The Chicago Blackhawks are a team desperate for offense this season, and even after a 5-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night, they’re still going to be struggling for goals after losing Patrick Sharp to a lower body injury.
Alexei Emelin and Sharp ended up tangled up along the boards following a hit in the third period of the game, with the defenseman landing on Sharp’s left leg. He was helped off the ice by Niklas Hjalmarsson after the play and did not return to the contest.
After the game, Joel Quenneville said that the winger will likely “be out for a bit,” but declined to say specifically how long the team feared Sharp would be out of the lineup.
A “bit” in Quenneville’s vocabulary generally means at least a few weeks, so we can likely assume that it isn’t an injury that will keep him out for the rest of the season. If the injury will force Sharp to miss a month, it would give the Blackhawks a slew of options on what to do to replace him, and all of the options come with intriguing possibilities.
The first choice that comes to mind for replacing Sharp would be to place him on Long Term Injured Reserve. The move, which would guarantee that he would miss at least 10 games and 24 days of action, would give the Blackhawks some breathing room with the salary cap to call up another player or two to replace him.
The question then becomes this: which player would be best suited to replace Sharp in the lineup? One option that would get plenty of fans excited would be to recall Teuvo Teravainen from the Rockford IceHogs. Doing so would enable him to slide directly into the top six forwards if Quenneville chose to do so, but it would seem more likely that the team would start him on the third or fourth line to minimize pressure a bit, and skating him with players like Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell could also give him some room to work with on the ice.
The problem with a Teravainen recall would be that the Hawks would have a difficult time sending him down if he were to come in guns blazing for the team. When Sharp and Daniel Carcillo return, the team would then be forced to decide whether to send Teravainen back down or potentially risk exposing a player like Jeremy Morin on waivers.
Another potential scenario would be to call up Mark McNeill. The forward is having an excellent start to the season for the IceHogs, and he would fit in just about anywhere the team would want to skate him. He can play wing on one of the top two lines, or he could even fill in at center if the Hawks opt to push Shaw back out to the wing (an unlikely scenario, but one worth looking at if McNeill ends up being recalled).
Finally, the Hawks could opt to bring up Joakim Nordstrom, who already has more NHL experience than either McNeill or Teravainen. He was recently named captain of the IceHogs, and with his mix of offensive skill and physicality, Nordstrom could be a great fit on one of the bottom two forward lines if a player like Morin or Kris Versteeg is promoted to the top six to replace Sharp.
In the end, calling up a player like Nordstrom might be the most logical move, but the one that combines the best of all worlds would be to call up McNeill. His flexibility as a center and a winger would be a welcome addition to the Hawks, and he wouldn’t have to play top six minutes to be at his most effective, unlike Teravainen. Giving him his first taste of the NHL with Sharp out would be a smart move by the Hawks, and he could help the team as they continue to fight through the offensive slump they’ve found themselves in.