Blackhawks can get better quickly even with no trades

Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 10:59 p.m. CDT

(MCT) No matter what happens before the NHL trade deadline of 2 p.m. Wednesday, the Blackhawks' roster will look dramatically different than in recent weeks as they get set for the stretch run of the season.

It remains to be seen whether general manager Stan Bowman can pull another trade after acquiring center Michal Handzus from the Sharks on Monday for a fourth-round draft pick. Regardless, the lineup is sure to get a boost with the likely return of forwards Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa from injuries.

Since Sharp went down March 6 and Hossa on March 18 _ in games against the Avalanche _ with upper-body injuries that sources said are to shoulders, the Hawks have gone from being (literally) unbeatable in regulation to looking rather mortal. With Sharp out, they have recorded a 6-5-0 mark after starting the season 21-0-3. Since Hossa joined Sharp on the scratch list, the Hawks have gone 3-3-0.

"Some people would say those would be two nice trade deadline additions to have Hossa and Sharp come back _ that's one way to look at it," Bowman said. "We've played well without (Sharp) but we certainly played really well with him too.

"You add both of those guys to the lineup and it certainly gives us a very dangerous look offensively. And they do more than just score goals, they play on the penalty kill and the power play. Adding Handzus to that with those two players will give our team a little bounce."

To make room on the roster, the Hawks on Tuesday reassigned young forwards Jimmy Hayes and Jeremy Morin to Rockford of the AHL. Barring setbacks, it appears Sharp and Hossa will return to face the Blues on Thursday night at the United Center in Game 36 of the lockout-shortened 48-game season.

"I'm sure it will be a big boost to the lineup because it's like adding two superstars to your team," winger Patrick Kane said. "Especially at a little stretch like this right before playoffs."

For Sharp, it has been painful physically and mentally to be sidelined so long after starting the season strong in what the 31-year-old had hoped would be a season during which he took another step in his development into one of the league's elite players.

"Speaking individually, there were a lot of points at the start of the year but I wasn't really playing that well," said Sharp, who has five goals and 13 assists in 24 games. "Then the last two or three weeks that I played my game was a lot better. I was skating better and handling the puck a lot more. The points weren't there but I was a lot happier with the way I was playing. It's frustrating to get injured just when you're starting to play your best hockey."

That made watching his teammates that much more difficult _ in good times and bad.

"I've watched my fair share of games," Sharp said. "It sucks to see the guys lose games because you want to be out there to help but it also sucks to see them winning and celebrating and having fun out there because I want to be out there and be a part of it as well. But there's lot of hockey to be played and I plan on being back ready to go."

Adding the two forwards to the recent mix will go a long way toward establishing stability to the lines, according to coach Joel Quenneville.

"The continuity of the four-line rotation has been a little off from the first part of the year," Quenneville said. "Those ... first couple of lines all have somebody different on their lines. I don't think we're getting all three guys on each line same old, same old, that we're looking to get. That's what we want our identity to be as we go along."  

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