Niklas Hjalmarsson: Time To Go

As the respective conference finals continue, the Blackhawks are (once again) watching from home. There are a number of players that might be headed out of town this summer, either as a free agent or by trade. But one player specifically has disappointed for two straight seasons, and shouldn’t be back in Chicago next year.

It’s time for Niklas Hjalmarsson to find a new address.

While he was missing from action, we discussed whether or not the Blackhawks actually missed Hjalmarsson from the lineup. The verdict at that time was that the team was playing better without him, especially once Johnny Oduya was added to the roster.

In the postseason, Hjalmarsson was one of many Blackhawks that needed to play better for the Hawks to get out of the first round. He was on the ice for six even-strength goals, tied with rookie Marcus Kruger and Nick Leddy for third on the team behind only Oduya and Bolland (seven each).

But Hjalmarsson was also on the ice for two Coyotes powerplay goals in the six-game series. The eight total goals against while Hjalmarsson was on the ice was tied with Brent Seabrook for the third-worst total in the series, behind Oduya (nine) and Bolland (ten).

Of course, plus-minus isn’t the greatest indicator of an individual performance. But Hjalmarsson was minus-three in the series, which was among the worst on the team; only Kruger was lower (minus-four), and of the Hawks that played in all six games, Andrew Brunette was the only other Hawk player to be as bad as Hjalmarsson.

If a six-game playoff series isn’t a big enough sample size, looking at Hjalmarsson’s regular season performance leaves more to be desired.

Of the Blackhawks four primary defenseman last season – Duncan Keith, Seabrook, Leddy and Hjalmarsson – the total numbers don’t do Hjalmarsson any favors.

First, consider the role Hjalmarsson has evolved into on the Blackhawks as a penalty killer. He was on the ice for 23 powerplay goals by a Hawks opponent. Only 49 players in the NHL were on the ice when at least 23 powerplay goals were scored by an opponent last year. Of those 49, only five – Nate Thompson (Tampa), Zach Bogosian (Winnipeg), Fedor Tyutin (Columbus), Tom Gilbert (Edmonton/Minnesota) and Hjalmarsson – played in fewer than 70 games during the 2011-12 season.

If we take that number a step further. In 69 games, Hjalmarsson was on the ice short-handed for 163:34. Opponents scored a powerplay goal once every 7:07 that Hjalmarsson as on the ice on PK duty. Compare that to Keith (7:42) and a vastly improved Seabrook (9:11). That isn’t a good number for a guy that’s supposed to be a primary penalty killer.

But this isn’t a one-year issue for Hjalmarsson. In 2010-11, Hjalmarsson also watched too many goals go in the net while on PK. In 80 games, opponents had 23 powerplay goals while Hjalmarsson was on the ice. His short-handed ice time was higher (thanks to being healthy for 11 additional games), totalling 172:09.

Once again, Hjalmarsson was more frequently on the ice for an opponent’s tally while with an advantage than the Hawks’ other top penalty killers. His average short-handed time on ice between goals in 2010-11 (7:29) was lower again than Keith (8:38) and Seabrook (7:44).

[Leddy and Brian Campbell were not primary penalty killers, so we didn’t compare them to Hjalmarsson for the short-handed part of the discussion. But, for the sake of disclosure, Leddy’s average was 6:15 in 2011-12, while Campbell’s was 8:41 in 2010-11.]

Taking a step back from penalty killing duty, the numbers for Hjalmarsson look even worse.

Examining total goals against and total ice time during the 2011-12 season shows that Hjalmarsson was a victim too many times. He was on the ice for 88 total goals (65 even strength, 23 powerplay). Opponents scored once every 15:49 that Hjalmarsson was on the ice last season.

Looking at the Hawks other top three defensemen, that number is far too low. Even the developing Leddy, who has become a whipping boy for critics, had a significantly better ice time average between opponent goals (16:55) than Hjalmarsson. Indeed, Leddy’s average was better than Keith (16:27), while Seabrook led the way (17:22).

And those numbers were with Hjalmarsson averaging only 27.1 shifts per game. Leddy (28.0) averaged almost a full shift per game more than Hjalmarsson, while Keith (31.1) and Seabrook (30.7) were asked to carry the load once again.

That average represents a significant step back for Hjalmarsson from the 2010-11 season. In 11 additional games, Hjalmarsson was on the ice for three fewer opponent goals the previous year. His average ice time between goals (17:23) was actually better than both Keith (16:24) and Seabrook (15:45) that season.

[The most striking number from the analysis was Campbell’s performance in 2010-11. In 65 games, he was on the ice for only 59 opponent goals, averaging a staggering 25:19 between goals.]

The fact is, Hjalmarsson is regressing as a player. And it’s hurting the team.

Certainly, defenders of Hjalmarsson will point to his ability (willingness) to block shots. He ranked 32nd in the NHL with 142 blocked shots last season, and was among the league leaders before missing time.

There are two responses to that defense.

First, his blocked shot total cannot be denied. It’s a strong number. But blocked shots are most effective if the puck doesn’t eventually end up in the back of the net. Obviously that wasn’t the case far too often with Hjalmarsson in the ice last year.

Secondly, there were far too many times during the 2011-12 season that Hjalmarsson missed a blocked shot that led to a goal. Far too many times did we see him shy away from shots last season. A missed attempt at blocking a shot effectively provides an opponent with a courtesy screen as the shot travels.

Certainly there should be an asterisk next to any goals against numbers because everyone in and out of the organization admits the goaltending in Chicago must improve, but other leading shot blockers in the NHL were able block shots more effectively than Hjalmarsson last year.

The other asterisk that needs to be placed on Hjalmarsson’s numbers was the influence on his game that the change from Campbell to Leddy made on the overall performance of the team. It’s been well documented that the gamble made by Hawks GM Stan Bowman to move Campbell came prematurely, and that Leddy did not step into the void well enough.

But with a ring in his pocket and a $3.5M price tag, the organization and fans wanted/needed Hjalmarsson to take another step forward. Leddy’s development was only part of the consideration in moving Campbell; any assumption that Hjalmarsson could shoulder more of the burden on the blue line proved to be just as futile as hoping Leddy could become a 22 minute per game defenseman.

As the Blackhawks evaluate their roster this summer and consider their plans for the 2012-13 season, it’s time for Bowman to find a new home for Hjalmarsson. He has evolved into an overpaid number five defenseman, which can be replaced in free agency for cheaper than the cap hit he’s making in Chicago. And certainly there will be a team out there looking for a shot-blocker on the trade market this summer.

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37 Responses to Niklas Hjalmarsson: Time To Go

  1. John says:

    Yes

  2. AJ says:

    Get some picks and dump a buncha salary

  3. Tony says:

    I painfully agree. He seems to be going completely backwards. His decision making has become terrible. I don’t think Ill ever be able to forget him taking the puck AWAY from Crawford, who obviously wanted to freeze it, and it eventually finding twine. Stupid, stupid.

  4. Ken says:

    U can’t be serious! Do you watch the games? The work he does in front of the net and around the boards is better than most of the BH defensemen. Leddy is out of place so often and he can’t handle the puck at all. We could use another quality defensemen, but first we need another center and we still do not have a goalie that we can rely on.

  5. Vladimir Krstic says:

    I agree with all this. he needs to go

  6. darcy says:

    And the Hammer should drop!If they can deal him they should.Lets see if Bowman can do his part as Nicklas is trending backwards.Nashville may like him?

  7. hawkpipes says:

    I always said we should have let SJ have him,we kept the wrong guy,and overpaid for him…

  8. Steever says:

    Nothing wrong with him for his age…. You gota start where the problem really lies. Steve Mason would have been a better option in goal than Crawford. He will NEVER be NHL caliber.

  9. Pete says:

    Disagree. I say keep him. We need more solid defenders not less. The stats say he is overpaid right now, but he’s young. IMO Hawks fans are worrying too much about the salary cap. Max out the cap with the best possible players and lets go for it. Keep him, add another defender, another forward and develop the youngsters. Go Hawks.

  10. JJ says:

    Tab,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    The stats are staggering, but the eye test is even more telling. Probably a great kid in the locker room. But weak, out of position, and ineffective is not the way to go through life (in the NHL).

  11. Bill Carlson says:

    I agree, but he still has value and looking at what teams were giving up last year for a d-man, we could get something decent in return. Ottawa loves Swedes and may over pay a bit. Trade Hammer and 2nd round pick for their 1st round pick and Zach Smith. Smith would be a great 4th line center who plays physical, kill penalties and win face-offs…all area’s the Hawks greatly need.

  12. Nancy Anne Johnson says:

    I’ll even pack his bags for him.

  13. wall says:

    I really don’t know who would be dumb enough to take on his salary…
    then again Bowman took on Montador for 2.75 mill…

    so I guess there could be another sucker out there! (doubt it)

    But really, if you thought an All-Star like Campbell was tough to move, who in there right mind would want Hammer (even at half the cost)????

  14. Glenn says:

    I’m in the “keep him” camp. He’s 24 which is still relatively young for a defenseman. He obviously has heart evidenced by his shot blocking. Better to stay with the devil you know than go with the one you don’t and it’s doubtful the Hawks could pick up a replacement for Hjalmarsson for the same money who is appreciably better.

  15. Zesty_N says:

    Early in the playoffs he impressed me showing some physicality when no one else on the Hawks would, I clearly remember him and Doan trading big hits. The stats haven’t been impressive though I can’t argue that, all he did for most of the season was lead the league in shot blocks but after the injury they went down significantly. I want to see him become a better all-around D-Man but I’m not sure he ever will; at times he makes beautiful cross ice tape-to-tape passes and at other times he gives it right to the opposing team in the defensive zone, he needs more consistency in his game. I would like to see him flourish into the player he has the potential to be with the Hawks but as you said he just seems to be heading in the wrong direction and it may be time to get rid of him while you can get something back.

  16. Longshot35 says:

    As bad as he was, seems to me that he is preferable to O’Donnell and Lepisto perhaps even Montador. Though Montador has had that horrible concussion so I am willing to cut him a bit of slack. We alredy know that two of last seasons D-men are going to be gone, if we get rid of Hjalmarsson then we will be looking at a 50% changover on D. I just worry about chemistry.

  17. JJ says:

    Glenn,

    How about this devil? Shane O’Brien – UFA making $1.1M – Some PP-PK in COL. 3rd pair w/Montador and you have a sold defensive PK pair with offensive ability. The kid will go toe to toe with anyone and plays the body hard. Can he be had for $3m?

    Let’s compare.
    O’Brien 3-17-20, +2, 105 pims, 114 shots
    Hammer 1-14-15, +9, 14 pims, 65 shots
    (which guy is surrounded by more talent?)

    Just trade Hammer for picks and prospects.

  18. JJ says:

    Longshot – What chemistry.

  19. Tre says:

    Good points, but I have another recommendation:

    Duncan Keith as trade bait.

    You mentioned that his numbers are even lower than Hjalmarsson’s in many categories. His cap hit is $2 Million more than Hammer’s. Though he is loved in this city, in the last 2 years he has not shown the passion he had in 2010 and before. He has made some rookie mistakes getting burned due to lack of hustle and even being caught out of position and even has been called for some stupid penalties. He is nowhere near the shut-down defender he was. I still believe he is a very talented player, but his head does not seem to be in it. I think a change may do his game good, and he may know it too.

    Pretty sure he has a NTC and I have no idea how comfortable he is here. Plus Bowman has stated he has no intention of moving his core, but with a Norris and a ring just 2 years back, he could be some tasty trade bait–if he’s willing to consider it.

    I’d hate to see him go, but now might be the time.

    Thoughts???

  20. Shane Chaves says:

    I think the first person out of Chicago needs to be Crawford. If he returns as our No. 1 goalie you won’t find me watching any games. He’s just an awful net minder & has done enough with his nearly three goals a game effort and barely scraping 900 save percentage, most teams wouldn’t be satisfied with those kind of numbers from a BACK UP!

  21. Tuke says:

    I would bring me great enjoyment to see Hammer pack his bags and go someplace else. He has regressed further and further from where he was in 09-10 and really has shown no sign of returning to the consistent D man he once was. I’m not really sure what has caused this but from memory it all really started to show glaringly after the suspension for his hit on Pominville. Whatever it was it seems to have changed almost his entire game.

    He either does not know or just refuses to clear the opposition from around the crease, makes entirely way too many blind passes or clearing attempts around the boards or from vulnerable positions on the ice that result in turnovers and refuses to use his size to his advantage. Oh yeah, he has no offensive upside to really speak of not to mention his bad decision making at crucial moments. 3.5$ for a shot blocking #5/6 D man is way too much.

    trade him away for something that can be used to help now or something like picks that can be traded for someone that can help now.

  22. AJ says:

    The trade Keith comment is laughable. More preposterous than the trade Kane conjecture.

    Hammer will not garner a first. Maybe a 2nd, and a 3rd so they can offer sheet someone…

    Crawford had a poor year after having a very good one. The defensive schemes, break outs, forecheck, free point shots, lack of containment under the goal line, free back door passes caused lots of problems that were compounded by brain farts of epic proportions. I am of the opinion you fix the problems in front of him and that should be good enough but that is open to debate and I would rather not argue about it.

  23. SouthSideHawkMan says:

    I’d have no problem with the Hawks trading both Keith and Kane, but you better get a heck of alot in return.

  24. Rich says:

    Package Crawford and Hammer for something that can hit.

  25. Rich says:

    The problem is that everybody falls in love with these guys. It is a business, and if you don’t perform in business you get axed.

  26. Gou says:

    On a completely unrelated topic, I found it completely entertaining to listen to Doan complain about a so called missed call in OT. The shoulder hit first then the legs/ body. This from a guy that sat there while Hossa got blown up with no call. Anyone remember game 1 where The new rat Torres took a shot at Hossa’s knee.

    As far as this thread goes this team is missing to much, which the remaining few seem to be held accountable for. Don’t get me wrong the hammer had some serious blunders in the playoffs, but he went toe to toe with some big hits and many blocked shots. he had a poor to tough year,but so did many on this squad.

    The talk around here since our exodus from the playoffs has been to move many and leave 19, 10, 7, and 81. Hoss’s injury may turn out like Crosby with an indefinite timetable to return.

    Bowman has to make some tough calls to turn this ship around, otherwise we will be here over and over again.

    Some young players gained some good experience, but many did not show up when needed. We also ran into a very hot goalie who by the way, LA also has right now.

    That being said, start between the pipes and get some strong offense.

  27. Angotti says:

    At the beginning of last season I recall a Hammer interview in which he said that he would work to improve offensively. In this regard, I think he failed miserably. He remains the most terrible (and terrified) defenseman I have ever seen bringing the puck out.
    But.. I often wonder whether the coaching staff isn’t partly to blame. I realize that this isn’t Rockford.. but shouldn’t they be working with him on this? Or did they also come up short?

  28. Brad Stevenson says:

    Agree Tab…move him…but I also agree with Wall, it will be difficult to move that salary compared to production…but the Hawks need to try…

    It is hard to think of Hammer without thinking about Niemi walking out the door…bad move by Bowman.

  29. TBALL says:

    Agreed – good analysis!

  30. Tuke says:

    @Gou, If Hossa’s injury turns out to be even remotely as severe as Crosby’s was then he needs to retire. Sid had the advantage of being young with many years left to play the game. Hossa on the other hand is much older and if he has to sit for a year or year and a half it’s not worth it for himself and his family or for the Hawks. Either way, this is certainly an answer that needs to be provided early enough for the organization to plan a course of action.

  31. Dave says:

    With all the discussion about what to do about Hammer does anyone have confidence that B owman will do the right move Tab pointed out that Bowman dumped Campbell to soon add all the signings from last year and you have a gm that doesnt seem to have the touch would Bowman be gm if his last name was not Bowman instead of the players coming and going maybe next year will be devoted to finding a new gm

    Dave

  32. Ethan says:

    I said this after last year Hammer(less) has to go an overpaid 3rd pairing defenseman whos only niche is blocking shots and at 6’3 is not physical what so ever especially after the pominville hit! Much rather see Dylan Olsen. Tab what do you think of the hawks signing Shane O’Brien or Bryan Allen we need a crease clearer who will defend crawford at all costs they will come at much cheaper and I think would be good additions on the third pairing for a team who desperately needs size and physicallity on the back end?

  33. Steve Commisso says:

    Hammer should have been gone since two years ago! Bowman was suckered in the San Jose deal and sacrificed Niemi. Maybe Niemi wouldn’t have had those two “soft” overtime goals which gave the series to Phoenix. No matter how you look at it Niemi is much better than Crawford. Time for Bowman to make moves so that he wont be nicknamed Stan(dstill) Bowman!!

  34. ozzzie19 says:

    Tab, you made a hugely massive miscalculation that completely negates the part of your post regarding Hammer sucking even strength…Hammer was on the ice for 65 TOTAL goals against this year (not ES as you stated), 23 of which came on the PP, meaning he was only on the ice for 42 ES goals. Compare that to 69 ES GA for Seabs and 77 ES GA for Keith. Below adjusts for TOI and outlines Quality of Competition. As you can see, despite the eye test, Hammer is actually a super elite even strength defensive defenseman. I’d attribute the PK issue (if its an issue at all, the difference between him and DK probably isn’t statistically significant) to more to sample size/Q’s system than Hammer (and way to arbitrarily pick 70 games as a cutoff point).

    2011-2012 Season even strength goals against/60 (QoC)
    Hammer-2.06 (0.01)
    Seabs-2.62 (0.093)
    Keith-2.91 (0.074)
    Leddy-2.86 (0.021)

    2010-2011 Season even strength goals against/60
    Hammer-1.80 (0.021)
    Seabs-2.66 (0.117)
    Keith-2.82 (0.086)
    Leddy-3.03 (-0.042)

    Tab, if you want to bash Hammer on his defense using stats, go right ahead, but try to actually use correct stats and not pick arbitrary cutoff points/small sample sizes/distort not statistically significant differences.

    The actual fact is, despite what ours (including mine) eyes tell us, Hammer is (statistically) an elite defenseman.

  35. Tab Bamford says:

    ozzzie: I did make a mistake with Hjalmarsson’s total goals against. I appreciate you catching that. Thanks.

    However, I didn’t pick arbitrary cutoff points and small sample sizes. How much of a body of work has Hjalmarsson had in the NHL? Using the even strength goals against per 60 minutes you provided, his difference (0.26) is significnatly larger than Seabrook (0.04) and even Keith (0.09). I struggle including a comparison of Leddy’s performances from his broken-up first season in the NHL and last year because he was forced to go from being a kid splitting time between Rockford and Chicago for half a season to playing over 20 minutes per game (a role I think we all agree wasn’t appropriate) over a full NHL season.

    He’s trending the wrong direction, and is far from an elite defenseman. He has become a #5 d-man, and is overpaid for the specialist role he provides. Even with the numbers you provide, I stick by the premise of the piece.

  36. ozzzie19 says:

    Trending in the wrong direction from ridiculously insanely blowing the rest of the d corps out of the water in ES GA/60 to only insanely blowing the rest of the d corps out of the water in ES GA/60.

  37. ozzzie19 says:

    And sorry, I meant to say elite defensive defenseman. Something that everyone is pining for the Hawks to add, yet everyone is also calling for our in house elite defensive defenseman to be shipped out of town.

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