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Sharks sign Hjalmarsson to offer sheet
Young D-man inks 4-year, $14 million deal
7/9/10 - By Mike Lee -

Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson sent a shot over the bow of the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday by extending a contract offer to restricted free-agent defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. The deal would pay the 23-year old defenseman $14 million over four years. The Blackhawks have seven days to counter the offer. If they choose not to, they would receive the Sharks 1st and 3rd round selections in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

It will be interesting to see what Chicago elects to do, because they are in a cap-space quandary. Having already shipped Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Soppel, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Ben Eager to other clubs in an effort to get under the salary cap, the Hawks must decide if Hjalmarsson is worth the cost that Wilson has established. That's a lot of money for a young defenseman with one full year of service under his belt.

With Hjalmarsson being restricted, the Blackhawks probably figured they could wait to see how their arbitration hearing with goaltender Antti Niemi plays out before figuring out how much they have to spend on Hjalmarsson. Wilson now forces their hands. At least over the next week.

Hjalmarsson would instantly vacate the void created by veteran Rob Blake on the Sharks blueline. He split time between Chicago and Rockford from 2007-2009, before securing a regular spot on the Blackhawks roster last season.

Appearing in 111 NHL games thus far, the native of Ekso, Sweden, has 3 goals and 18 regular season assists. He scored a goal and added 8 assists in all 22 of the Blackhawks post season games during their Stanley Cup run this past spring.

The 4th round draft pick was selected 108th overall in the 2005 NHL Draft by the Blackhawks.

"We feel Niklas is a top-three defenseman in the National Hockey League," said Wilson. "We saw his abilities first-hand in the playoffs last season and he was an important piece of a Stanley Cup-winning team. He is a solid player that would be a good fit on our team now and in the future."

Hjalmarsson's 137 blocked shots last season, ranked 32nd in the league. That surpassed any Sharks defenseman (Dan Boyle blocked 130). At 6'3", the defenseman is not regarded as a big hitter, nor is he likely to fill Blake's role on the power play.

What he does bring is a solid defensive player that can more the puck and plug defensive holes. If he does turn out to be a top three d-man, the Sharks just solved a long term problem.

His age provides lots of upside, and when you consider the Sharks also have Marc-Edouard Vlasic (23), Jason Demers (22) on the regular roster and Nick Petrecki (21) in the pipeline, the Sharks are well positioned for the future, so long as they stay out of the same cap predicament that has befallen Chicago this summer.



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