Six games into this homecoming season, Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp was looking, feeling and sounding like his old self.
He had two goals and two assists and was playing major minutes. He was flying around the ice, his surgically repaired hip feeling strong. He was effusive about being back in Chicago, playing with old friends on a contender.
In the sixth month of the season, things are quite different. Sharp has been a role player at best, a spare part at worst. He has only seven goals and nine assists in 54 games and has been a healthy scratch a dozen times, including nine times in the last five weeks.
With the Hawks in the midst of a youth movement, retooling around a core that no longer includes him, Sharp has been reduced to an afterthought. It’s hardly what he had in mind.
‘‘I wanted to come back and play well,’’ Sharp said. ‘‘I got the [hip] surgery. The body feels good and has felt good all season. It’s been a disappointment for a lot of different reasons, but it’s not over yet.’’
Sharp, back in the lineup with the Hawks carrying only 12 forwards, said he’ll take the last 16 games this season the same way he has taken the 1,065 others in his career — as an opportunity to play the game he loves, for the team he loves, in the city he loves.
‘‘You put the jersey on, you represent the team and the organization and you’re representing yourself, as well,’’ he said. ‘‘Any day you’re in the NHL, it’s a good day.’’
But a fair question — one Sharp understandably doesn’t want to answer — is how much longer he will be in the NHL. At 36, he still has life in his legs. But two years in Dallas reminded him how much he loves Chicago. And even at his bargain price of $1 million, it seems unlikely the youth-minded Hawks will bring him back for another go-around.
Will Sharp be willing to uproot his family again and play elsewhere? Or will he call it a career after 15 seasons? It’s a life-changing decision, but it’s one he insists isn’t on his mind at all.
‘‘You start thinking about next year and what lies ahead and down the road, and you’ve already got one foot out the door,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m focused on playing hockey.’’
Those closest to him say there’s still plenty left in the tank.
‘‘He can score on all of the shots [in practice],’’ winger Patrick Kane said. ‘‘Even in the game, there’s times where he can still do what he did before, if you want to put it that way. I don’t think he’s really lost that.’’
A veteran stewing about his situation can be problematic in a locker room, particularly one full of impressionable young players. But coach Joel Quenneville said Sharp has been ‘‘a good pro,’’ taking his diminished role in stride.
‘‘He’s been great with us younger guys,’’ winger Vinnie Hinostroza said. ‘‘Sometimes in that position, you could be a little sour and mean to the young guys or treat them worse because you’ve been through everything and you’ve had so much success. But he’s been great, especially for me. He’s one of the guys I look up to in the locker room.’’
There’s always a spot for a cagey veteran like that, even on a rebuilding team. But the Hawks have a handful of guys like that already, and Sharp might want to give it another go on another team.
For an adopted Chicagoan who never wanted to leave in the first place, it’ll be a difficult decision. And, for now, it’s one Sharp doesn’t want to think about. Not for 16 more games, at least.
‘‘I’m just ready to play the next game,’’ he said. ‘‘And I’ll worry about all that stuff later.’’
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