Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp expected to return to Chicago: How will latest Blackhawks reunion go?

Patrick Sharp expected to return to Chicago: How will latest Blackhawks reunion go?

The Blackhawks have had a habit of bringing back former players lately. It appears Patrick Sharp will be the latest they return to the fold.

A source confirmed what multiple reports stated late Friday night, that Sharp will return when free agency opens late Saturday morning. TSN’s Bob McKenzie first reported on Friday that Sharp — who the Blackhawks traded to the Dallas Stars on July 10, 2015 — would likely be returning to Chicago.

The 35-year-old Sharp is coming off season-ending hip surgery he underwent in late March. At the time of that surgery, the Stars said Sharp’s expected recovery time was between four and five months. He’s coming off a frustrating season, injury-wise. Besides the hip issue that finally led to surgery, Sharp was out on two separate occasions due to a concussion he suffered early in the 2016-17 season. In a February interview, Sharp talked about how difficult it was to deal with those concussion issues.

“Emotionally I had a lot of anxiety, whether that was from not playing or the (recovery) timeline, there were a lot of unknowns,” he said at the time. “But once I got back on the ice and around the team and into the normal pro hockey player routine, things cleared up.”

Now the question is: How will Sharp be following this hip surgery? The Blackhawks have gone down this road before with re-signing former players. Since 2013 they have welcomed back forwards Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg, goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and defensemen Johnny Oduya and Brian Campbell. The results have been mixed, at best.

As of now, Sharp will likely be part of the Blackhawks’ bottom six. Brandon Saad, re-acquired last Friday, will start the season as Jonathan Toews’ left wing on the top line. Last Saturday coach Joel Quenneville said Nick Schmaltz would probably get first crack at second-line left wing; Schmaltz subbed for an injured Artem Anisimov twice last season and had pretty good chemistry with Patrick Kane. Granted, we all know how lines change with this team.

The Blackhawks have tried this reunion thing before; we’ll see how it works with Sharp.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.