Welcome Patrick Sharp to the trade rumor mill

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A new name has surfaced in what’s shaping up to be a wild week of rumors and speculation — Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp.

“Chicago’s now looking for a centerman, and Patrick Sharp’s available,” Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos said on Tuesday. “He’s out there.

“Patrick Sharp is out there right now and we’re going to continue to hear some big names that are available.”

Chicago’s desire for a second-line center is well documented, especially after Michal Handzus’ disappointing playoff run (followed by news that the ‘Hawks were parting ways with the veteran.) Ryan Kesler has been linked to Chicago and while he’d be a tremendous upgrade, getting him on the books would require some maneuvering.

Per CapGeek, the ‘Hawks have around $4.6 million in cap space for next season with the likes of Antti Raanta, Jeremy Morin and Ben Smith needing new deals. Those won’t be especially tough — all three are RFAs — but the real issues come in 2015-16, when Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are up. The pair indicated they’re ready to re-sign in Chicago but with hefty deals already in place for Corey Crawford ($6 million annually), Brent Seabrook ($5.8), Duncan Keith ($5.5) and Marian Hossa ($5.275), something has to give…especially with the likes of Brandon Saad and Nick Leddy going RFA in ’15-16 as well.

So, back to Sharp.

While a talented forward with pedigree — he registered his fourth 30-goal campaign last season, and won a gold medal with Canada at the Olympics — he could be expendable in Chicago’s quest for a legitimate 2C. Sharp carries an annual cap hit of $5.9 million for the next three seasons and while head coach Joel Quenneville has tried him at center in the past, the results haven’t been there. As such, there’s a case to be made that an in-house candidate (Andrew Shaw? Bryan Bickell?) could ascend to a top-six role on the wing and replace Sharp — not as effectively, but definitely more cost-efficiently.

The ‘Hawks will also have to look long and hard in the prospect cupboard. They’ve taken five first-round forwards at the last four drafts (Kevin Hayes, Mark McNeill, Phillip Danault, Teuvo Teravainen, Ryan Hartman) with the hope is that one will eventually be ready to fulfill a top-six role in the NHL.

If Chicago thinks one can, the idea of moving Sharp might become less daunting.