Today, one of the Chicago Blackhawks all-time great defenseman, and current San Jose Sharks general manager, Doug Wilson offered restricted free agent blue liner Niklas Hjalmarsson a 4-year, $14 million dollar offer sheet. The Blackhawks defenseman signed and accepted.
What happens now is the Blackhawks have a week to match this offer of 4 years at an average cap hit of $3.5M a season.
This is a no-brainer for Stan Bowman and his superiors. The Hawks must match. Should they not, the return is a San Jose 1st round draft pick as well as a third.
The trouble with that is this situation is completely different than the one the Boston Bruins benefited from last fall when they dealt Phil Kessel (who Bruins teammates felt was addition by subtraction) to the Maple Leafs and found themselves with the #2 overall pick and Tyler Seguin on 2010 Draft Day.
With Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle it’s highly unlikely the Sharks next 1st rounder winds up in the Draft Lottery. Any return on the Sharks next draft pick would likely be 2 to 3 years away from competing in the NHL.
A cap hit of $3.5M a year is a hard pill to swallow and could possibly result in a sign (match San Jose’s offer sheet) and trade or the end of Antti Niemi. Another option would be putting Dave Bolland or Patrick Sharp on the trade market. The Hawks were hoping to lock Hjalmarsson down at around $2M a season, or no more than $2.5.
One thing to consider when figuring the Hawks off season spending option is their ability to spend and carry up to 10% over the salary cap ($5.94M over the $59.4M upper limit).
While most everyone anticipates the Blackhawks will hide Cristobal Huet’s $5.6M cap hit (two more seasons) in Rockford this fall should they not find a willing taker in a European league, they cannot assign that contract to their AHL affiliate until October. So, if Rockford winds up as Huet’s only option, this could prevent the Hawks from signer a key player before the first week of October.
There are limited options currently should Hjalmarsson wind up in San Jose. Kim Johnsson (UFA) would be a good fit at a greatly reduced rate (more like $2M for a year or two), but his impending retirement won’t allow this.
Losing Hjalmarsson is probably not an option if you’re standing in Stan Bowman’s shoes. The organization clearly made their long-term commitment to Duncan Keith this past off season. Brian Campbell’s entering the third year of an 8-year $57M contract and he’s going to be tough to move at any point, but certainly before year five or six of that deal. With Shawn Lalonde and Nick Leddy in the pipeline, Campbell’s successor is already on board.
This offer sheet may have the biggest implication on Brent Seabrook’s future. Dylan Olsen, on display at this weekend’s prospect camp, is a good bet to takeover for Seabrook in 2011-12 if Seabrook’s financial demands are too much for the Blackhawks to bear in the end.