Thursday, June 9, 2011

Patrick Sharp Makes Most Sense For Rangers Of All The Options

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The New York Rangers are an organization that has transitioned from one that sought to buy talent every year and hope that they could make the pieces work to an franchise that has developed their young core through the draft and select trades for youth over the past few seasons.  The result is that the team has a foundation of young talent to build from.  With the expected growth of the players that are already in the NHL and the continued influx of new talent big things are expected from the Rangers within the next couple years.  In order to get to that ultimate level of contending for a title however the team still needs to add a few top level talents to go with the core it already has.   

The chase for that elusive top-line talent is expected to center around Brad Richards come July 1, but with him reported seeking a contract upwards of $7 million per season for as many as 8 years there have to be questions about whether that kind of move would set the franchise back.  On the ice the talent addition would be excellent, at least for the first few seasons, but the question is whether the move to overpay, this time in years, would set the franchise back in the long run.  If the Rangers do miss or pass on Brad Richards this summer there are other options to consider.

One option that has been thrown out there would be trading for Patrick Sharp.  Sharp, 29, is a highly skilled forward with excellent vision, good playmaking ability and a lethal shot. He is coming off a tremendous season in which he scored 34 goals and added 37 assists in just 74 games for the Chicago Blackhawks.  This marked the fifth straight season of 20+ goals, fourth straight of 25+ goals and second time that Sharp has broken the 30 goal mark.  In the past four seasons Sharp has 121 goals and 122 assists in 297 games.  That breaks down to an average of .818 points per game or 67 points over the course of an 82 game season.
Sharp possesses the skills to help the Rangers anemic power play coming from a system that ranked fourth in the league at 23.1% effective.  A big part of that success was the 12 goals and 14 assists recorded on the man advantage by Sharp.  He can play down low or on the point on the power play, though he was primarily used on the point where his shot was a huge asset.

Another major asset for Sharp is his versatility.  He can play the center position or he could moved to the wing on either side and be effective.  If the Rangers decide that someone like Derek Stepan is able to answer the call as the top center, then Sharp could team with him and Marian Gaborik form a line not totally dissimilar to when Sharp is paired with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Sharp has one season remaining on his current contract at a salary cap hit of $3.9 million before hitting the unrestricted free agent market next summer.  The only reason that Chicago would even consider trading Sharp is because of their salary cap constraints that might make it difficult for them to keep him next summer.  That is not to say that the price of prying him out of Chicago would not be significant.  

While Chicago would likely have some interest in a Dan Girardi on the ice, the salary is not something they can afford to take on with the huge money they have tied up in their current top four.  The likely move for Chicago would be to look for young NHL forwards/prospects and possibly a young NHL/prospect on defense.  Even then the value of Sharp to the chances Chicago has of making another run to a title would make it very difficult for them to move him in a trade this summer.  It is highly doubtful given his role and importance to the Blackhawks that they would consider moving him and will make every attempt to re-sign him next year.

I know the urgency for many is to make a move now for next season, but depending on what happens with the salary cap for the upcoming season, Chicago could be hamstrung in trying to lock up Sharp long-term and it could mean he is a prize on the free agent market next summer with a lower price-tag than Richards and without having to trade assets for him.