Hawk Talk: A Sharp pain?

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Hawk Talk: A Sharp pain?

Monday, March 21, 2011
Posted: 4:29 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

The Blackhawks responded to one type of adversity Sunday night in Phoenix. We now await official word on how long they'll need to respond to another type.

The team did not practice Monday upon returning from their hard-earned, gritty, 2-1 victory over the Coyotes, bouncing back from Thursday's ugly, 5-0 loss in Dallas. As a result, there was no update from the team on Patrick Sharp's apparent left knee injury that caused him to require help leaving the ice - and the remainder of the game - late in the first period. The team won't make an announcement until after Tuesday's practice.
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Upon seeing the contact that leg took in a knee-to-knee collision with Rostislav Klesla, the hope is Monday's additional tests reveal something along the lines of a week or two of required recovery, and nothing much longer. A Jobing.com Arena source who saw Sharp leave Sunday night indicated he walked on his own, likely with a brace on. While Sharp's goal production has seen a dip lately (one over the past nine games), his 34 still leads the team, and his presence on the line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane has been a nightmare for opponents. Even a moderate sprain could knock him out most, if not all of the remainder of the regular season. Then again, Toews missed all of two games, when it was expected to be a two-week injury right before the New Year.

With Dave Bolland and Brian Campbell already sidelined, the Hawks would especially need to be prepared for the kind of grind-it-out urgency (which should be in place anyway) over the final ten games in order to help their cause. If there's any time for this team to be in a week where they play just once - until Sunday begins a stretch of three in four nights - now's the time. And when those injured players return, there's always the uncertainty over how productive they'll be right away.

For now, you can tentatively plan on Ben Smith being there for Wednesday's game against Florida. With Jeremy Morin sidelined more than two months now with an apparent concussion sustained against the Wolves, Smith's the most logical, responsible option available to be taken from a Rockford team that's had a rough second half. The former Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player brings in heart, smarts and speed what he may lack in size, and impressed the coaching staff more than some of the earlier "non-Morin" callups earlier in the season.
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It goes deeper than that, though, these final three weeks, especially if Sharp will be out for any significant stretch. Troy Brouwer (three points his last 19 games), Michael Frolik, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg must find another level of production, and Corey Crawford will have to play the way he did Sunday night down the stretch in order to lock in a playoff spot. The rookie going through this grind for the first time has had a bumpy couple of weeks since a highlight-reel performance in Toronto, and he was back in that form Sunday. It doesn't hurt that the he wasn't seeing frequent odd-man rushes, either, but the two late saves on Ray Whitney had Joel Quennevlle calling them the saves of the season thus far.

Our last "Hawk Talk" detailed how they have the toughest remaining schedule of any of the other Western playoff contenders. Minnesota appears to be going away, and Calgary has the fewest games remaining coming into the week, but if they get some points Monday and Wednesday at Los Angeles and at San Jose, their schedule eases up a bit. Anaheim's goaltending has settled behind Ray Emery and Dan Ellis following the loss of Jonas Hiller. Nashville's been resuscitated through its injuries by the play of kids Jonathan Blum and Blake Geoffrion.

The Hawks need the same from their depth guys to get through this painful patch, physically. They have it in them, no matter the degree of Sharp's diagnosis. If it's long-term, it's a big blow, of course. But if they bring the effort and lock-down mentality these last ten games as they did in the desert after that big dose of humiliation in Big D, we'll be doing a playoff preview three weeks from now.

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

Blackhawks trade Scott Darling to Hurricanes for draft pick

Blackhawks trade Scott Darling to Hurricanes for draft pick

The Blackhawks have traded goaltender Scott Darling to the Carolina Hurricanes for a third-round draft pick in 2017, the team announced Friday. The third-rounder was previously acquired from the Ottawa Senators.

"We could count on Scott in any situation as he was always reliable," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement. "We appreciate his contributions to the Blackhawks organization — including a Stanley Cup Championship team — and we wish him well as he continues his career in Carolina."

In three seasons with Chicago, the 28-year-old Lemont native had a 39-17-9 record with a 2.37 goals against average, .923 save percentage and four shutouts. He was also a key member of the 2015 Stanley Cup-winning team, helping the Blackhawks get out of the first round against the Nashville Predators.

His best year came during the 2016-17 campaign when he set a career high with 18 wins and ranked tied for fifth in the league with a .924 save percentage. He's earned the opportunity to become a full-time starter. It was always unlikely that it would be in his hometown with Corey Crawford under contract through 2019-20, but Friday confirmed that.

"I feel like I've paid my dues as a backup," Darling said at the end of the season. "And when I've had a chance to play in consecutive games I feel like I've shown that I can do it."

He also reflected on his last three years with the Blackhawks "just in case," and had nothing but great things to say about his tenure in Chicago.

"If that does happen, I wouldn't change a second of my time in Chicago," Darling said at the time. "It's been bar-none the best three years of my life. Loved every second. They've been so great to me, my teammates, coaching staff, front office, everybody's been amazing. I wouldn't change a minute."

The Blackhawks will likely look externally for a backup option next season with minor-leaguers Mac Carruth and Lars Johansson due new contracts, and 31-year-old Jeff Glass, who was the No. 3 netminder in the playoffs, having no NHL experience.

The Hurricanes currently own Darling's negotiating rights, and have until July 1 to sign him to an extension when he could hit the market as an unrestricted free agent. Contract talks have not yet started, according to TSN's Pierre LeBrun.

They have two goaltenders (Eddie Lack and Cam Ward) under contract for one more year, meaning a corresponding move could be coming before the expansion draft. One (or both) of them would have to be exposed, assuming Darling signs before then and is protected.

The Blackhawks, who host the NHL Draft from June 23-24, now have 10 draft picks this year: a first, second, fourth, three fifth's, two sixth's and two seventh's.

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

The Blackhawks strengthened their organizational depth Thursday, announcing the signing of forward Nathan Noel to a three-year entry-level contract that kicks in next season and runs through the 2019-20 campaign. 

Noel, a fourth-round draft pick (No. 113 overall) in 2016, tied a career high with 24 goals — including six game winners — and added 26 assists for 50 points in 52 games during his fourth regular season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was sidelined for a little more than a month in December and January due to an upper-body injury.

The 19-year-old center has raised his game in the postseason, racking up eight goals and 18 assists in 33 games from 2015-17, including six assists in 12 contests so far during the 2017 QMJHL playoffs. Across four years at Saint John, he amassed 208 points (85 goals, 123 assists) in 242 career regular-season games.

Noel is teammates with forward Matthew Highmore, who leads the Sea Dogs in scoring and was signed by the Blackhawks in March to a three-year deal as an undrafted free agent.

Noel is an undersized forward at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, but he's a fast skater with offensive upside. He'll likely start the 2017-18 season in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs, who desperately needed scoring last year.