At the conclusion of Prospect Camp this afternoon, Stan Bowman made an announcement that Blackhawks fans had been wanting to hear: Niklas Hjalmarsson isn't going anywhere.
Bowman admitted that the Sharks' 4 year, 14 million dollar offer sheet was "unexpected", but judging by the interview, the Hawks' brass never had any doubts about matching it.
What's getting lost in this is that we can look forward to FOUR MORE YEARS of Niklas Hjalmarsson. Obviously the main focus is 2010-2011, but we haven't seen this kid at his best yet. In two or three seasons, Hjalmarsson at 3.5 million a year might be a bargain.
Unfortunately, the Hawks' salary cap situation remains as problematic as ever with Antti Niemi still unsigned.
Is it possible to sign Niemi without trading another major piece of the Blackhawks' core? Yes, but it's very unlikely.
Courtesy of Chris from the 300 Level Forum
, here is a Blackhawks lineup that would fit under the salary cap. This is assuming that Huet will be in Europe or Rockford and therefore not relevant to the cap. This lineup is based on who is currently signed, if Marty Reasoner were traded or placed in Rockford and if Niemi re-signed for 3 million dollars or less:
Lalonde/Connelly/ Hendry (if he re-signs for same price as last season)
The "xxxx" player on the fourth line would have to be a very cheap player. The amount the Hawks would have left to spend on him would depend on Bickell's cap number, which should be determined soon if/when the Hawks re-sign him (Bowman has indicated that Bickell would be a regular in next year's lineup).
How likely is the above scenario? Not very.
First of all, Niemi signing for 3 million or less is wishful thinking, and it's unknown how much the Hawks like the idea of trading Marty Reasoner, a player that many view as a John Madden replacement.
There are other options that would be much less popular.
When the Hjalmarsson news broke today, numerous sources reported that the Hawks are now actively shopping defenseman Brian Campbell. Others believe Patrick Sharp is available as well.
Of the two, the Hawks obviously would rather deal Campbell. The Hawks' puck possession game would suffer without him, but the financial relief would be incredible. Removing Campbell's 7.1 million dollars would immediately allow for the signing of Niemi and provide flexibility when trying to lock up other core players like Sharp or Brent Seabrook long term.
Moving Campbell won't be easy and probably won't happen. He has a list of teams in his contract that he can be traded to, and while its unknown which teams those are, the list is believed to be quite short in the 8-10 team range.
If the New York Islanders happen to be on the list, they would be a perfect trade partner. They need to add salary to get to the floor and Campbell's puck moving ability would help the young, John Tavares-led team develop into a contender. At this point, we can only hope that the Islanders are on Campbell's list of teams.
Now for the last option that nobody wants to talk about: Losing Antti Niemi.
If Niemi doesn't sign for less than 3 million, and the Hawks don't move Campbell or Sharp, there simply is no room for him under the cap. If Niemi leaves Chicago, the Hawks would have to begin exploring goaltending options outside the organization, as both Corey Crawford and Hannu Toivonen are considered back-up goaltenders at best at the NHL level.
In summary, the Hawks have several options moving forward, and none are particularly good. Here they are, in the order that the Hawks would likely prefer:
1) Niemi signs for 3 mil or less, keep current roster in place and fill open spots with cheap young players. Reasoner most likely out of the lineup in this scenario.
2) Deal Brian Campbell or Patrick Sharp. Immediate financial relief, but a huge drop-off at either position if one of these two are moved.
3) If Niemi's asking price is too much, let him walk and sign a free agent goalie for roughly 2 million. Former Dallas goalie Marty Turco would likely be the best option in this scenario.
4) Hawks bite the bullet and sign Niemi for above 3 mil, make small moves elsewhere to fit under the cap. These moves would almost be unrealistic, such as trading Reasoner, Kopecky, Brouwer, etc. Simply put, this scenario won't happen.
Despite the roller coaster of events this summer, things could be far from over.
In the meantime, all we can do is watch for Campbell/Sharp trade rumors and hope that Stan Bowman has a plan.
Based on what he's done this summer, I think he deserves our trust.
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Antti Niemi, Brian Bickell, Brian Campbell, Brian Connelly, Chicago Blackhawks, Dave Bolland, Hannu Toivonen, Jake Dowell, John Scott, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Marty Reasoner, New York Islanders, NHL, NHL free agency, Niklas Hjalmarsson, offer sheet, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, salary cap, San Jose Sharks, Shawn Lalonde, Stan Bowman, Tomas Kopecky, Viktor Stalberg