The Bowman Reaction: Blackhawks Decide On Antti Niemi Or Niklas Hjalmarsson

Kyle WahlgrenCorrespondent IJuly 9, 2010

As reported across all major sports websites, fan blogs, and twitter accounts alike, the San Jose Sharks signed Niklas Hjalmarsson to a four year, $14 million offer sheet.

In Blackhawk fandom, this means Chicago has seven days to match the deal or be bitten.

The Blackhawks organization has been the focus of restricted free agent talks with both Hjalmarsson and Antti Niemi over the past week.

The worries regarding the possible signing of the Finnish net-minder were expected.

With Jaroslav Halak recently signing a four year, $15 million contract with St. Louis, the Hawks were already projecting a tight squeeze. 

Now, with the Sharks seemingly determined to not only bolster their defensive corps, but to strip their nemesis of a valuable tool, the Hawks face a hard decision.

Many reports have had Niemi ideally going for around $3 million, with Hjalmarsson being signed for nearly $2.5 million. It made sense at the time, assuming we could sign the young players for around $5.5 million.

That is no longer a reality.

What GM Stan Bowman has to decide is who is worth what. At what point do you say enough is enough?

Assuming one of them stays, assumptions can be made that the Hawks go with Hjalmarsson. 

A team built on a dependable defensive corps can provide the same oppotunity for the next goalie to do their "thing" in Chicago.

Give credit where it is due to Niemi. A second year net-minder simply doesn't get the money he is asking for after just winning a cup. 

Some of the saves. Priceless.

The focus. Unbreakable.

So is he replaceable? I'd still think so.

While Niemi thrived in the playoffs, he was also the back-up the majority of the season. He had plenty of rest going into the postseason.

There are no doubts that Niemi has the ability to make key saves, but you can also assume there is someone that can be brought in to do the same. The Hawks aren't looking for a Halak, who can come in and make 40+ stops on a regular occurance, nor do they need one of that caliber.

What they do need is someone who can make a save when needed,  when the game is on the line. Someone who can stay focused when facing 25 shots or less on a nightly basis.

Could Bowman be faced with the biggest choice of the offseason? Possibly. Especially seeing as this may be the first true blow to the offseason.

If Hjalmarsson is released, look for Dylan Olsen and Shawn LaLonde to get a spot on the roster.

Should Niemi go, look for the Hawks to bring in a cheaper veteran to share the workload with either Corey Crawford or Hannu Toivonen.

All-in-all, the decision will be criticized, as both sides have their ups and downs.

One thing's for sure. The fans will surely be ready to vomit once this merry-go-round finally comes to an end.