Jan 29, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp (10) awaits start of the play against the Vancouver Canucks during the second period at Rogers Arena. The Chicago Blackhawks won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Blackhawks: Will This Be Patrick Sharp’s Last Season?

Settle down ladies… it’s just speculation at this point. Last week I entertained the notion that with the new Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews deals putting a significant crunch on the cap space of our beloved Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015-2016 season, that this upcoming season may be the last for Marian Hossa as a Hawk given his age, injury history, and yearly compensation.

As many of our readers astutely pointed out (in addition to their significant passion for Hoss), given Hossa’s age, injury history, and contract complexity, the only team in the NHL he’d appeal to would be the Florida Panthers namely because of Dale Tallon, but it’s highly unlikely that even the Hawks former GM would want to incur Hoss’ cap hit and contract at this point in his career. All very valid points with which I’d have to agree; thus, the smart money says Hoss retires a Blackhawk, whenever that may be.

That being said however, the Blackhawk with an equal amount, if not more question marks surrounding his future in Chicago in the face of the upcoming salary cap squeeze is fan favorite and heart-throb Patrick Sharp.

Sharpie has been with the Blackhawks for almost ten years, and needless to say his career in Chi-Town has been extremely productive ever since he arrived from the Philadelphia Flyers. Behind Kane and Toews, Sharp is a close third in players considered comprising the Blackhawks’ “core.” This label is not just reflected by Sharp’s contributions as a player, but also in his paycheck.

After Kane and Toews, Sharp is the most expensive Blackhawk on the payroll; taking just shy of $6 million out of the cap each year. Sharp is currently signed through the 2016-2017 season, but as we all know Kane and Toews’ new contracts will be putting the screws to the Hawks’ accounting department starting in 2015.

Even early this offseason Patrick Sharp’s name was circulating in the trade rumor mills (a rumor his agent strongly denied) despite the Hawks experiencing cap space questions not nearly as tough as what they’ll encounter a year from now.

However, barring any out-of-left-field wheelings and/or dealings, Patrick Sharp will be playing for the Blackhawks this year. Yes, after signing Brad Richards and Kyle Cumiskey, the Hawks currently are a few million over the $69 million cap, but that can be easily remedied by parting ways with lower-impact players like Michal Rozsival and/or Kris Versteeg, so for all intents and purposes, the Hawks can afford Sharpie for at least one more season.

This changes in the 2015-2016 season however, and it pains me to say this, but if I had to bet, I’d say Sharpie is moved after this upcoming season for several reasons:

For starters, at 32, Patrick Sharp certainly has a decent amount of productive years ahead of him, and has been relatively-injury free for most of his career. Secondly, the Hawks are far deeper at the forward position than at defense, which makes Sharp more expendable than say Brent Seabrook, whom takes a similar sized chunk out of the cap. Also, as an Alternate Captain for the Blackhawks, Sharp has recognized leadership skills that make him all the more marketable. Finally, shedding Sharp’s contract would allow the Blackhawks to hang onto more of their young players, and hence maintain their depth.

Bottom line is there’s certainly a good amount of teams in the NHL that are replete with up-and-coming players and undergoing a rebuilding phase that would benefit from Sharp’s veteran presence and would no doubt be willing to pay his asking price.

However, the Blackhawks’ willingness to part ways with Sharp next year would hinge on the faith the organization has in younger Blackhawk forwards such as Brandon Saad, Ben Smith, and even Jeremy Morin and Teuvo Teräväinen stepping into more prominent roles on the team, making the 2014-2015 season somewhat pivotal in that regard.

There are certainly plenty of X factors (i.e. Hossa retiring, the salary cap significantly rising, etc.) that could take place in the upcoming year that could result in Sharpie at least finishing out his current contract in Chicago. Regardless, whenever Sharp hangs up his indian-head sweater, he’ll leave a large void of talent and leadership that will be hard to replace.

What do you think? Will this be Patrick Sharp’s last season with the Chicago Blackhawks?

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