Blackhawks After the Rafters: Niklas Hjalmarsson
I'm writing about all the Swedes today!
In Part 4 of my "After the Rafters" series, we are taking a look at defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Previously, we have covered Patrick Sharp, Steve Larmer, and Corey Crawford. Please be sure to go check those out as well! It has been a hot minute since the last "After the Rafters" article, so let me refresh your memory of how this works: I am going to evaluate the selected former Blackhawks player to determine their candidacy for recognition by the Blackhawks. There are three levels we are considering for these players. "One More Shift" is for those who were very, very good, but not enough for a jersey retirement. "Rafters" is for those deserving of number retirement. Lastly "Statue" is for the best of the best in Blackhawks history. Those are the ones deserving of a statue (the likes of Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Tony Esposito, and eventually Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews). Now, back to Niklas Hjalmarsson.
My most vivid memory of the "Hammer" is almost as exhilarating as it is heartbreaking. I know you know the one to which I refer. It's what should have been the game winning goal against Detroit in the 2013 Western Conference Finals. A top-shelf slap shot from just outside the left face-off circle that cruised over the glove of Jimmy Howard. The United Center was euphoric. Then the referees called off the goal due to two minor roughing penalties, one on the Hawks and one on the Wings. It was heartbreaking. Thankfully, Seabrook scored the game winning goal about 3 minutes into overtime to send the Hawks to the Stanley Cup Finals against Boston. Here is the play:
But let's take a look at Hjalmarsson's whole career. He was a well-respected and much-loved teammate and player for the Chicago Blackhawks. He was always a top tier defenseman as well. If not for a team that already had Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Hjalmarsson would have been a top 2 defenseman.
He was selected 108th overall in the 4th round during the 2005 NHL Draft by the Blackhawks. He stayed busy developing until the Blackhawks called him up in 2007-2008 season, Hjalmarsson made his debut with the team. He only played 13 games with 1 assist, 9 blocks, and 8 hits, while averaging 13:37 of ice time. Though he only played in 21 games in the 2008-09 season, his role expanded during the postseason when the Blackhawks made a Western Conference Finals before they lost to Detroit. In his first full season, Hjalmarsson recorded 17 points, 137 blocks, 59 hits, and 29 takeaways in 77 games. The Blackhawks when on to win the Stanley Cup versus Philadelphia that year.
At this point, he was a regular installment for Joel Quenneville's Blackhawks, averaging almost 20 minutes a night. He only had 3 seasons after 2009-10 that he averaged less ice time. He was that important of a player. His best offensive season was 2013-14, where he had 4 goals and 22 assists. The very next season, was his best defensive season where he had 127 blocks, 39 hits, and a career high 41 takeaways. He earned All-Star honors that season for his performance. After the Blackhawks defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals, Hjalmarsson became one of only 7 players to have played on all three Stanley Cup winning teams - a very special honor.
Over the next couple seasons, he was still putting up solid defensive numbers, though Stan Bowman felt like it was time to move on. He pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin to the Blackhawks and Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes. He was immediately the 'Yotes Alternate captain and he continued to put up solid numbers and averaging 20 minutes a night. He was ceratinly still valuable, but it was kind of wasted in Arizona and Hjalmarsson retired after the 2020-21 season.
So is Niklas Hjalmarsson, the Hammer, "One More Shift," "Rafters," or "Statue?" No matter how much everybody loved Hjalmarsson, no matter how much he won for the team, he is not statue or rafter material in my opinion. He was certainly a great player, and was honored last year in a "One More Shift" ceremony. Whether the Blackhawks do that again or put together a "ring of honor" or a wall or banner commemorating the Stanley Cup teams, I think any of those options will be adequate to honor Hjalmarsson.