It’s been a wild few weeks for the Chicago Blackhawks, including the departures of several key players like Niklas Hjalmarsson, Artemi Panarin, and Trevor van Riemsdyk, but the Western Conference dynasty appears to be bringing back a fan-favorite when free agency opens today to help deal with those losses. The Chicago Sun Times’ Mark Lazerus reports, as speculated, that Patrick Sharp will return to Chicago for the coming season. While details of the deal – term, salary, incentives – are not yet known, the deal is expected to be made official promptly after free agency opens at noon ET. Sharp, 35, is a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Blackhawks and an eight-time 20-goal scorer over his impressive career. Sharp was essentially forced out of Chicago in the off-season two years ago, as the ’Hawks could not muster the cap space to re-sign the prominent forward. The Dallas Stars could, but after a strong 55-point campaign in 2015-16, Sharp struggled with injury and inconsistency this past season, recording just 18 points in 48 games. Age and health have clearly softened Sharp’s edge, but if he is going to rejuvenate his career at this age for any team, it will be in a return to Chicago and his former teammates. Sharp will join Brandon Saad as returning Blackhawks this off-season if this deal does come to fruition this afternoon.
- Adrian Dater of BSN Denver was busy late last night, breaking the news that Jonathan Bernier is expected to sign with his Colorado Avalanche today. The Avs recently lost young backup Calvin Pickard in the expansion draft and were on the lookout for a reliable backup to Semyon Varlamov. While Bernier has been rumored to sign anywhere from the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to a return to the Anaheim Ducks, the fit in Colorado makes sense. One could argue that Bernier is coming off the best season of his career in 2016-17 and will have a chance to be more of a “1B” than a definite #2 with the Avalanche. Per usual, there is still no word on the details of the deal that cannot be consummated until later today.
- Dater also reported that the Boston Bruins are set to make a small, but interesting move today, as they have supposedly come to terms with AHL MVP Kenny Agostino on a short-term contract worth $850K. The high-scoring minor league left wing has seen only limited NHL action, but over the course of an 83-point season with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves last season, he also contributed a goal and two assists in seven games with the St. Louis Blues. The Bruins were known to have some concerns over the potential of Matt Beleskey and Frank Vatrano to play top-six roles on the left side next season, but were also worried about blocking up-and-coming prospects like Jake DeBrusk, Peter Cehlarik, Anders Bjork, and more. The Agostino signing would add another option at a relatively cheap price and (likely) the flexibility of a two-way contract as well. The details will be revealed a few hours from now.
- In more concrete news, the KHL’s Barys Astana has signed former Washington Capitals prospect Darren Dietz, according to European hockey insider Aivis Kalnins. Dietz was not tendered a qualifying offer by the Capitals by last Monday’s deadline and became an unrestricted free agent. Without any NHL interest, Dietz will try his hand at Russian pro hockey rather than a minor league deal to remain in North America.