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Chicago a destination? Sharp hopes so
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/20/2008 12:37 AM

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Patrick Sharp was only too happy to re-sign with the Blackhawks for four more years.

Now, Sharp will be interested to see what happens this summer and if free agents feel as he does, that the Hawks are a franchise on the rise, making Chicago a prime destination.

"The way the organization treats the players is first class, and anyone that's been to the city of Chicago knows what it's all about," Sharp said. "Attendance is growing at the United Center, the Hawks are on the way up, and hopefully that attracts some free agents that want to come to Chicago."

With the Hawks struggling, the top-end free agents have gone elsewhere in recent summers. Nikolai Khabibulin came here, but only when the Hawks offered him $27 million, which was more than any other team was willing to pay.

This summer, general manager Dale Tallon will have the money to spend, and he plans to go after the top free agents available, particularly on defense.

"I hope this is a place people want to come now," Tallon said. "The message we're trying to send is we're committed to winning and we'll do whatever it takes to win."

Sharp didn't need to be convinced. The new four-year deal he agreed to Thursday is worth $15.9 million.

"It was a pretty easy decision," he said. "Dale brought me in here when I wasn't playing and made me an NHLer. I probably played a lot more than I should have the last couple years, but I feel I've developed into the player I always thought I could be."

Toews update: Jonathan Toews is on the road trip, but he hasn't started skating yet and isn't expected to return from his sprained left knee until after the all-star break.

Toews was injured Jan. 1, and the timetable was he would miss a minimum of four weeks.

"He's still not close," coach Denis Savard said.

Vote of confidence: Dale Tallon felt it was a no-brainer to extend the contract of assistant coach Mark Hardy through next season.

Hardy's deal now matches in length the contracts of head coach Denis Savard and assistant John Torchetti.

"The coaches have done a good job," Tallon said. "It's been tough for them to put a lineup on the ice every night with all the injuries, but we've stayed competitive and played hard every night."

Tip-ins: Robert Lang's shootout goal that earned the Hawks the win in Denver was the first of his career. … Martin Lapointe missed his third straight game with the flu. … Coyotes leading goal-scorer Radim Vrbata didn't play because of a sore groin.