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Hawks counter on Hjalmarsson
San Jose loses out on defenseman
7/12/10 - By Mike Lee -

The Chicago Blackhawks responded to the Niklas Hjalmarsson signing by the Sharks last Friday by announcing that they would be matching the 4-year, $14 million offer extended to the defenseman by San Jose general manager Doug Wilson. At least, that's the plan. Chicago GM Scotty Bowman said that the Blackhawks are set trying to keep their core together, and that Hjalmarsson is part of that core.

Bowman has until Friday to get the deal done, but the paperwork still has to get processed. Nothing is cast in stone and a little gamesmanship by Bowman isn't out of the question. Until the league processes the counter-proposal by Chicago anything is possible.

All's fair in love and free agency.

Why would Bowman pull a stunt like that? Well, because Wilson still has to figure out how to plug his hole on the blueline, so he's probably working the phones as we speak with agents to see what else is out there. While he's doing that, he's taking focus away from other priorities, like getting Devin Setoguchi under contract.

Chances are the Blackhawks follow through and bring back their young defender, but crazier things have happened.

Even though Hjalmarsson won't be calling San Jose home next season, the Sharks may benefit.

There's now also a question of Hjalmarsson's loyalty to the organization. He just inked a deal with the team the Blackhawks had to knock off to get to the Stanley Cup Finals, so it's not like the guy is exactly bleeding red and black. Yes it's a business, and yes he never technically left Chicago, but you have to figure what a move like that does to the mind set of the locker room.

The original signing also forced Bowman's hand on a price for the defenseman. A guy like Bowman is probably pretty convincing in a contract negotiation, and he probably felt that he had the advantage of being the home team (discounts do exist for home teams). Throw in the fact that his team just won a Stanley Cup and that Hjalmarsson has known no other team, so it's easy to believe that you have some bargaining chips in contract talks.

Then came Wilson's offer. Already in a budget mess, committing $3.5 million to a 23 year-old player not named Crosby is a tough pill to swallow. Committing that much over 4 years also impacts your budget during a time when your core superstars are all clicking. Trying to build a roster around that core takes money, so tying it up in a handful of players make's that job harder.

Chicago has to figure out how to get goaltender Antti Niemi signed, preferably before the two go to arbitration. Chicago is likely to send Christobal Huet to the minors along with his $5.625 million salary in order to get that contract clear of the cap. Chicago will have to carry a $4.1 million bonus penalty onto the books for 2010-11, because of Huet.

That means the Blackhawks still have 9 players to sign (including Niemi) and have just under $6 million to do it. Chicago has 8 players making $3.5 million or more, including former Sharks Brian Campbell.

Chicago may have to shop the defenseman who will be paid $7.143 million each of the next 6 years, or forward Patrick Sharp, who pulls down a cool $3.9 million next season in order to create some cap relief. What that effectively may do is cripple the Blackhawks.

That problem won't make a defenseman magically materialize for Wilson, but it at least hand cuffs one of the Sharks biggest obstacles to a Cup. The move to sign Hjalmarsson was either fool-hearty or brilliant. We'll how it all plays out in two or three years.

I contend that Hjalmarsson wasn't worth the money. San Jose has an equivalent d-man in Marc-Edouard Vlassic, who will make $400k less than Hjalmarsson next season.


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