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There’s a bit of a fuzziness to it, but John Hayden ended up playing more than half of the games on the schedule for the Blackhawks. He was here until January, got sent down to Rockford, then came back up in March. Do you remember much about what he did? Because I sure don’t.

John Hayden

47 GP, 4 Goals, 9 Assists, 13 Points, -4, 54 PIM

47.6 CF% (Evens), -6.4 CF% Rel (Evens), 48.97 SCF% (5v5), 45.06 xGF% (5v5), -5.5 xGF% Rel (5v5)

 44.8% oZ Start (Evens)

What We Said: He probably won’t be more than an answer to a trivia question in a few years (Who was the 20th Yale Bulldog to crack an NHL roster?).  He’s the Atlas Shrugged of hockey players: not nearly as great as his proponents say, an overhyped tome of theoretical muck whose pedigree rests mostly on his size and standing out among the mediocre.

What We Got: Going into the season, we asked, “Who is John Hayden?” Well, he’s not quite a scorer, and he’s not quite a fighter, but man. . . . So to answer the question, I don’t know.

The best answer I can come up with is probably no more than a bottom-six puck absorber. And really, that’s all Hayden will ever have to be on the Hawks. In the time he was up, he spent most of his time with other Blackhawks castoffs, Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels. You’ll certainly take the 13 points he provided skating primarily with and against the dreck of the league.

The most surprising thing about his year was his zone-start ratio. When we previewed Hayden at the beginning of the season, I wondered whether Hayden was a “start in the offensive zone” kind of guy, and this year showed he wasn’t. He tended to fall more into what would have been a Marcus Kruger–line role. And all of his advanced stats reflect that: His Corsi and expected goals for percentages all reek of a guy who spends most of his time in the ass-end of the ice.

Hayden also played the role of tenured fighter, leading the team with four fights. I had always held out hope that with his improved skating, Hayden could be a sneaky scorer on the bottom half, but it looks like the Blackhawks expect him to be the guy who initiates fights for HOCKEY REASONS. Much like every Yale graduate ever, the idea of John Hayden being more than an exhausting waste of time and money always flatters to deceive.

Where We Go From Here: Assuming Hayden doesn’t get traded to a team looking for some dick-swinging grit (looking at you, Tom Dundon), he’ll likely do the same thing he did last year. He’ll putter around on the fourth line, have a few fights, then play a few shifts with Toews because he’s DA BIG BODY WIT A BIG HEART DEY NEED IN FRUNNA DA NET. We’ll see a few flashes of skill from him before he bares his red, overeducated ass, because the myth of the rough-edged hockey fighter scraping out a living despite the odds gives no quarter.

Ideally, we’ll see Hayden on the fourth line with guys like Kampf, Wingels, and Highmore. He’s a useful guy if you’re looking to build a line that acts as a big meat slab, which looks like the direction the Hawks are going to go with him, judging by his fancy stats and zone starts. He might even be able to find a home next to guys like Ejdsell and Sikura, and that might work out too. He’s got just enough skill to run with guys like them, and doing it on the bottom lines might open the Hawks up to some much needed depth scoring.

At the end of the day, John Hayden is like the Kevin Orie or Jorge Fabregas of the Blackhawks: Just good enough to stick around, but never much more than a hazy memory.

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The game flow may have had all the appeal of a freshly shot snot rocket hanging menacingly from a necessary hand rail, but there were quite a few things to get excited about in this Friday night affair. To the bullets:

– If not for the Fels Motherfuck, which apparently is airborne now, J-F Berube would have had a 43-save shutout. But 42 out of 43 ain’t bad either, especially given the circumstances. This was his first start as a Blackhawk in front of a team that doesn’t have much to play for. He went up against a team that got wedgied so hard against Nashville that all the testosterone in their bodies should have been stuffed into their brains, and yet the Sharks, who still have quite a bit to play for, couldn’t solve him. And it wasn’t terribly flukey either. Berube rarely looked lost out there and even made a few outstanding saves in the third, none more obvious than his highway robbery of Jannik “Don’t Call Me Isaac” Hansen after a brilliant saucer pass from Tomas Hertl. It’s a little early to start the “WHY DON’T DEY TRADE CRAWFERD N LET DAT BER-YUBE GUY START” bus, but he sure looked good tonight.

– Anthony Duclair sure played like he wanted an extension tonight, and if the Hawks’s brass is smart, they should be giving it to him. He was all over the place tonight, assisting on both Rutta’s and Schmaltz’s goals. The Rutta assist was a thing of beauty, as he danced from behind the goal line to feed Rutta, who had to regroup his own backfire to plant the goal. And his steal on a flubbed reception from Mikkel “Not Clarence” Boedker was topped only by his gorgeous backhanded pass through the Royal Road to birthday boy Nick Schmaltz. He topped it all off with an even 50 CF% and a 1.55 CF% Rel. All in all, a solid night for the young man.

– In fact, most of the Hawks contributors were on the young side. Vinnie was all over the ice, even though he didn’t show up on the score sheet. Saad was similar, with a 63+ CF% and an utterly gorgeous power move toward the net right before Schmaltz’s goal. Erik Gustafsson looked decent out there as well, and though the possession numbers are damning, DeBrincat looked poised to score all night. While this season may be shot, there is hope for the future.

– Jan Rutta had himself a decent game off the IR. He’ll never be more than a bottom pairing guy, but when he’s on and not entirely out of gas, he’s a serviceable defenseman. He was persistent on his goal, and he now leads all Hawks D-men with six goals, which is less surprising than it seems, given he was scouted as an offensive defenseman.

– Our Special Irish Boy Connor Murphy was the odd man out among the youngins. Tonight was by far one of his worst performances since October. Between his poor outlet pass in the first, his sloppy interference penalty in the third, and his team-second-worst 40+ CF% (behind only Arty the One Man Party’s 32+), it was simply not one to write home about. Though it is tempting to pin it on Seabrook—whom the Sharks targeted any time he was on the ice—it’s not acceptable to transfer blame if we expect Murphy to be what we want him to be, especially when Seabs isn’t doing anything egregious, as was the case tonight. It’s just one game, but it sure was disappointing.

– I’m ready for one of the moron GMs to throw a 3rd round pick at the Hawks for Tommy Wingels. I get why he’s skating on the top line with Saad and Toews, and I get why he’s on the power play, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. He puked all over his skates on two prime passes to Saad in the first, schlepping it into Saad’s skates on the first and air mailing him on the second. With Saad’s luck this year, neither were likely to go in, but give the man a chance.

–Watching Duncan Keith lose half a step is still weird. His CF% was a 48+ on the night, and one of his most noticeable plays was a botched drop pass at his own blue line in the first that led to a turnover. Yes, he’s getting older, yes, he has to learn to adjust, and yes, he’s playing with Jordan Oesterle, but it’s strange to admit that he’s gone from a for-sure #1 to somewhere closer to a #2/#3 this year.

– The power play is still a fart you shouldn’t have given the benefit of the doubt. It’s a fucking totem for the year.

It sure wasn’t pretty, but it’s two points. I’m far too stubborn and proud to talk about tanking, so two points against a playoff contender is a good night cap.

Onward to Columbus.

Beer du Jour: I went sober for the first, and made up for it with Steel Reserve and Miller High Light tall boys, followed by a glass of the Sacrament on this Lenten Friday.

Line of the Night: “The Blackhawks will put together a win streak for the first time in February.” – Foley

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The Blackhawks visited Sin City tonight, and what they did in the third period was certainly sinful. That sentence sucked let’s just get to the bullets:

– Overall I actually didn’t think this was that bad of a hockey game on the Hawks part, especially given the lineup Q went with. I will give him immense credit for finally laying his pride down and scratching Jordan Oesterle, but he went two moves too far in scratching Duclair and Hinostroza to re-introduce Sharp and Hartman to the lineup. I understand that something had to be done after yesterday’s shellacking at the hands of an ECHL team, but Duclair and Hinostroza have both been damn near excellent since they’ve been in the lineup. It would have made immensely more sense to swap out Bouma and Wingels, but instead Wingels somehow found himself on the top line and Bouma still got to hold DeBrincat back. My only possible excuse for this lineup construction is that Q is either trying to get fired or really wants to coach Rasmus Dahlin next year.

– To stay on the last bullet for one more beat, part of me wonders if keeping Bouma and Wingels in the lineup, and putting them with good players, isn’t part of a directive from above as they continue to dangle those two in trade talks. You’re not gonna get much for either, but then again Brandon Bollig got you a third round pick a few years ago. Nothing wrong with trying to pump those tires a bit more before you try to sell them. Then again, it could just be Q doing what Q does. Neither would surprise me.

– We know that the defense and goaltending have been major issues, but tonight was another indication of how bad the offense has been as well. CSN had a graphic last night showing how the Blackhawks have scored the least goals in the NHL since January 10, and tonight was another really tough showing for them. They never really got any really good chances, and certainly not as many as they gave up to the Knights. But with another 2-goal game, they’ve managed to score more than a pair of goals just three games since Jan. 10 and just seven times since The New Year. So there’s more too it than just the bad defense and goaltending. However…

– The bad defense and goaltending really proved to be their undoing in this game, and especially the third period. The Hawks took a 2-1 lead into the third, and while it didn’t feel like the most secure lead in the world, it was still a lead. They gave up a PP goal to bring the game level, which I’m willing to forgive them for because the Knights moved the puck really well to open a shooting lane and Glass had two bodies screening him. But then Erik Gustafsson left the whole slot wide open for Reilly Smith to walk in and fire, and the GWG was had. And then to really finish things off, after a turnover in the neutral zone, Glass let a shot by him that he definitely should not have, and any glimmer of a comeback was dashed away. And what’s sad is that, as Sam has pointed out on Twitter over the past few nights, people got so used to complaining about Crawford every time he didn’t completely steal a game for them, that they didn’t even know what really bad goaltending looked like. And this is it, in all its glory.

– John touched on this yesterday, but it bears repeating after his performance again tonight – Alex DeBrincat’s ability to elevate the bad players around him is truly special. He was with Hartman and Bouma for a good portion of the night and ended up with Sharp at times as well. And yet he was able to create some pretty good offense and still found the back of the net after he and Sharp showed a little persistence. It wasn’t the best game overall for Top Cat – his Corsi wasn’t good and he was also the culprit on the turnover before Vegas’ fourth goal – but he’s showing that he’s a special player and he is going to be really good for this team moving forward.

– We’re one step closer to Rasmus Dahlin, folks. Always find the silver lining.

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The Hawks, in the words of the inimitable Tom Waits, are a battered old suitcase to a hotel someplace, and a wound that will never heal. To the bullets.

– Brent Seabrook had a positively wonderful game tonight. His pass on Toews’s goal channeled 2013, and his purposely wide shot on Arty the One Man Party’s PP tally was a tangible example of the excellent passing we’ve always loved about him. Plus, his Corsi was a robust 67+ at 5v5. It’s no coincidence that he played the second-fewest minutes of all Hawks D-Men at evens, ahead only of Kempný. I don’t know about you, but even with the Hawks losing, I took solace in watching Seabrook play well. Like hot spiked cider on a cold, unforgiving winter’s night.

– The same can’t be said about Jordan Oesterle. He had a nice run coming out of the press box cold for a while, but the magic beans he’d been consuming to give him that extra giddy-up have gone stale. His turnover behind his own net let Stephen “One of the Ones Who Got Away” Johns do his best Russ Tyler impression, burying a knuckler—that Oesterle himself may have set the screen on—from the blue line for the Stars’s second goal in less than a minute. He also had a couple of miscues in the third that ended up not doing any direct damage, but did lead to extended pressure for the Stars early in the third with the Hawks down one.  Despite this, and his 44+ CF% on the night, he played more than anyone except Keith. This is your D-corps, folks.

– Anthony Duclair seemed half a step behind everything tonight. He whiffed on a wide-open shot off a Toews pass after stealing the puck from Pissbaby Benn late in the first. His turnover in his own zone led to the Stars’s first goal. From about midway through the second onward, he was a ghost. But his possession numbers were stellar (67+ CF%). He’s still got loads of potential and needs to stay up with DeBrincat and Toews, and eventually be re-signed.

– I want to be mad at Anton Forsberg, by my heart just isn’t in it. At the end of the day, he’s a backup goaltender on a team whose D-Men are either rapidly declining, still learning, or flat-out suck. There’s not much he can do on that first goal, with Radulov firing a perfect saucer pass to Tyler Seguin off the Duclair turnover. Having Oesterle screen him on Johns’s shot can sort of be forgiven. And yes, he needs to stop fucking Tyler Pitlick’s slapper at the end of the second. But then again, it’s perfectly fitting that a guy named Pitlick would score the game winner against the Hawks tonight, isn’t it?

– Connor Murphy started the game on the top pairing and looked pretty good doing it. His CF% of 54+ was inspiring. But he was on the ice for two goals. You can argue that he took a bad angle on the first goal, but given how often he’s been flipped and jerked around this year, it’d be a stretch. And we all saw the third goal: That’s on Forsberg. You’d like to see him get more time with Keith, but with the defensive carousel that Q is throttling into overdrive, it’s impossible to tell.

– Erik Gustafsson looks more like a 5-6 D-Man every night. He’s got decent vision with his passing too, at least when Kane’s on the ice with him. I’d be interested to see him with one of Rutta or Kempný at some point.

– David Kampf probably has a future as a bottom six defensive center. His stick checking was pristine tonight, and he won a few board battles to show off his strength.

– It was nice to see Toews score tonight. He also had a 73+ CF%. But he missed a yawning net in the first off a pass through the Royal Road from DeBrincat, either because he wasn’t expecting the pass or because his skate got caught. Microcosms.

– The chocolates and flowers for Tommy Wingels tonight were a bit much. Foley, Jammer, and Burish barely had time to come up for air between all the kisses they blew at him for TROWING HITS OUT DERE. He had one good hit in the third that separated the puck and drew a penalty, but other than that, I don’t get it. He janked an uncontested rebound off the far post and did nothing other than hit guys the rest of the night. I understand the frustration over this team this year. I understand that we don’t really have any answers. But this whole DA FIRE AND DA PASHUN garbage is already wearing thin. Hits have never been the answer for this team, and they sure as shit aren’t the answer now.

– Brandon Saad did not have a good game, again. He logged a 48+ CF% with Schmaltz and Vinnie. He did set up a few good chances that went unanswered. Like all of you, I want to see him come out of his funk. He’s probably best served playing with Schmaltz and Kane again, but I get how it can be hard to justify it right now. At the end of the day, he’s a good player having both a down and unlucky year.

As it stands, this season is circling the drain. As it stands, the Hawks have good young talent on the front lines but not the back end. As it stands, without Corey Crawford, this team doesn’t have the firepower to make the playoffs.  It’s frustrating, it’s out of the ordinary, and it’s hockey, baby.

Onward.

Boozes du Jour: Jefferson’s whiskey into High Life back into whiskey.

Line of the Night: “HIT SOMEONE.” –Adam Burish on how the Hawks could overcome a 3–2 deficit in the third (I usually love Burish, and I get the frustration, but it’s lazy).

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Corsica

OK, so it took until the third period for this one to get interesting. But it did, and the Hawks got the two points they very badly needed against this crap excuse for a team. To the bullets:

– Oesterle instead of Kempny, huh? What did this guy do, run over Quenneville’s dog? Oesterle wasn’t particularly bad so it’s not like this decision ruined the game. He ended up with an assist on the first goal and a 54.6 CF% so…cool? Honestly, who even knows if Kempny would be any good at this point; I’m sure his confidence is shot to shit. But he proved himself capable last season so I just don’t get it. And now that Oesterle got a point in this game, it’s probably a done deal and Kempny might as well go to the land of wind and ghosts.

– Speaking of questionable decisions, for some fucking reason Saad and DeBrincat were on their opposite sides. Why? It’s like Q is fucking up the new-look top line out of spite. Am I missing something? What is it that I don’t know that would explain that? All it led to was Top Cat fat-fingering a pass and missing on what was basically an open net in the first period. This line was pretty quiet all night…gee fucking whiz I wonder why.

– Nick Schmaltz got a well-deserved mark on the scorer’s sheet tonight. He’s been busting his ass doing all the cliché things that don’t get you a point, so I was happy to see him get a goal. It was a classic 2-on-1, a great pass from Garbage Dick, and he buried the shot. Nicely done. It also put the Hawks up by 2 goals and for the first time in the game I was confident they would actually win it.

– Everyone’s favorite d-pairing of Forsling and Rutta were caught looking like fools on Duclair’s goal. Foley’s response was “somehow he beat Rutta” and I nearly had beer come out my nose.

– But his next line was “somehow he beat Crawford,” and that actually was surprising. Crow looked solid as usual, and if he’s still recovering from a groin issue it’s not showing. Midway through the second he got caught up playing the puck behind the net, but other than that misstep—which really didn’t matter anyway—he looked as good as we’ve come to expect. There was a nice sequence of saves late in the second and a big save in the third just prior to the first Hawks goal. I don’t know how long he’ll be able to keep this up every night, but we needed it tonight.

– Local guy does OK! Tommy Wingels scored his second goal in as many games. Enjoy that sentence because you’ll probably never see it again—I know I don’t ever expect to write it again.

The Hawks did what had to be done and got the two points. I wouldn’t say they looked dominant, but it’s baby steps right now. Their third shitty opponent in a row is on Tuesday (the Panthers), so hopefully they keep this going. Onward and upward.

 

Everything Else

The worst kept secret in hockey right now is that Alex DeBrincat is tearing up the NHL. After getting off to bit of a slow start, with just four points in his first 11 games, he went on a tear in November, with 15 points in his 14 games (including October 28). In that time, he’s had two point streaks of three games and one of four, and notched four points in the Hawks’ Monday-Tuesday back-to-back against Anaheim and Nashville this week, including his first career hat-trick against the Ducks, before scoring another goal Thursday night against the Stars.

When we did the player previews back in September, I wrote in pretty good detail about how much scoring potential Top Cat had. He tore up the OHL year after year, and basically only fell as far as he did in the 2016 draft because hockey can’t get over it’s fascination with size and girth. Despite all of our nerves that the Blackhawks would ignore his strong pre-season and make him start the season in the A, he forced the issue and was able to make the team out of camp. And he hasn’t disappointed at all.

Among the Blackhawks, Whiskers is second on the team in both goals and points, with 10 and 18, respectively. In the league, he’s tied for 36th in goals and tied for 70th in points, which is pretty damn good for a 19-year-old with 24 games under his belt. He has as many or more goals than the likes of Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, and several other stars. Again, that’s good.

What’s really good is the fact that he’s done all this despite the fact that he’s spent most of the year condemned out of the top six by his mustachioed coach for a reason that has yet to been made public. And though I’m not here to re-hash arguments made on here already, as Sam detailed the other day, Q hasn’t explained himself in any way to lend justification to ADB’s tethering to Patrick Sharp’s opposite wing, or Nick Schmaltz playing wing instead of center, which is pretty much definitely keeping ADB on that third line. Lucky for Q, I am here to do it for him.

We don’t really need an explanation from Q, anyhow, because we all know that any explanation we might get would be completely unsatisfactory and/or filled with some random bullshit. We’d probably hear some reference to the idea of him being on the third line if it’s meant to avoid tougher competition, but at this point Top Cat has proven that he’s worthy of, at the very least, an opportunity to face that competition with higher quality teammates, so that argument would fall flat with most Hawks fans. Even with that, though, I still wonder if any sort of lineup promotion is really best for DeBrincat right now.

We’ve been stressing our desire for DeBrincat to play on a wing with Schmaltz and Kane for so long that there’s hardly any of the dead horse left to beat, but his hat trick on Monday gave us an even better look at the fit those three could have. Twice during line changes, he added goals that were assisted by – guess who – Schmaltz or Kane. The three of them have such similar skill sets and playing styles that the fit seems obvious, but with the recent success of the Schmaltz-Anisimov-Kane second line, it’s hard to imagine Q making too many changes to the lineup right now. Schamltz is still probably better off playing the pivot than the wing, but that’s a conversation for another time. The point is, all three of the guys on that second line have been playing well this year, especially in the most recent stretch of games, so you could question if breaking up that line even makes any sense at all right now.

DeBrincat, though, has also shown that he’s good enough to elevate whoever he ends up on a line with at any given time. Look no further than the Hawks’ first goal against Nashville on Tuesday, when he won a puck battle deep in the offensive zone, on a rush, during a line change, and then threaded a pass through all five Predators that was so perfect even Tommy Wingels couldn’t fuck up the tap in. If the Hawks want to roll out three scoring lines – which we know they do – there really isn’t a better fit to be the main threat on that third line right now than Top Cat. Do you trust Richard Panik to produce meaningfully away from Toews and Saad? What about Anisimov without Kane? Do you really want Patrick Sharp to be the focal point of a scoring line at this point? Me either.

So while Top Cat is most definitely not a third line winger by any stretch of the imagination, and having him on another line might provide a better fit for his style, he might actually be best off left alone for now.

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I always smile when I remember that Cam Fowler plays for the Ducks. I smile especially big when the Hawks rub the Ducks’s faces in it. To the bullets.

– One of the Hawks’s third liners, Alex DeBrincat, had a hat trick on Free Hat Night. The fix is in. It’s important to reiterate that the Hawks drafted Kitten Mittons with the pick they got for trading Andrew Shaw to the Canadiens. He scored two of his goals while on the ice with guys other than his regular linemates, which makes one wonder how many more goals he’d have playing with guys with similar vision, speed, and finish. But that’s for another day. DeBrincat was everywhere tonight. The Hawks have something special in him.

– The score sheet will tell you that Rutta and Panik had assists on Saad’s goal, but let me assure you, that was pure Saad. His stick lift into a goal sent Derek Grant one step closer to the Junior Wealth Management Associate job his father reserved for him when he named him. And if that’s not enough for you, at about a minute into the second period, Franson was semi-interfered with and the Ducks had an odd-man rush developing. Then, like an excited electron, Saad was suddenly just there, breaking the whole thing up. Plus he’s starting to click offensively, and when Saad clicks offensively, there’s no one on the Hawks who’s an all-around better player.

– Except maybe Crawford, who really only gave up one soft goal tonight. The third goal was on a chance bounce while on the PK, and the first was scored by Ducks Third Star Brent Seabrook. And early in the game, when it looked like it might actually be a game, he made a few big saves in close. I’d have to dig into the numbers, but dare I say it, Corey might end up in Hall of Fame talks if he keeps this all up. If nothing else, he’s a Hall of Famer in my heart.

– Speaking of heart, Heart Man was spry tonight. His pass from behind the net to end Sharp’s goal drought reminds you of why he was a first-round pick. His possession numbers were strong (63+ CF% at evens), and he even made Corey Perry flinch in that third-period scrum at the end. More of that will bode nicely for all.

– Of all the great things that happened tonight, my favorite thing by far was Tommy Wingels walking away from Josh “Don’t Call Me Charles” Manson after Manson had dropped the gloves. The only thing more humiliating than losing a fight is having the guy you pick a fight with chuckle and skate away. More of that will also bode nicely, both for the Hawks and hockey in general.

– Artem Anisimov is still the Hawks’s leading goal scorer after tonight. Connor Murphy had an even-strength CF% of fucking 81+. Pleasant surprises are fun.

– Man, I can’t even try to drag out any Chicago sports fan pessimism about tonight. I wanted to bring some levity to everything by saying that Duncan Keith’s CF% of 35+ at evens wasn’t great, but then I saw that it was still higher than seven Ducks players and tied with Sami Vatanen. Logan Shaw had a CF% of 16.67. Through three periods. A third liner scored three goals after being traded for a guy named Shaw. Again, the NHL fix to keep the Blackhawks relevant is afoot and active.

That’s two convincing victories in a row, and nine points out of 10 through the last five. It’s beginning to look a lot like Blackhawks hockey.

Beer Du Jour: High Life. Champagne is for celebrating.

Line of the Night: “I don’t call him The Cat. I call him The Lion.” –Jamal Mayers on Alex DeBrincat, making lion references Brandon Bollig can only dream about.

Everything Else

It’s a beautiful day. Summer’s here, so I’m going to try and be as positive as I can. Patrick Sharp and Tommy Wingels don’t cost much… and that’s about that.

We’ve spent a week laying out why Patrick Sharp doesn’t make any sense here, no matter that he cost not much. Every dollar the Hawks spend counts. They don’t have flexibility. And the risks with Patrick Sharp are so glaringly obvious. First off, he just had hip surgery. He can’t even skate until at least September. I doubt he can start the season on time. Whatever Sharp has left in scoring touch is going to be hampered if he can’t actually get to the spots you remember him getting to. And it’s not like he’s had any interest in back-checking in a few years. So ask yourself, how does Sharp help a team that didn’t look fast enough last spring get faster?