Patrick Sharp remains willing to adjust to assignments; Blackhawks hope to re-sign him

In most cases, the heroes of the Chicago Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup run took a step back during the 2010-11 season. That’s not to say that Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook totally flopped last season; in most cases they simply didn’t meet the lofty levels of that championship year.

One mainstay who produced an even better encore performance was versatile sniper Patrick Sharp. Despite being limited to 74 games with some minor injuries, Sharp produced the best offensive output of his career. He scored 34 goals (his second best total ever) and 71 points (a career-high) while earning his first trip to an All-Star Game. Sharp’s best moments came as a winger on a super line with Toews and Kane, but the dangerous scorer consistently proves that he’s willing to play wherever the Blackhawks ask him to. It seems he finds success in a variety of different situations, too; NHL.com points out that he went on his point per game 2010 playoff run (22 points in 22 games) while playing as a center.

Brian Hedger writes that the Blackhawks might expect him to play center (or even move around some more) in 2011-12 and Sharp seems OK with that proposition.

“I’m fine with that,” Sharp said of playing in the middle. “I think from the last six years I haven’t really played one position more than another – left wing, right wing, center and even defense on the power play. I think it’s an asset. You prepare to play all positions. I really don’t care which, as long as I’m on a line that’s working. If I can contribute on that line, then I’m happy.”

The Blackhawks must focus on another avenue to keep Sharp happy: contract negotiations. The 2011-12 campaign is the fourth and final season of a bargain deal in which Sharp’s cap hit is $3.9 million per year. GM Stan Bowman has a track record of re-signing the team’s biggest pieces before they hit free agency – he did so most recently with Seabrook – so the team will probably get something done with their sniper.

Sharp would command quite a bidding war if he manages to hit the unrestricted free agent market in 2012. He’ll be 30 next July, making him young enough to attract the kind of offers that a two-time 30+ goal scorer with his kind of flexibility could receive. Sharp played a wide variety of positions for the Blackhawks over the years and even ranks as a dangerous scoring threat on the penalty kill. (He lead the league with seven shorthanded goals in 2007-08.)

Here’s a little more insight about Sharp’s contract negotiations from NHL.com.

“I really don’t have much to say about it, to be honest with you,” said Sharp, who’s entering the final year of his current contract – which has a salary-cap hit of $3.9 million according to capgeek.com. “I’ve stated that I want to stay here. Hopefully the organization wants me to stay, and besides that I’m not really going to focus on it. I’m just going to try and be the best player I can be and be a good teammate and let those things kind of sort themselves out.”

(snip)

“You can’t have a core group of 20 guys,” Bowman said this weekend at the team’s fourth annual fan convention in the Chicago Hilton. “It just doesn’t work that way in the sport of hockey — or in other sports, for that matter. We try to identify the guys that are instrumental in being here in the short term and the long term. We’ve done that. We’ve locked those players up and that’s kind of the nature of sports.”

Chicago has about $51 million committed to 16 players going into 2012-13, according to Cap Geek. That means that the Blackhawks would have a bit more than $13 million in cap space to lock down 4-7 roster spots (if the ceiling remains around $64.3 million). Those numbers indicate that the Blackhawks should be in fine shape to retain Sharp if they decide he is in that core group. Another strong campaign during the 2011-12 season could go a long way in answering that question.

Predators eliminate Ducks, reach first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history

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Colton Sissons made a serious argument that the Nashville Predators do, indeed, still have a No. 1 center.

At least, he certainly played that way on Monday, generating a hat trick as the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks via a 6-3 win, taking the series 4-2.

In doing so, the Predators advanced to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

That 6-3 score is very misleading. While Nashville managed 2-0 and 3-1 leads, there was plenty of drama in this one, as the Ducks did not go down easily. Cam Fowler tied it up 3-3 in the third period, briefly stunning a rowdy crowd in Nashville.

Sissons was up to the task, however, settling down a bouncing puck on an otherwise stupendous Calle Jarnkrok pass to score the game-winner, notching a hat trick in the process. Sissons continues to be an unlikely hero for a Predators team dealing with the absence of Ryan Johansen (not to mention Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, and others).

Two empty-netters inflated the score, and they also sapped drama from the closing moments, which must have been quite the relief considering how much resolve Anaheim showed.

Peter Laviolette distinguishes himself as one of the NHL’s most underrated bench bosses, becoming just the fourth coach in league history to take three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final. He couldn’t win it all with the Philadelphia Flyers, but he does have a ring thanks to his time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Perhaps he’ll take another one this spring?

It’s quite the moment for GM David Poile, too, after trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban and Seth Jones for Johansen, among other pivotal moves.

The Ducks might wonder what could have been if John Gibson played instead of Jonathan Bernier. Bernier struggled early, allowing two goals on the first three shots he faced and generally having a tough Game 6. Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, maintained his mostly great run in the playoffs; he protected a Predators lead even when the Ducks dominated long stretches of play.

Now the Predators get a nice rest, as the Eastern Conference Final continues with a Game 6 on Tuesday (and possibly a Game 7 on Thursday).

They’ll limp a bit toward that final round, but the Predators seem to be embracing new territory. And sometimes new heroes.

Video: Ducks’ 3-3 goal survives goalie interference review

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When the Nashville Predators went up 3-1 in the third period, it seemed like they might finally put the Anaheim Ducks away in Game 6. The Ducks quickly responded with “Not yet.”

Two minutes after that 3-1 goal, Chris Wagner kept Anaheim’s hopes alive with a surprising tally. Corey Perry then bumped Pekka Rinne, but he was able to reset before Cam Fowler scored the 3-3 goal 8:52 into the final frame (of regulation).

In less than six minutes of game time, the tone of the contest changed rapidly. Now we’ll see if either team can get the next tally in the remaining minutes of the third or if the Stanley Cup Playoffs will see yet another overtime contest.

Here’s the Wagner goal:

You can see the 3-3 goal in the video above. Hold onto your seats.

Update: Moments after this was published, Colton Sissons‘ hat-trick goal made it 4-3. Could there be even more drama? We’ll see …

Game 6 is airing on NBCSN. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Coyotes’ Dylan Strome breaks Memorial Cup record with 7 points in game

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Dylan Strome’s journey to becoming a full-timer at the NHL level might be a little bumpy, but he continues to distinguish himself at other levels.

In the case of Monday, it was setting a new Memorial Cup record. With four goals and three assists, Strome’s seven-point game set a new record as he helped the Eerie Otters pummel the Saint John Sea Dogs 12-5.

They’ll face the Windsor Spitfires on Wednesday to determine which team goes to the tournament’s final round.

The performance wasn’t lost on his brother Ryan Strome.

Ducks dominate, but Predators enter third up 2-1

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So far, it seems like Jonathan Bernier playing instead of John Gibson for the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 has indeed been a pretty big deal.

Bernier allowed two goals on the first three shots he faced against to start Game 6, putting the Ducks in an early hole. The Ducks have been absolutely dominating the contest since then, but only Ondrej Kase could get a puck beyond Pekka Rinne through the first 40 minutes.

Seriously, the play’s been lopsided. Nashville managed a few shots after this tweet, yet it still tells much of the story.