Chicago Blackhawks: Niklas Hjalmarsson to Europe, Eyes Turning to Jonathan Toews

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Chicago Blackhawks: Niklas Hjalmarsson to Europe, Eyes Turning to Jonathan Toews
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Niklas Hjalmarsson is the latest Blackhawks player to opt for European hockey. Who's next?

The Chicago Blackhawks can add defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to the list of players electing to play in Europe while the NHL lockout continues.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Hjalmarsson has signed to play in the top Italian League with HC Bolzano. The team expects Hjalmarsson to join them Friday.

Hjalmarsson is the latest member of the Blackhawks to sign in Europe. He joins Patrick Kane (Switzerland), Bryan Bickell (Austria), Viktor Stalberg (Sweden) and Michael Frolik and Michal Rozsival (Czech Republic). Johnny Oduya is also reportedly playing in Thailand.

Serious negotiations between owners and players are taking place for the first time since the lockout began. However, additional signings will only imply that an agreement can't be reached soon enough to save the 2012-13 season.

For Chicago fans the barometer in how things progress toward possible NHL hockey this season is Jonathan Toews. So long as the captain remains in North America, one can hold out hope for at least a shortened season.

Toews and other 'Hawks standouts like Patrick Sharp have held off signing with European clubs. Family issues may factor into Sharp's decision to remain on this side of the Atlantic. For Toews, it appears to be an interest in seeing the players settle with the league and get back to the business of rocking the United Center.

If a player like Toews, who seems to have his finger close to the pulse, begins eying his prospects in Europe, it may be because he views negotiations as hopeless.

After canceling the Winter Classic last week, both sides have been focusing more on talking than posturing for the media. The most recent talks have offered a measure of hope. However, if some sticking points aren't resolved soon, Toews may be in another uniform and the 2012-13 NHL season may be kaput.

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