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Summer Reading – SCH’s Season Review: The Enigma

Back to our player by player review of the Hawks season, after taking a day off to focus on the front office shenanigans that no one gets the feeling are over yet. Today we move on to Niklas Hjalmarsson, who almost certainly is the next off the Cup team to be wearing different colors next season. And if he’s not, he really should be.

Hammer’s such a weird study. Everything looked so promising in ’09 and ’10. Though he was never as big as listed, he was steady, physical at times, and his best games were the ones where you didn’t really notice him. Super Nintendo Hjalmars looked like he could be a rock on the second pair for years to come.

And then, he wasn’t.

Some blame it on his suspension after cleaning Jason Pominville’s clock in October 2010. That seems such a weak excuse now, two years later. Some have claimed he needed a superlative partner. But Brian Campbell played his best hockey as a Hawks last season and Hjalmarsson was unquestionably awful anyway. After one year as a step back, we all could tell ourselves that is was just a down year. But now that we have more evidence of him being a liability than we do of him being effective? Maybe this is what you get.

Stat Line: 69GP 1G 14A 15P +9 14PIM .71 Behind The Net Rating .010 Quality of Competition

The Good: Well, the plus-minus and Behind The Net would indicate that Hjalmarsson wasn’t as bad as the eye test would tell you. Most of those numbers were racked up when he was away from Nick Leddy, so that should be factored in. And there were periods of effectiveness for Hammer. It wasn’t an 82 game slog totally. Early in the year he played with Brent Seabrook, and that was repeated at points throughout the season, and that helped. When he was baby sitting for Dylan Olsen, he wasn’t bad either after Johnny Oduya’s acquisition. And sometimes, when he got pissed off at being physically manhandled, he would dish it back out. Ask Shane Doan. Though that didn’t really have much of an effect.

The Bad: Uh boy. For most of the year, when paired with a Nick Leddy who needed some serious help, Hjalmarsson couldn’t provide it. The jumpiness with the puck that unearthed itself last season continued this season, with seemingly thousands of blind tosses out to center ice conceding possession. Apparently terrified of a forecheck, and no better example than Mikkel Boedker’s first OT winner in Game 3 that started with Hjalmarsson so afraid of being checked he went for a very soft poke in the corner that gave Boedker the puck. While he would show it in flashes, never exhibited enough physical presence to make opponents wary. Watching him try to complete a pass at times would make your eye twitch. Oh, and the Chris Kuc stories about Hjalmarsson trying to improve his offense while his defense still sucked caused my bile to turn into a living organism.

Contract: 2 years left at a $3.5 hit

Stick Around Or Hit The Bricks: Gone. And this seems to be one of the few things that Q and Bowman agree on. Whether you can get anyone to take him is another thing. He may have to be part of a package. Even if Hammer was more useful than he is, that contract number is going to have to be cleared out if the rumors of a serious run at Ryan Suter are true. Beyond that, if he’s not already than Dylan Olsen looks like he soon will be better at Hjalmarsson’s job. He’s also younger and cheaper. If Leddy is going to be a fixture on the second pairing, and he probably is, and we already know that Hammer can’t play with him, are you really going to pay a third pairing d-man 3.5 mildo?

–A note on Patrick Kane here. While some will howl about my hypocrisy after Kane’s tour around Madison became the internet photo tour on the internet yesterday, I just wish I was having that much fun on Saturday. And I thought his t-shirt was hilarious, if only because it gives more props to my boys who used to comprise the Kurtenblog. We only got upset at Kaner’s antics when it became clear it was affecting his play on the ice. Maybe it still is, but that’s not as clear now as it was then.

But here is my fear. It was a pretty poorly kept secret that the organization had pretty much run out of patience with Kaner’s off-ice events last season. Depending on what rumor you believe, they told him so. So getting photographed again is going to test that patience even more. I fear that those on the marketing side may have none left, and push for a wake up call that would involve trading Kaner. And that’s something we all know I’m vehemently against. It’s far-fetched, but not totally unrealistic either.

Kaner, do what you want. But do you have to do it in front of a camera?

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