Should the Senators Pursue Niklas Hjalmarsson?

Mar 21, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) skates with the puck against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

With the December trade of prospect David Rundblad, the expected departure of UFA Filip Kuba, and with a single season remaining on Sergei Gonchar's contract, the Sens need for a quality defenseman is acute. On Wednesday, Peter provided an excellent look at what it might take to acquire Calgary Flames defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and how he might fit into Ottawa's lineup. Today's installment of "coveting another team's defenseman" features Hawks rearguard Niklas Hjalmarsson.

Hjalmarsson's possible candidacy has already been discussed in a fan post by HJJEON and briefly mentioned in Dave's Silver Nuggets this week.


Niklas Hjalmarsson

#4 / Defenseman / Chicago Blackhawks

6-3

205

Jun 06, 1987



GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2011 - Niklas Hjalmarsson 69 1 14 15 9 14 0 0 0 65

Hjalmarsson has generated interest from other teams in the past. Just weeks after winning the Stanley Cup, Hjalmarsson signed an offer sheet from the San Jose Sharks for $14 million over 4 years. However, just days later that Hawks matched the Sharks offer and Hjalmarsson remained in Chicago.

Hjalmarsson has faced increasingly more difficult competition each season (his CorRelQoC for 2010-11 was 0.519 and in 2011-12 it was 0.738). For the first three years of his career Hjalmarsson was protected on the blueline, playing behind stars Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Brian Campbell. With the departure of Campbell in the 2011 off-season, Hjalmarsson saw has responsibilities increase. While not an overly physical player (he recorded the least amount of hits among Chicago's regular defensemen in 2011-12), Hjalmarsson led the Hawks defensemen in hits in 2010-11 with 166, and in 2011-12 trailed only Brent Seabrook. However, when Chicago's player usage charts are examined, the charts indicate that he did struggle at times to adjust to this increased responsibility. Hockey Prospectus writer Rob Vollman suggests Hjalmarsson's difficulties forced Hawks GM Stan Bowman to act:

"On defense the celebrated top shut-down pairing of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith were effective enough but the struggles of defensive-minded #3 man Niklas Hjalmarsson prompted GM Stan Bowman to pick up a struggling Johnny Oduya from the Winnipeg Jets to shore up the top four."

The player usage charts also suggest that promising youngster Nick Leddy played effective shutdown minutes and may have surpassed Hjalmarsson on the Hawks depth charts. Seabrook and Keith both averaged 20 seconds less on the penalty kill in 2011-12. While Hjalmarsson's PK time increased by an average of 15 seconds, Leddy averaged one minute more on the PK in 2011-12 than he did the previous season (0:18 average in 2010-11, 1:17 average in 2011-12). Leddy averaged almost two minutes more of total ice time per game than Hjalmarsson in 2011-12 (Hjalmarsson's TOI/G was 20:10. Leddy's TOI/G was 22:04). Incredibly, Leddy's TOI/G increased by almost 7 minutes in 2011-12; his TOI/G in 2010-11 was 14:18.

This is not to say that Hjalmarsson is a bad defenseman; rather, the Hawks have been blessed with very good defensemen (Keith, Seabrook, Campbell, Leddy), making Hjalmarsson expendable. Hjalmarsson's cap hit in 2012-13 and 2013-14 is $3.5 million, and while the new CBA might drastically change the landscape, Chicago already has over $62 million against the cap for 2012-13. Hjalmarsson's cap hit, Chicago's cap issues, and Leddy's play (and the fact that he is still on his ELC) are the reasons why Hjalmarsson is rumoured to be available.

The cap issues in Chicago suggest that the Hawks would not want to take back much in the way of salary. The rumours about Hjalmarsson have increased in the past few days and it's been suggested over at SensChirp that Zack Smith and a 3rd round pick from the Senators would close the deal. Elliotte Friedman has reported that Bryan Murray is high on Smith and Zack comes with the Mark Parisi seal of approval. While the Sens have two 3rd round picks, there's only one Z. Smith. I think acquiring Hjalmarsson would be a good idea as long as the price is right: a mid-to-low round pick and a depth forward works for me. Is trading for Hjalmarsson a good idea for the Sens? Is Hjalmarsson for Z.Smith and a 3rd round pick a good deal?

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