anything more than a role player when he signed him to a low-risk, one-year, $1-million contract.
“We expected him to be a supporting player, and that’s what he’s been,” Bowman said. “He’s had some good games and some tougher games. We expected him to be in more of a supporting-cast role. We weren’t looking for him to be in the top six. He’s played a few games up there, but for the most part he’s been on the third and fourth lines. He’s been a good pro.”
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Sharp has been reluctant to discuss his struggles, instead trying to shift the focus to the team at large.
“It’s been a new experience [being a healthy scratch], but there are more important things to talk about right now,” Sharp said. “I’m focused on getting back in and playing as well as I can.”
Bowman pointed to Sharp’s tutelage of rookie Alex DeBrincat —a fellow sniper at a very different stage of his career — and called him “a great teammate.”
“it’s hard for players in that point of their career to accept not playing the role they used to play,” Bowman said. “He’s been very positive about it. You have to give him credit for being a good influence.”
Help on the way?
Forward Dylan Sikura is second in the NCAA with 41 points in 27 games (14 goals, 27 assists). The Northeastern senior will be eligible to sign with the Hawks, who drafted him in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, whenever his season ends in March. Bowman had deemed Sikura the Hawks’ trade-deadline acquisition earlier in the season and still believes that Sikura will sign with the Hawks, rather than wait until the summer and become an unrestricted free agent, as 2010 first-rounder Kevin Hayes did in 2014, signing with the New York Rangers.
“No reason not to think he wants to signs with us,” Bowman said. “We’ve had great dialogue going back three years with Dylan. Ultimately, that’s his call, but I know he follows our team closely.”
Like a college recruiter Bowman has to walk a fine line between staying on top of Sikura without smothering him.
“I’m very hopeful; I don’t have any reason not to be,” he said. “We try to be respectful and not bother him. He’s got a chance to do something special [in the NCAA Tournament]. … I told him the other day that should be your focus. Think about your team here. You’re one of the leaders, you’re a senior. Go out on a high note. Whenever that ends, we’re ready for you.”
Bowman hasn’t had much, if any, discussions with restricted free agents-to-be Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza, Anthony Duclair and John Hayden, but expects all of them to be back next season.
“I’m confident we’re going to get those contracts all worked out,” he said.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.