While not as high profile as some of the other players rumoured to be available, including Martin Hanzal and Matt Duchene, Patrick Sharp could be an intriguing addition for the Montreal Canadiens at the trade deadline.
Sharp was part of the Chicago Blackhawks club that won three Stanley Cups in the span of five years. Also in Chicago during that time was current general manager Marc Bergevin, who was on the management team for their initial cup win in 2010.
Sharp was moved to the Dallas Stars ahead of the 2015-16 season as the ‘Hawks dealt with salary cap issues, and is now at the end of the five-year deal that proved too much for the team to juggle. As a result he is approaching unrestricted free agency on a team out of the playoff race in the Central Division, and is therefore a prime target to be shifted in return for some future assets.
While not the scorer he once was, Sharp would bring some added experience and depth to a lineup that has lost its offensive punch.
Since joining the Stars, he has struggled with concussion-related issues, and has missed significant time this year (playing just 33 of Dallas’ 59 games) while seeing a big dip in production. When he was traded from Chicago to Dallas two seasons ago coming off a 43-point regular season and 15-point playoff run, it came at the cost of a bottom-six forward in Ryan Garbut, and top-four defenceman Trevor Daley.
Obviously the asking price will be much lower than two NHL players at this juncture in Sharp’s career, so it’s entirely feasible that draft picks and/or an up-and-coming player could seal the deal.
The current Habs properties fitting that bill include Michael McCarron, Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak, and Jacob de la Rose, though any of those first three would probably be an overpayment for a 34-year-old depth rental.
Health had rarely been a major concern for the veteran forward until this season, as the fewest games he’s played in an 82-game season was 41 during his rookie season in Philadelphia.
In terms of goal-scoring, he has failed to eclipse the 20-goal mark just two times since the start of the 2006-07 season, though both of those have come in the last five years and he’s facing the prospect of a third this season. In 679 career games, Sharp has scored 239 goals and added 272 assists, for a 0.75 points-per-game pace. Add in another 87 points in 142 post season games, and it’s easy to see why Sharp might be an appealing option for Bergevin.
An average possession player on the team last season, Sharp has seen a negative shot--attempt differential for most of this year while dealing with health issues, but has begun to have more a positive showing over the last month. The turnaround is most apparent when viewing his scoring-chances-for percentage relative to his teammates (chart #4 above). After a plunge to almost 30 percentage points off the mark his teammates were achieving, he has rocketed back up to a figure more representative of his best offensive days, with his current 10-game average being the best of the season so far.
He is playing for a team with defensive issues that struggles to get out of its own zone, with poor goaltending exacerbating those problems to the point that the Stars are just one goal off the most allowed by any team in the NHL this season. Even with the poor possession rates, he’s still getting shots on goal, averaging about three per contest. A move to a team like the Habs, with a new coach who is more concerned with a possession style, could do wonders for capitalizing on his rapidly recovering form and sparking his lagging offensive numbers.
Is Sharp a fit in Montreal?
For the potentially low asking cost, and the chance to acquire a multiple 25-goal scorer, Sharp could be a good fit in Montreal. The Canadiens depth on the left wing is primarily Max Pacioretty, followed by the rooke Artturi Lehkonen. While the young Finn has been good this year, adding a veteran presence with scoring talent could help bolster a struggling top six.
Sharp could be acquired and slotted in alongside either Alex Galchenyuk or Phillip Danault (whichever Claude Julien prefers) on the Habs’ second line. As a right-handed left-winger, he would be a prime target for the playmaking Habs forwards.
The hardest part of making this deal happen might be the cap hit of Sharp’s contract. He is set to make $5.9 million against the cap this season, and the Habs currently have space for a contract worth a little more that $4 million. It’s entirely possible that Dallas might retain some of the cost to get the deal done, but that would likely require an additional draft pick heading the other way. The other option is to shed some cap commitments, either by burying a player in the minors (granting up to an additional $950,000 for a deadline contract) or sending a roster player to Dallas (or elsewhere) as part of the move.
If the Habs could pull it off, it’s the classic low-risk/high-reward situation. For a low cost of a draft pick or a second-tier prospect, the Canadiens can acquire a player with a history as an excellent offensive player. Bergevin loves character and experience, and from his time in Chicago he knows that’s exactly what he’ll be getting in Sharp.
If he can hang onto your top prospects and the majority of his draft selections while still acquiring a goal-scoring forward, that sounds like a major win for the Canadiens’ GM. If it’s going to be done, it deal should be completed soon before Sharp’s production begins to reflect his underlying metrics.