Daily Herald
Will Hawks match Hjalmarsson offer?
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 7/11/2010 10:47 PM

When Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman addresses the media today at the conclusion of prospects camp, most of the questions won't be about the kids he watched scrimmage for four days.

The four-year, $14 million offer sheet the San Jose Sharks gave defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson on Friday is the most pressing issue facing an organization that is having as difficult an off-season as any team in the NHL.

Bowman has until Friday to decide whether to match the offer for Hjalmarsson or let the promising defenseman go and take the Sharks' first- and third-round draft picks in 2011 as compensation.

Bowman may or may not have an answer today, nor is he likely to be critical of Sharks GM Doug Wilson, whose calculated move on Hjalmarsson has put San Jose's Western Conference rival in a huge bind.

The question remains: Do the Hawks have enough cap space to match the offer sheet for Hjalmarsson and sign restricted free-agent goalie Antti Niemi and enough players to fill out a roster?

It would seem as if Hjalmarsson is someone the Hawks can't let go, a 23-year-old defenseman with a huge upside. Bowman himself recently said the Hawks' defense, meaning Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Hjalmarsson, was the strength of the team.

Niemi has filed for arbitration and his contract demands could be more than what the Hawks believe are reasonable for someone with one year of NHL experience, even though he won the Stanley Cup.

It's possible the Hawks will let Niemi go to his arbitration hearing and hope for a favorable reward.

Something to remember is veteran goalies Marty Turco and Jose Theodore remain unsigned as free agents and could interest the Hawks if Niemi can't be re-signed for a number that fits into the budget.