It was the eighth time in nine contests in which the newly elite franchise bested them in the last nine months: Before losing in the free agent battle, San Jose lost three of four regular season games to Chicago and were swept in four playoff games in May.
However, in one respect, they succeeded: Hjalmarsson's contract will further handcuff a team that has already lost eight players who had their names etched on Lord Stanley's Cup a mere month ago.
San Jose also gets to keep the first and third round picks they would have surrendered had Chicago not matched their offer to the blueliner, and will not have to dump talent to get under the cap themselves.
Nevertheless, the chief advantage Chicago had over every other team in the playoffs was their blueline. They clearly had the best in the business, and have kept it primarily intact.
Here is a look at the bluelines for the teams that have represented the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup finals post-lockout:
- 2006 (Edmonton Oilers): Chris Pronger, Jason Smith, Jaroslav Spacek, Steve Staios, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Dick Tarnstrom, and Matt Greene were an elite unit in the top three to five of the league.
- 2007 (Anaheim Ducks): Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Francois Beauchemin, Sean O'Donnell, Kent Huskins, Joe Dipenta, Richard Jackman comprised a unit that competed with Detroit's for the very top of the NHL.
- 2008, 2009 (Detroit Red Wings): Niklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Brett Lebda, Andreas Lilja, and Chris Chelios have comprised the gold standard for this unit in the NHL, until...
- 2010 (Chicago Blackhawks): Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Sopel, Jordan Hendry, and Nick Boynton formed arguably the best blueline in a generation.
Just two years ago, Campbell was considered the best defenseman available at the trade deadline and the best in the coming free agency market. He is overpaid, but could step onto half the teams in the league and be the best player on their unit.
That is something the Sharks cannot compete with as the blueline stands now.
Keith is better than the Sharks best blueliner, Dan Boyle, and Brent Seabrook may be as well. Hjalmarsson and Campbell are better than anyone else on the Sharks roster, and Ivan Vishnevskiy will probably be better by year's end than the declining Niklas Wallin or the pedestrian Kent Huskins.
This means Chicago has better personnel on the blueline in the first through fifth spots, while San Jose is better only from the last starter through scratched players.
The Sharks may not even have a top ten blueline, and that is not a good situation to be in with shaky goaltending.
However, one thing GM Doug Wilson showed was that the Sharks are not resigned to this unit even though they are nearly out of cap space. So long as they are willing to do what it takes to create the cap space they were willing to for Hjalmarsson, there are options...