CHICAGO – Niklas Hjalmarsson was starting to wonder if teal and black would look good on him after he signed a lucrative offer sheet with the San Jose Sharks earlier this month.
Neither Hjalmarsson or his agent thought the salary-cap crunched Chicago Blackhawks could afford to match the offer sheet worth reportedly four years and $14 million – plus an annual cap hit of $3.5 million per season. Hjalmarsson, 23, made barely more than $600,000 last season in helping the Hawks win their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
"I was pretty shocked, to be honest with you," Hjalmarsson said at Friday's opening of the Hawks' sold out annual fan convention. "I went to Tunisia for a week, in Africa, on vacation. When I came back my agent called and said that San Jose had an offer, and it's a great offer and you have to think about yourself and especially your family."
So, he did. Then Hjalmarsson signed on the dotted line. While it was an easy decision to make monetarily, Hjalmarsson still wondered if his time in Chicago would soon be over. He was relieved when it turned out that it wasn't and he'd still get the large pay bump.
"It's real secure for me and my family to have that kind of money, to be honest with you, but I'm very happy how everything turned out," Hjalmarsson said. "I'm so happy to be back here in Chicago. I love this city and they have the best fans in the League. I'm stoked to still be here."
The Hawks' tight salary-cap situation was at the forefront of his thinking, however – which prompted him to envision himself as a Shark.
"That's what I thought when I signed that deal," he said. "I know Chicago … it's tough with the salary cap and everything, so I didn't think they were going to match it. But it didn't seem like they (thought) too long about it. I (was) very happy when they called me and they matched it."
Now, he has something else to prod him other than defending the Cup.
"It's good motivation for me, to prove to everyone here that I'm worth that kind of money," he said. "I'm going to play hard for this team the next four years, and I'm looking forward to it. I'm just very glad how everything turned out."
The teammates who are staying with him in Chicago are, as well. Hjalmarsson played in 77 games last season, scoring 2 goals to go with 15 assists and a plus-9 rating. He then played all 22 games in the playoffs, scoring 1 goal and 8 points with a plus-9 rating.
"He's a good defenseman, and I think he's a little underrated in the kind of style that he plays," Hawks center Patrick Sharp said. "He's not always a guy scoring goals and putting up big points, but he blocks a lot of shots and does things defensively that help an offensive team like we are."
Hjalmarsson's shot-blocking ability becomes even bigger with the loss of veteran defenseman Brent Sopel. Still in his early 20s, the Hawks – and apparently the Sharks – love Hjalmarsson's upside.
"He's a great kid, a great player and is very deserving (of the deal)," Hawks center and captain Jonathan Toews said. "We want to keep those guys who are going to make a huge difference on our team. We want to keep them together, and he's one of those guys for sure."
The drawback is that Hjalmarsson's contract ate up the bulk of cap space the Hawks had planned to use to re-sign both he and goalie Antti Niemi. Now, Niemi is awaiting an arbitration decision on Saturday and wondering if the Hawks will decide to keep him.
"Of course I want him to stay," Hjalmarsson said. "He's a great goalie and won the Cup for us. He's a good friend of mine, too. I'd love to have him on the team. We'll see what happens."