Blackhawks Retain Niklas Hjalmarsson; 1 Down, 2 to Go

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Thankfully, all my concern was for naught... at least so far. On Monday the Blackhawks matched the offer sheet that the evil San Jose Sharks signed with Niklas Hjalmarsson. Hjalmarsson will now be able to blossom into one of the league's top recognized defenseman in a Hawk jersey.

This will be a special treat, as even many Hawk fans seemed not to notice just how much Hjalmarsson does for the team. As GM Stan Bowman said: "He's a quiet leader amongst our defensive group. I think he gets overshadowed, maybe because we have some other superstars there, but he was really effective for us all year long. He's only going to get better."

The remaining paranoia now rests on the fates of winger Patrick Sharp and goalie Antti Niemi. The retention of Hjalmarsson puts the Hawks over the cap for the time being, but the team has plans to move Cristobal Huet to the Rockford AHL affiliate, moving his $5.6 million off of the books as well. This certainly will help the Hawks keep their two other stars, but the question still remains: will the team be able to keep all three of these immensley important stars?

Niemi may not be a goalie that you win the Stanley Cup because of, but he certainly proved that he is capable of standing out for a handful of playoff games and winning at least one or two of those singlehandedly himself. Sharp was arguably the most consistent of all the Blackhawks from game one against the Predators to game six in Philadelphia. Considering the six players already traded away or signing with other teams, it is essential for the Hawks to bring these other two players back so that the cycling role players can be just that; role players.

Both sides are expressing mutual interest to get something done, as far as Niemi goes, but only time will truly tell. In the end, the Hawks may have to chose between Sharp or Niemi. Either choice would have me both excited and depressed, the only great outcome at this point would be having both of them return. At least we've locked up Hjalmarsson, possibly the most important of each of these three pieces. One down, Hawks fans; two more to go.

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