Niklas Hjalmarsson recently got a call from his agent that the Chicago Blackhawks wanted to talk about a new deal. So did Hjalmarsson.
“I told him to try and get a deal done before the season starts so I can concentrate on my game,” Hjalmarsson said. “I’m just really excited that we got it done.”
And the recently-married Hjalmarsson is more than happy to stay with the team with which he’s now won two Stanley Cups, and in the city that feels like home.
Hjalmarsson signed a five-year extension reportedly worth more than $20 million on Wednesday, as the Blackhawks continued to sew up their Cup-winning players to long-term deals. Hjalmarsson, who will make $3.5 million this season, the last on his current contract, was due to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. But Hjalmarsson didn’t want to test free-agent waters, and it wasn’t about going elsewhere and potentially getting a bigger payday – “I make a lot of money. I don’t have to think about that too much,” he said.
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No, the 26-year-old Hjalmarsson, who got married at the end of July, wanted to stay “home”; and his new contract is just one more thing to celebrate in a summer that’s had its share of them.
“It’s been a pretty unbelievable summer, that’s for sure. It’s going to be tough to top this one,” he said via conference call. “Me and my wife get to stay in Chicago for six more years. I love the city, the people of Chicago, and playing at (the United Center) in front of 23,000 every game is really inspiring. We have a team that can compete for the Cup every year. I really wanted to stay, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to that.”
For Hjalmarsson, it’s the security that many of his fellow core teammates already have with the Blackhawks. Bryan Bickell and Corey Crawford were other recent long-term signees; Bickell signed for four years on June 30 and Crawford inked a six-year deal on Monday, the day he also had the Cup in his hometown.
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Hjalmarsson had a strong season, arguably his best. He had a plus-10 rating in 23 playoff games, a career best. He had 10 points and a plus-15 rating in 46 regular-season contests. He and Johnny Oduya proved to have good chemistry as a pair. Hjalmarsson has made his name with his defense, especially shot blocking and penalty killing. General manager Stan Bowman said re-signing Hjalmarsson was an easy call.
“You look at the role Niklas plays: he’s a warrior,” Bowman said. “He’s very relied upon and the coaching staff trusts him. He does things that other guys don’t want to do: penalty killing, blocking shots and keeping the puck out of the net. He’s a great complement. To have a player who hasn’t reached his best years yet, who’s just coming into his prime, you want to keep someone like that. He’s improving each year and we expect he’ll continue to do so.”
The Blackhawks are no longer in the rebuilding phases that led them to another Cup this season. Now it’s all about reloading. Next summer that reload will center on re-signing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, whose contracts wrap up in 2014-15. The Blackhawks can start talking with each of them about new deals on July 1, 2014. Regarding that duo, and potential salary-cap implications, Bowman reiterated what he said the other day: it’s more about what the Blackhawks are doing now, and the future will play itself out.
“It’s hard to play prognosticator on the cap,” Bowman said. “We reset with the new agreement, and if the game continues to go the way it is, it should increase, the rate of which we can debate all day. But it does go up. The way I look at these signings, if you get good players, you have to keep them.”
The Blackhawks obviously put Toews and Kane in that same category. There’s also no doubt the cap will go up. How much? We shall see. Look back at when the NHL came out of the 2004-05 lockout: in 2005-06 the cap was set at $39 million. Two seasons later, it was up to $50.3 million. The game is growing and the cap will do the same.
And who’s to say Toews and Kane don’t take the path of Bickell and Hjalmarsson this offseason, and even Patrick Sharp when he re-signed two summers ago? They all still got paid handsomely, even though all likely would’ve gotten bigger paydays on the open market. But for each, keeping the core together, the potential for more Cups in Chicago, ranked higher.
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But that’s for next summer. Wednesday wasn’t about future caps or what the Blackhawks need to do next season. It was about securing one more core player before this one begins. For Hjalmarsson, it’s one more reason to celebrate this summer and contemplate what the Blackhawks can do this season – and beyond.
“There are a lot of guys left from last year; you can’t really complain about anything,” He said. “The guys are going to be focused on having a better start than last time after we won in 2010. It took us 20-25 games to start playing good hockey (the following season). That’s something we’ll focus on here, to be ready for the puck drop in Game 1.”