The Chicago Blackhawks had no shortage of players step up on their way to grabbing their second Stanley Cup title in the last four seasons. One player that flew under the radar as one of their best, really for the entire year, was that of defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
You could very easily make the argument that Hjalmarsson was the best defenseman for the Hawks at many points throughout the season. At least he was the most consistent. He outgrew some of those frustrations that had plagued him since he signed a four-year, $14 million contract back in 2009-2010.
He finished with 10 points in the shortened season, but at this point, we know Hjalmarsson isn’t going to be a guy to put up much in terms of offense. His excellence resides in his own zone, and we saw plenty of that throughout the 2013 season, both with his typical shot blocking ability and his ability to match up against top opposing forwards.
Together with Johnny Oduya, Hjalmarsson gave the Hawks a fantastic second duo on the blue line behind Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Hjammer’s Corsi per game was about plus-7, in addition to the fact that he was a plus-15 in plus/minus for the year as well.
But you don’t need to look at the numbers to notice the improvements that Hjalmarsson made in 2013. Rather than his typical style of play, which saw him give up the puck nearly as soon as it reached his stick, there was patience there. He was smarter with the puck, and didn’t back down from contact nearly as much.
Which begs the question: should the Blackhawks seek an extension for Hjalmarsson? His deal, and his $3.5 million cap hit, will expire at the end of next year, and he could certainly see a raise from a team in need of a shutdown type like Hjalmarsson. He’s certainly proven that he belongs among the “core” group of this team, and if he truly has reached that status, then Stan Bowman would be wise to approach him with an extension, especially with bigger contracts expiring on the horizon.