It’s safe to say Stan Bowman and Blackhawk fans alike are resting at least a little easier this summer. After last year’s salary dump bonanza, which saw multiple talents and fan favorites part ways with Chicago, many probably feel that no one on the roster is safe.
But Blackhawks fans have had their fears quelled a bit, with Chicago expected to add more impact talent, rather than dump it, thanks to a bit more financial flexibilities this offseason.
For the most part, it looks like the guys who are already locked up and don’t hold any type of free agent status, be it unrestricted or restricted, are safe. But there still remain just a few that could wind up as trade chips this offseason.
One of those names is Niklas Hjalmarsson, the Hawks’ 23-year-old defenseman from Sweden. The 2010-11 campaign was his second full season with the Blackhawks, in which he appeared in 80 games. Those other two weren’t missed due to injury, but a suspension for his hit on Buffalo’s Jason Pominville early in the season.
Hjalmarsson was a restricted free agent last summer, with the San Jose Sharks signing him to their offer sheet to the tune of four years and $14 million. The Blackhawks surprised everyone when they matched, sinking deeper into their fiscal hole.
Now Hjalmarsson is a very solid player for the Blackhawks, and while you can make the argument that there is definitely more to the game beyond a point total, Hjammer’s output doesn’t exactly match the $3.5 million he makes per year.
In his two seasons in Chicago (157 games), Hjalmarsson notched just 27 points. For a guy who spends the bulk of his time on the second unit and makes the type of money he does, it’s simply not enough production.
Beyond his point total, there are still serious questions about Hjalmarsson, despite a solid plus/minus in both seasons, with a plus-22 combined. But Hjalmarsson often looks lost on the defensive end and isn’t too physical at all. His main asset is his shot blocking, with 166 this year, but the Blackhawks could find that somewhere cheaper.
Many will be quick to point out Brian Campbell, who at over $7 million per year, is making no. 1 defenseman money playing on the second unit.
It’s not like the Hawks don’t want to move Campbell. I’m sure they’d love to, and not because he’s a bad player or there are character concerns. At his salary, Campbell makes more than twice what Hjalmarsson does. Given that fact, and Hjammer’s age, at just 23, the latter should be much easier to deal for the Hawks, especially if they’re just looking to free up some cash. Now that’s not to say Campbell couldn’t be dealt, but good luck finding someone to take on some of that money or finding a bad contract to swap that wouldn’t handicap the Blackhawks.
The free agent market as a whole is pretty barren this summer, but it’s especially sparse on the defensive end. This makes Hjalmarsson even more intriguing for prospective teams. A lot of what happens with Chris Campoli, a restricted free agent, could impact a potential trade of Hjalmarsson. If they are able to sign him on the cheap, it could make Hjammer expendable, especially given Chicago’s outstanding organization depth on the blue line.
The Blackhawks will have money to spend this summer, albeit small amounts. An increasing cap and money coming off the books assures of at least some financial flexibility. But if they want to take the necessary improvements to morph right back into a Stanley Cup contender, they’ll need to free up some extra dough.