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Not trading Patrick Sharp the best deal Chicago never made

In the wake of the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship the hard realities of playing in a salary cap world became apparent to GM Stan Bowman almost immediately. After performance bonuses kicked in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the bite on the Blackhawks ability to spend was instantaneous for this season and tough decisions had to be made. Out went character scorers like Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien among others, but one guy who was rumored to also get sent out of town stayed.

Patrick Sharp, a former Flyers castoff in his own right, stayed in Chicago and this season he’s made Chicago’s faith worthwhile. Sharp’s been nothing short of being the team MVP this season as the Blackhawks have relied on cast-offs and very green rookies to make a run at another Stanley Cup. Where would the Blackhawks be without Sharp though? It’s frightening to picture.

This season, Chicago’s lost Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa for multiple games due to injury putting pressure on a host of different young forwards to try and fill their spots in the lineup. Any number of players from Bryan Bickell, Jake Dowell, Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin, Ryan Potulny, and Jack Skille have all seen time while players have been out but Sharp has been the iron man of the team.

Looking through the stats this season it’s easy to see why Sharp was the guy the Hawks hung on to. Sharp leads the team in goals with 25, he’s also leading the team in goals scored at even strength (13), on the power play (10), shorthanded (2) and is by far the team leader in game-winning goals (6).

Wayne Gretzky always said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” and that’s been Sharp’s motto this year as he’s firing shots on goal at an insane rate leading the team with 186. He’s averaging nearly four shots on goal per game and that sort of offense is necessary for a team that’s essentially rolling with two lines that can be counted on to score at all.

When you see the types of seasons Ladd and Byfuglien are having in Atlanta and if you pair that sort of production up with what Sharp’s doing this year, picture losing all of that from one lineup. The Blackhawks off-season was hard enough as it is in dealing with the salary cap, and for as important as Ladd and Byfuglien have been to the Thrashers, both virtual team MVP-type players, losing Sharp makes the difference for Chicago from being a playoff contender and from looking ahead to the NHL draft. With how tough the Central Division and the Western Conference in general has been, losing a guy of that caliber is enough to decide the race in the playoffs. For Stan Bowman, not dealing Patrick Sharp has to be the best deal he never made.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one game with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity (it was bad), just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.

Greiss blanks Stars as Isles win in first game of post-Capuano era

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 19:  Doug Weight of the New York Islanders handles his first game as head coach against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 19, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders began the Doug Weight era in the same way Jack Capuano’s ended: with a shutout.

Yeah, it’s easy to forget that the Islanders actually won their last game under Capuano, consider all that’s happened since.

They blanked the Boston Bruins 4-0 on Monday and generated a 3-0 shutout against thd Dallas Stars on Thursday. It’s quite a feather in the cap of goalie Thomas Greiss, who owns these back-to-back shutouts.

(It’s worth mentioning that, for all the Bruins’ and Stars’ flaws, they can be very explosive on offense …)

That Monday shutout wasn’t enough for Capuano to save his job, and the Isles still have a long way to go after this encouraging outcome. The East’s second wild card spot still seems like a long shot for Weight & Co.

Even so, the Islanders will take it. They play their next five games at home and seven of eight in Brooklyn, so if there’s ever a time for movement, it would logically come now.

If nothing else, maybe life will be a bit better for John Tavares. He scored another goal on Thursday to add to his beautiful 1-0 tally.

Baby steps, right?

Report: Yes, Claude Julien’s job is in some danger with Bruins

MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 12:  Head coach of the Boston Bruins Claude Julien looks on as he walks across the ice during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on December 12, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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After the Boston Bruins squandered a 3-0 lead against the Detroit Red Wings and ultimately lost 6-5 via a shootout, plenty of fans and commenters had enough. Many called for Claude Julien’s head.

They might not be alone.

During the latest edition of TSN’s Insider Trading on Thursday, Bob McKenzie didn’t say that Julien was definitely going to be fired, but he said there’s a “credible threat” to the long-standing Bruins bench boss’ job security.

The phrase “impending doom” came up, too.

So … yeah, it sure sounds like Julien is on thin ice.

McKenzie indicates that Julien should be behind the bench on Friday and could improve his situation if he reels off some wins. That’s where things get extra interesting.

The Bruins play three of their next four games and seven of their next nine contests at home. Most of those games are against playoff-caliber teams, however, so it wouldn’t necessarily be “easy.” Still, the opportunities are there for the Bruins to solidify their spot in the East playoff picture.

Still, it sure sounds like the margin of error is pretty small for Julien, just as it might be for Boston in this playoff race.

Want more coaching hot seat talk from McKenzie? He also discussed Paul Maurice’s situation with the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday: