Blackhawks match offer sheet to Niklas Hjalmarsson, tough roster decisions loom

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 - Save & Share - 2 Comments


Chicago Blackhawks match offer sheet to defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson
C PATRICK SHARP MAY BE CHICAGO CAP CASUALTY - PHOTO JON SWENSON


The Chicago Blackhawks matched the 4-year, $14M offer sheet defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson signed with the San Jose Sharks. Instead of waiting the full seven days to make an announcement, Chicago GM Stan Bowman made the decision public after the final day of the prospect camp on Monday. “Niklas was a big part of our success last year, and he is a part of our core that will be together for a long time,” Bowman told the assembled media. “He is a quiet leader among our defensive group. I think he gets overshadowed because we have some other superstars there,” Bowman said referencing Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell.

The Sharks targeted the versatile 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenseman not just as a replacement for retired captain Rob Blake, but to add youth and mobility to defensive corps that took a small step back last season. “”We appreciate Niklas’ interest in coming to San Jose and we respect the process as it has unfolded. We will continue preparing our team as we head towards the start of the 2010-11 season,” San Jose Sharks GM/EVP Doug Wilson said via a statement on SJsharks.com.

It was a bold move to put the screws to a Conference rival in the midst of an unprecedented salary cap crisis. After winning a Stanley Cup championship and incurring over $4 million in overage penalties, GM Stan Bowman shed quality depth in Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, John Madden (UFA), Colin Fraser and Adam Burish. The production from those eight roster players alone equals 30% of the second best offense in the Western Conference, but more roster decisions will have to be made.

It is almost unthinkable the Blackhakws could move off of rookie (not technically) goaltender Antti Niemi. After carrying Chicago through several rounds of the playoffs and outlasting Philadelphia in the Finals, Niemi should be a part of the young core of the team referenced by Bowman. If, as expected, backup goaltender Cristobal Huet is sent to the minors to clear up $5.625M in cap space, the Blackhawks would still need to make a decision on Niemi either before or after his arbitration ruling. Could Niemi garner something along the lines of the 4-year, $15M contract St. Louis offered Jaroslav Halak (3.75M/yr), a more expected ruling in the $3M range, a $2M a year offer in the range of what San Jose signed Antero Niittymaki for, still nearly a 250% pay raise.

The decision may come down to cutting loose Niemi or center Patrick Sharp ($3.9M salary), or trying to find a taker on the trade market for flamboyant offensive defenseman Brian Campbell ($7.143M salary). Melissa Isaacson of ESPN Chicago writes that the Blackhawks offseason facelift is getting painful. “The whimpering has temporarily stopped at my house after the initial Blackhawks’ purge. Frankly, it was becoming unbearable,” Isaacson wrote. If Campbell had to be moved, then all pretense of this being a roster adjustment or tweak evaporates. This would become a full blown firesale. It would be similar to then-New Orleans coach Mike Ditka trading 8 draft picks, including two first rounders in 1999 and 2000, to select Ricky Williams. In short, a massive directional change for an organization.

If Patrick Sharp has to be moved, then nearly 38% of the offense is gone less than two months after raising the Stanley Cup. Sharp is a versatile 2-way forward that scored 25 goals and a career high 66 points in 2009-10. He finished tied with Marian Hossa for a team high +24, registered 16 points on the power play and 4 game winning goals. In the playoffs he finished third in scoring with 11 goals and 11 assists. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Dustin Byfuglien get a majority of the pub up front, but Sharp is a significant part of the offensive engine that powered the Hawks to their first Stanley Cup championship in 49 years.

The San Jose Sharks will have played a small part in Chicago’s situation, not just with the offer sheet to Hjalmarsson, but the 2-year contract offered to Antero Niittymaki to replace Evgeni Nabokov could come up in arbitration as well. GM Doug Wilson noted he will continue to look for ways to improve his team, and the move involving Hjalmarsson may indicate he is focused on improving the blueline first. 23-year old RFA Devin Setoguchi did not file for salary arbitration at the deadline. He adds a speed and physical element that would dramatically impact the Sharks if he does not return.

San Jose may kick the tires on Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa or Willie Mitchell (although concussion symptoms limited Mitchell to 48 games last season), New York Rangers defensive RFA Marc Staal, or 5-foot-10, 195-pound Calgary RFA defenseman Ian White. Doug Wilson may be priced out of the ongoing Tomas Kaberle sweepstakes in Toronto. With the current Sharks configuration, despite improved rosters in Vancouver and Los Angeles it is still difficult to project San Jose to miss the playoffs. Wilson has the benefit of time and experience. Boyle-Murray, Vlasic-Wallin, Huskins-Demers is a servicable blueline with experience on every pair, if Marc-Edouard Vlasic can take a greater role with this team on both sides of the ice then the blueline is even more steady. Jay Leach, and/or unsigned RFA Derek Joslin (among other prospects), could serve as an effective 7th if the Worcester shuttle is not in full effect.

The offer sheet Wilson made to Niklas Hjalmarsson was a long shot, since the lockout only one has not been matched, and the media uproar that followed was a deterrent of sorts in and of itself. Wilson can address the loss of Manny Malhotra, address the need for a more physical element with the departure of Shelley and Staubitz, create a competition on the third and fourth lines in training camp for two possibly three roster spots, and create a competition in goal among Antero Niittymaki and Thomas Greiss for starts. Any additions on the blue line more than likely will be made on the trade market, but the front office in San Jose has almost made a policy of being unpredictable.

A couple of other Shark notes around the web, according to Sharks equipment manager Mike Aldrich goaltender Antero Niittymaki will wear #30 next season, USA Today took a look at the facebook reach of each professional sport and the NHL and UFC finished surprisingly well (NBA – 3,180,826, UFC – 2,269,450… NHL – 574,112, NFL – 508,906… MLB – 105,495… Strikeforce – 77,943… MLS – 40,688, WSOP – 23,869), the San Jose Sharks prospect camp is underway at Sharks Ice in San Jose, “Not all of them will play for (us), but we feel we have a responsibility to try and make all of the individuals here better,” head coach Todd McLellan told the team website, “I came out here a couple of summers, learned a lot, and tried to use that back (with Miami). I felt this was the right time (to turn pro)” San Jose Sharks 2008 sixth round draft pick Tommy Wingels told radio play-by-play host Dan Rusanowsky, out of 30 NHL teams, only the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars do not have scheduled prospect camps, although Dallas did hold a small workout, the Sharks were the only team to hold theirs in private without fans or media, with several years of late round draft picks the Sharks have been very active on the free agent market to stock the development ranks, opening up the prospect camp to the media may make that less successful, the Calgary Flames (July 25th) and Florida Panthers are the only teams yet to hold their prospect camps, the largest newspaper in the Bay Area (SF Chronicle) lost their regular hockey/sports columnist Ray Ratto to CSN Bay Area, when asked by Chronicle Live host Greg Papa if he would still cover hockey Ratto replied that the Sharks were still the Bay Area’s most interesting sports franchise, Sharkspage’s Max Giese was at the second to last day of the Blackhawks prospect camp in Chicago, it looks like Day 15 of the Ilya Kovalchuk free agency saga will pass without a resolution.

[Update] The Chicago Blackhawks are completely screwed – Noah Love for the National Post’s Posted Sports blog.

Here are some of the highlights of Chicago’s enumerating disaster:

Two non-star players, backup goaltender Cristobal Huet and defenceman Brian Campbell, are making a combined $12.7-million for the next two seasons. After that, Huet comes off the books, but Campbell’s $7.1-million annual figure runs for another four years.

One small piece of context to add, Brian Campbell and his massive contract were added not just for his on-ice contributions, he was added to be a marquee offensive defenseman to help bring fans back to hockey in Chicago. The death of owner Bill Wirtz, son Rocky Wirtz opening up the team on local television, a back-to-the-roots marketing philosophy, bringing in Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa were elements in the revitalization of hockey in Chicago. It worked, they erased a 49-year Stanley Cup drought. They have more than just a championship to celebrate.

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2 Responses to “Blackhawks match offer sheet to Niklas Hjalmarsson, tough roster decisions loom”

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Time July 14, 2010 at 9:10 PM

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Time September 10, 2010 at 9:56 AM

[...] decision to keep forward Patrick Sharp was made public earlier this summer. This blog speculated in July that the Hawks may opt to keep Niemi over [...]