Former Flyer Sharp is a big part of Chicago's turnaround
A December 2005 trade that sent the onetime Flyers prospect to Chicago shocked him at the time, but Sharp said it also opened up fresh opportunities and ultimately a shot at a Stanley Cup.
"Switching organizations was difficult," he said this week. "You're kind of loyal to one team for so many years and then you've got to put a different jersey on. [But] sometimes a change of scenery and a breath of fresh air can change the outlook of a player, and I think I got better developing with the Blackhawks.
"I think it was a blessing in disguise."
Sharp played with current Flyers captain Mike Richards and center Jeff Carter on that Phantoms title team, which coincidentally beat another group of Chicagoans - the Wolves.
"I was fortunate enough to play with him, he came up at 19 years old playing in the Calder Cup on his line," Carter said. "Guys in Chicago know what he means to a team. He's an unbelievable player and does a lot for his team. And he's such a great guy and it will be fun to line up against him."
They all keep in occasional touch, although not this week as they prepare for the finals.
"It's kind of neat that we've gotten to the same point now," Sharp said. "They're two great players and a huge part of the team over there. We're going to have to do a good job shutting them down and hopefully [we] can win that big cup."
The Flyers, in turn, are acutely aware of what Chicago's veteran left winger can do.
In 2009-10, Sharp played all 82 regular-season games and was among the Blackhawks' offensive leaders with 25 goals, tied with Jonathan Toews for second on the team. He added 41 assists and had a plus/minus rating of plus- 24, sharing team leadership with Marian Hossa.
In the postseason, he is among the top playoff scorers with Toews and Patrick Kane, with seven goals, plus nine assists.
Along with prowess in setting up goals and scoring, Sharp also brings plenty of other skills.
"He brings a lot of different things to this group, whether it's versatility on the ice, or leadership off the ice," teammate Kris Versteeg said. "He came from an organization where maybe they didn't believe in his abilities anymore and he came here and proved to the league that he can play."
A Winnipeg native who now calls Thunder Bay, Ontario, home, Sharp arrived in Chicago as the Blackhawks were trying to recover from the lost lockout season. They eventually went 26-43-13 in 2005-06, among the low points in franchise history.
But the turnaround was coming. Chicago's poor finishes led to top draft picks like Toews (2006) and Kane (2007). By the 2007-08 season, the Hawks topped the .500 mark and just missed the playoffs.
In 2008-09, Chicago made the postseason for only the second time in 11 seasons and reached the conference finals before falling to Detroit.
Sharp said he was pleased to be part of the team's rebound and the revival of hockey interest in a rabid sports town like Chicago.
"The fans have come out and supported us and it's kind of neat to have hockey back in the Chicago scene, and this week is kind of the pinnacle," he said.
"We had a lot of years when our team wasn't in playoff contention. So we're all appreciative of how far we've come as an organization and we're looking to take the next step." *