Is it Hjalmarsson or Niemi?

Is it Hjalmarsson or Niemi?

Posted by TimS on Sat, 07/10/2010 - 01:03
The Blackhawks could be on the verge of losing another key player off their Stanley Cup team, but it might not be defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Hawks general manager Stan Bowman has seven days to match the four-year, $14 million offer sheet Hjalmarsson got from the San Jose Sharks on Friday - a stunning development for a team that thought it had its salary cap issues under control. The Hawks are in a tough spot, one that might force them to choose between keeping Hjalmarsson, goalie Antti Niemi or even center Patrick Sharp. The question Bowman and his staff might be pondering is this: Is it more important to keep a 23-year-old defenseman with a huge upside; Niemi, whose money demands might be out of line; or Sharp, whose contract with its $3.9 million cap hit is up in two more years? The Hawks' best option might be to keep Sharp, match the offer sheet for Hjalmarsson and let Niemi go to his arbitration hearing and see what the award is. If it's more than $4 million a year, the Hawks could walk away from it, let Niemi become an unrestricted free agent and go after either Marty Turco or Jose Theodore - provided they still are available as free agents. There are no easy answers here. Sharks GM Doug Wilson made a shrewd move here, kicking the Hawks while they're down and forcing them to make some serious salary cap decisions that could remove them from the list of Stanley Cup contenders. Wilson is showing more competitiveness than many of his players did in the Western Conference finals. The Hawks' defense wouldn't be the same without Hjalmarsson. They might be able to contend with someone other than Niemi in goal.
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