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San Jose Sharks Look to Pilfer Niklas Hjalmarsson from Champs

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09:  Niklas Hjalmarsson #4 of the Chicago Blackhawks hoists the Stanley Cup after teammate Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goal in overtime to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 and win the Stanley Cup in Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Wachovia Center on June 9, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIJuly 10, 2010

According to NHL.com , the San Jose Sharks have offered Chicago Blackhawks restricted free agent defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson a four-year, $14 million contract. The $3.5 million per year offer suggests that the Sharks want him badly in teal next season.

The Sharks would have to surrender a first- and third-round pick should the Blackhawks not match the offer; they have seven days to make their decision. If San Jose had offered an average of just over $3 million, the compensation to the Blackhawks would have been only a second-round pick, likely making re-signing him more attractive than the combination of picks and cap space gotten for losing him.

And that is just it: The price for Hjalmarsson is going to be high now both for the team's present salary cap and for future prospects. Of course, Hjalmarsson is just 23 and more of a sure thing than picks, although there could be tremendous potential in one or both of them.

I had long been advocating the team making a play for both Hjalmarsson and goalie Annti Niemi from Chicago, to either steal them or force them to spend their limited cap room so they would be able to sign less supporting cast. I had ceased to call for this when it looked like the team had signed the team they were going to battle with.

I should remember that Doug Wilson is always capable of pulling a rabbit out of his hat. Two years ago, after losing out on Brian Campbell, he signed Rob Blake and then pulled the trigger on a trade that brought an even better Dan Boyle.

If Hjalmarsson comes to San Jose, the Sharks will return all key members of the blueline but Blake, whose replacement will be an upgrade. Furthermore, they should see continued improvement from Jason Demers and perhaps even Marc-Edouard Vlasic. At worst, Niclas Wallin may drop off a bit, but he may not dress anyway...

The reality is that the Sharks probably do not have the cap space to fill out a roster that includes all of last year's re-signed players plus Hjalmarsson., Rather, it would appear they are a good $2.5 million short—the exact amount of the overpaid contract of Wallin.

Wallin could be put on waivers and if some team picked him up, they would take on his salary. If no one did, the Sharks would be on the hook but could assign him to the minors (perhaps not even requiring him to report) so his salary would not count against the cap.

Hjalmarsson was instrumental in the team's Stanley Cup championship, and has been referred to by Scotty Bowman as "Little (Niklas) Lidstrom" for his incredible hockey IQ. For that reason, this signing would definitely improve the Sharks blueline. He would essentially replace the retired Rob Blake, who may have had an even higher hockey IQ but lacked anything close to the skating ability of Hjalmarsson.

Thus, if he does end up in San Jose, the Sharks will be better on the blueline. There is also a strong possibility that even after losing Manny Malhotra, they will have better forwards: Jed Ortmeyer is easily replaceable on the fourth line and not one Sharks forward is past his prime, meaning that plenty of young talent can step up and everyone outside of the first line will continue to get better.

Of course, the one area that the team has gone backwards in is goaltending. As outlined in the assessment of the team's bad moves in free agency, Antero Niittymaki is unlikely to perform anywhere near the level of Evgeni Nabokov.

However, the tandem of him and Thomas Greiss may be enough to keep a team with improved skaters in the hunt, especially after robbing the Chicago Blackhawks of a bona fide No. 3 defenceman. And if they match the offer, at least the team has raised the cost for a key team in their way.

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