The Blackhawks, no-movement clauses, and why Niklas Hjalmarsson could be traded this summer

Here’s why Niklas Hjalmarsson could end up getting stuck on the chopping block.

The Chicago Blackhawks probably don’t want to lose Niklas Hjalmarsson anytime soon. He’s one of the better defensive defensemen in the NHL, a stalwart of three Stanley Cup-winning teams, and has a relatively affordable salary cap hit of just $4.1 million. By all accounts, he’s a bargain for the Blackhawks, and someone they should want to keep around.

But the Blackhawks are going to be forced to make changes yet again next offseason, due to the impending raise to Artemi Panarin. With his salary cap hit set to increase to $6 million in 2017-18, GM Stan Bowman will have to figure out what moves to make to keep his team compliant with the salary cap.

There has been a lot of speculation about this lately, with the latest crop of wild yells on the internet claiming Marian Hossa or Corey Crawford should be the one to go. Unfortunately, Bowman’s choice might be made relatively simple for him, and it could spell the eventual end of Hjalmarsson’s time in Chicago.

Let’s explain how this comes together.

(Note: Before we even get into all this, it’s only fair to point out that technically the Blackhawks could trade Marcus Kruger alone and probably be cap compliant next season. This wasn’t originally mentioned but after discussion in the comments it rightly should be in here.

That route would potentially mean having a barebones bottom half of the roster, but it’s possible. If the team wants to move further salary, everything after this still applies. They likely could avert all of this and just move Kruger — who has a partial no-trade clause — if they were willing to get creative, though.)

As a result of handing out no-movement clauses to eight different players, the Blackhawks’ upcoming offseason has an unusual sense of uncertainty to it. The team clearly needs to move salary in order to accommodate retaining Panarin, but it’s given no-movement clauses to so many players that they’ll clearly play a key role in all this.

A no-movement clause can be included in the NHL contract of any player who has either played at least seven seasons or turned 27 years old. It prevents the player under contract from being traded, waived, or reassigned to the AHL without his consent.

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Artem Anisimov, Crawford, Hossa, and Hjalmarsson all have no-movement clauses. However, there’s a very crucial difference to the situations for Hjalmarsson (and Crawford) compared to the six others that makes it likely one of them ultimately gets traded to solve the team’s cap situation.

Unlike the other six players, who all have complete no-movement clauses, Hjalmarsson and Crawford have no-movement clauses with partial no-trade clauses attached, according to Cap Friendly.

This means that while they have the ability to block being waived or reassigned, Hjalmarsson and Crawford can only block trades to a certain number of teams. Cap Friendly says Hjalmarsson “submits a 10-team trade list,” but it’s unclear whether that blocks or permits trades to those teams. There are no publicly available details on Crawford’s no-trade clause.

Either way, this could be a significant development come the offseason. Hjalmarsson and Crawford will be automatically protected for the expansion draft, so they’re not going to Vegas in that scenario, but their lack of total control over where they get traded could one of them significantly easier to move than, say, Seabrook, even if there are a variety of reasons that might be preferable.

And what happens if the six players with complete no-movement clauses all refuse to leave a cozy situation in Chicago? Then the Blackhawks could conceivably have no choice but to choose between Hjalmarsson and Crawford in order to get under the salary cap. Depending on what happens with Panarin’s bonuses, the 2017-18 salary cap, the expansion draft, and all those no-movement clauses, Bowman may not have a ton of options.

Maybe he’d prefer to trade Crawford, his top-five goalie on a reasonable $6 million cap hit. Maybe they’ll somehow be able to squeeze under the cap just by moving Marcus Kruger. Regardless of who Bowman chooses to move, there’s going to be a massive hole to fill next season.

To some degree, this was always the risk of having so many no-movement clauses. Instead of being able to freely navigate the upcoming salary cap crunch with a full set of options at their disposal, the Blackhawks may end up having some of these decisions essentially made for them. And that could hasten the departure of Hjalmarsson, even if the team would rather move someone else.

This post has been updated to note Marcus Kruger’s