Puck Daddy - NHL

The Chicago Blackhawks were living a bit of a charmed life when it came to their cap crunch this summer, in the sense that they controlled the salary dumping: Dustin Byfuglien(notes) to the Atlanta Thrashers, Kris Versteeg(notes) to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and so on. 

What they didn't have was a rival aggressively take advantage of their cap situation by attempting to poach a restricted free agent with an offer sheet ... until today. TSN's Gord Miller reports that the San Jose Sharks have signed defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson(notes) to a 4-year, $14 million offer sheet that would increase his cap hit from $600,000 to $3.5 million annually.

Chicago has a week to match the offer or settle for a first- and a third-round pick from San Jose.

You may remember Hjalmarsson best from his atrocious Game 4 performance in the Stanley Cup Finals, but he also had 17 points in 77 games for the Blackhawks last season for a plus-9. He was fourth among Chicago D-men with 19:39 average ice time per game, and was also fourth in shorthanded ice time (2:09). He's also just 23 years old, and has impeccable taste in sweaters and companions (thanks, Google Images).

What a way to put the screws to the team that knocked you in the Conference Finals.

The Sharks have seven defensemen under contract (via Cap Geek), but you can envision Hjalmarsson being a second-pairing guy in that group. From the Sharks and GM Doug Wilson:

"We feel Niklas is a top-three defenseman in the National Hockey League," said Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson. "We saw his abilities first-hand in the playoffs last season and he was an important piece of a Stanley Cup-winning team. He is a solid player that would be a good fit on our team now and in the future."

Jon Swenson from Sharkspage offered this take:

It is a great move by the San Jose Sharks and GM Doug Wilson to put the screws to a financially strapped Blackhawks franchise. After winning a Stanley Cup Championship and having several players hit performance bonuses, the Blackhawks lead the NHL with a 2010-11 salary cap penalty of $4.15 million due to overages.

The 'Hawks gave him a qualifying offer and made resigning both Hjalmarsson and goalie Antti Niemi(notes) a priority after July 1. The Blackhawks currently only have four defensemen under contract. They did acquire Ivan Vishnevskiy(notes) in the Byfuglien trade, who could help next season, and have some prospects in the system. 

The Blackhawks were vulnerable, and the Sharks chomped on "Super Nintendo" Hjalmarsson (the reference, by the way).

It's about time we had some aggressive poaching this offseason; now which diabolical GM tenders an offer sheet for Niemi?

(Ed. Note: The Niemi line was supposed to be a joke, but for clarity's sake: He can't get an offer sheet having gone to arbitration, and thanks to all that pointed that out. Not as embarrassing as having Kopecky's photo on the post for 20 minutes, but nonetheless.) 

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