CHICAGO – Patrick Sharp has stepped in front of plenty of pucks during his career, but he never has wrestled down a 250-pound athlete quite like LeBron James.
That’s why Sharp tried to recruit Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich to join the Blackhawks after watching from a courtside seat as the lightweight guard held his ground, tackled the barreling Miami Heat superstar and earned a spot on countless highlight reels.
“I told him after the game we should get some hockey pads on him,” Sharp said with a smile Thursday after practice. “[We could] put him on the penalty kill or something.”
For one, the injury-riddled Bulls are shorthanded enough. Two, the Blackhawks might be willing to part with a top prospect, but his ice skates would tear up the hardwood.
Time for another plan.
The NHL trade deadline arrives Wednesday, which will present Hawks general manager Stan Bowman with two options.
Option A: Stand pat with one of the best teams in hockey.
Option B: Try to improve one of the best teams in hockey.
Too simplistic? Yes, probably.
But a record-setting start deserves a banner-raising finish. Bowman knows not to be reckless, but if he has a chance to trade a few tomorrows for today, he should do so.
For reasons why, look no further than the Pittsburgh Penguins.
At 26-8-0, the star-studded Penguins are to the Eastern Conference what the Hawks are to the Western Conference. Led by 25-year-old center Sidney Crosby, they boast four players with at least 15 goals this season and entered today with a 13-game win streak.
Yet the Penguins refused to be comfortable. In the past few days, they have added 500-goal scorer Jarome Iginla from Calgary, 245-pound defenseman Douglas Murray from San Jose and gritty veteran Brenden Morrow from Dallas. Surely, Bowman has taken notice.
His players have.
“I don’t know how much cap space they have over there,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said with a chuckle. “They’ve got a lot of guys there.”
Teammate Bryan Bickell agreed.
“They’ve been putting a statement down that they’ve come into this season for one reason and one reason only,” Bickell said.
Then again, so have the Hawks.
Bowman can boost his already loaded roster by seeking a talented second-line center or a reliable stay-at-home defenseman. The Hawks have plenty of stars led by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but as the playoffs approach, there is no such thing as too much depth.
One possible target is Buffalo Sabres center Derek Roy, who has 20 points in 27 games. Another option is Washington Capitals center Mike Ribeiro, who has 35 points in 33 games.
The postseason is filled with one-goal games. Maybe Roy, Ribeiro or another highly skilled player could be the one to score that crucial goal come playoff time.
Naturally, Hawks players are not campaigning for changes. They think they have enough, especially once Sharp and Marian Hossa return from lingering injuries that will keep them out of today’s game against Anaheim.
“I think we have a great team here,” said Bickell, now in his third full season. “Look at the streak we had. When everybody was healthy, we have a team that can’t be beaten.”
But what if more injuries strike?
And what if more teams reload?
As April approaches, Bowman should take note of the March of the Penguins.
“They’re obviously going to be a big contender for the Cup this year,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s going to be fun to see what they can do over on that side.
“Hopefully, we can meet along the way somewhere.”
That would be the Stanley Cup Final.
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.