Patrick Sharp appears close to a return with the Chicago Blackhawks. How would he fare in the middle of the second line?
Sharp will be traveling with the team for Tuesday's game and could possibly be in the lineup against the Wild, reports ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers. Sharp suffered a shoulder injury just over a month ago against Colorado. His return on the left side of the second line would be most welcome.
It would be even better if he lined up in the middle on Tuesday night.
The lament for Sharp to play center has fallen largely on deaf ears ever since Sharp helped lead the 'Hawks to the Stanley Cup in 2010. He has been cast there on occasion in subsequent seasons, but nothing resembling a permanent arrangement has materialized.
The resistance has appeared to be on the part of Sharp, though no one in the organization really addresses the issue. We've seen Bolland, Marcus Kruger and even Patrick Kane used in the second-center role.
Someone has an aversion to Sharp lining up there. We just can't confirm who that happens to be.
The Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc wrote on April 2 that Sharp was open to playing center if he was asked. From that article:
I'd go back there 100 percent. We have four centers and guys sitting out who are capable of playing there but if Joel (Quenneville) asked me I would do it in a heartbeat.
Taking him at his word, would you like to see Patrick Sharp line up at center in the playoffs?
It's just lip service until Joel Quenneville actually taps Sharp, however. I'm not terribly confident that is going to happen. Too bad, because the numbers don't lie.
After Jonathan Toews, Chicago's centers have most often been Bolland, Kruger and Andrew Shaw. Combined, those three sport a 44.8 faceoff percentage. Sharp's worst percentage since 2009-10 was last year, when he won 47.8 of his draws.
Sharp saw his time at the dot dwindle in recent seasons. He's taken just 43 draws this season, winning 25 of them. From 2009-10 to the present, Sharp has won 50.3 of his faceoffs. That would be a definite upgrade over the current crop of centers.
Michal Handzus is going to help in this area, but I don't see him skating a ton of minutes with Kane and Sharp in the top six. Playing inside may not be the best way to utilize a sniper like Sharp, but it could be a case of doing what's best for the team.
Of course, there is the matter of who comes up to take Sharp's place on the wing. However, if that line is getting possession of the puck more often, there are plenty of options from which Chicago can choose. Just insert your favorite wing and off you go.
If Quenneville just opts to let Sharp take a bigger percentage of his line's draws, that would be a fine start. Sliding Sharp over could be just the thing to spark the 'Hawks as the regular season winds down. This is hardly a new idea, but it may be a good time to re-examine the notion.