July 9th, 2010, 10:53 am
Sorry I haven’t posted lately, as we’ve said in the podcast, I’ve been out of town, and all the semi-interesting UFA stuff happened before I got back. This morning, I get the first juicy news since my illustrious homecoming. The Sharks have signed another difficult-to-spell person that no one expected. This time, it’s a different Scanadavian country, and a different position- the Blackhawks’ Niklas Hjalmarsson was signed to a 4 year, $14M offer sheet, per Bob MacKenzie. Hjalmarsson averaged almost 20 minutes of ice time in the #4 hole, behind Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Brian Campbell. I would be willing to wager (and I imagine DW does too) that Hjalmarsson would not be in that slot for 28 other teams (Philly possibly the only exception). Assuming this is true, let’s look at at Hjalmarsson’s RFA options from his perspective:
- Sign with cash-strapped Chicago for a sizable home town discount, even though they have already lost Kris Versteeg, Brent Sopel, John Madden, and Dustin Byfuglien.
- Get traded by Chicago to a team that offers the best deal to Stan Bowman, which is essentially a crap shoot. Look where Byfuglien ended up.
- Have some control over your future, and sign an offer sheet with a decent team for the kind of money that you are looking for.
Clearly Hjalmarsson chose #3, and who could blame him? Doug Wilson recognized this, and pounced. Now Stan Bowman, Chicago’s GM, is between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, he can retain his excellent young defenseman, but will likely have to trade Patrick Sharp or even more to get under the cap again. On the other hand, he lets NH go (I’m sick of typing Hjalmarsson), gets a 2011 1st 2nd and 3rd round draft pick in return (per TSN), and is in dire need of a #4, #5, and #6 defensemen. The draft picks will soften the blow, but keep in mind they come from the Sharks, which will likely be late round picks. No players are left in the upper twenties that are slam-dunk NHLers. Those picks could easily end up being Matt Pelech and Marc-Andre Gragnani.
This also asks the question- why didn’t the Sharks do this with with Antti Niemi? It’s a good question, but like many, the answer is money. I think that the Sharks only budgeted $2M or so for a goaltender, and Niemi would certainly want more than that. We will find out after Niemi’s salary arbitration.
It’s too early to go into the possible Sharks roster ramifications because Chicago could match the deal, and tomorrow will look just like yesterday. I’d put the chances of that right at 50-50. Could this spark another GM feud like the Brian Burke- Kevin Lowe dustup? Lucky for us, we have the first real taste of drama in the Sharks offseason.