NHL: Dallas Stars at Chicago Blackhawks

Something In The Way: C.I.’s ’15-’16 Season Preview – Niklas Hjalmarsson

If the Norris Trophy were simply about defense and only defense, Niklas Hjalmarsson would have to be a contender every season. Hammer is in the bottom 20 of all NHL d-men in the amount of shifts he doesn’t get that start in the offensive zone. He takes on the toughest competition every night, and has done so for the past three years at least (allowing Duncan Keith to become Fireball Mario). Last year, he was on the ice for the third least amount of goals against per 60 minutes despite those obstacles. And having just turned 28, he should be right in the heart of his prime as a d-man (we can only hope). Hammer might enter the season as the player with the least amount of questions about him. He’d be manning 75% of the other teams’ top pairing.

But we still need to find a way to have a stick laying on the ice that he can swat away dismissively on the few occasions he scores.

Last Season: 82 games, 3 goals, 16 assists, 19 points, +25, 44 PIM, 53.7% Corsi  Percentage (0 Relative), 50.4% Corsi Competition

Playoffs: 23 games, 1 goal, 5 assists, 6 points, +6, 8 PIM, 48% Corsi Percentage (-6.2 Relative) 52.3% Corsi Competition

Last season was basically the same one that Hammer has given the Hawks the previous two seasons, after he spent the two seasons before that wandering around some imaginary zoo that only he could see. He blocked a ton of shots, played the other teams’ top lines, and ground into dust physically, waited for Johnny Oduya to find his form in the spring, and was the backbone of the Hawks’ defense. Hammer also had to flip from side to side a little more than previous seasons, as when Oduya got demoted midseason and he found himself going back to his natural side to play with Seabrook at times. That versatility isn’t something you see mentioned a lot, but it is there. And it will probably come in even more handy this season.

Hammer’s possession numbers obviously took a hit in the playoffs, but A) he was being rolled out there against Getzlaf and then Stamkos for 13 games and that’s going to do in anyone’s numbers and B) he saw far more minutes in the playoffs than he ever had, averaging 22 minutes just at even-strength throughout the run. Fatigue had to have kicked in somewhere, one would think.

’15-’16 Outlook: The only concern about Hammer is what did the spring take out of his legs? Super Nintendo Hjalmers has never depended on his feet that much, but he also doesn’t have that much wiggle room to go from someone who can squeeze out enough time to make a play to get the Hawks out of the zone to one that’s going to get buried before he can, which might turn him into the tennis ball machine he was in his dip years that just flings the puck out of the zone like a monkey hurling his own shit. That’s not all that likely, but something to watch for.

Other than that, it’s really about who Hammer plays with and that has nothing to do with him. He might have to play free safety for Trevor Daley, which is akin to playing free safety for the Bears in that there’s a whole lot coming at you because you aren’t getting much help from anyone else. He may be paired with Keith to give the Hawks the most likely duo to deal with the other teams’ top threats and give everyone else a softer landing. He could pair with Seabrook (my bet, at least early in the year) to give the Hawks the best defensive pairing possible, and to let Keith still drive the offense with less interference (and reduce Daley to a third pairing role, though it would be with either Hejda or Rundblad so uh… yeah…. Tums please).

But the thing with Hjalmarsson is you know what you’re getting. No reason to think the Hawks won’t again.

  • My appreciation for Hammer has grown over the years. Truly one of the unsung players on this roster. Doesn’t always get the attention he deserves, but is one that I think will go down as one of the top defensive defensemen the Blackhawks have ever had.

    • Sopel the catfish

      I remember initially being upset the Hawks kept him over Niemi after DW tried to put the Hawks over a barrel. 2011 sucked, but after that it’s been pretty clear that keeping Hammer was the correct choice and he has been rock solid.

    • GoldenJet

      I liked Hammer before it was trendy…

  • jordyhawk

    This guy is kevlar-coated granite. Fucking nails.

    And how about that contract. If anyone thought he might have been a bit greedy signing Uncle Willy’s offer sheet, he has sure made up for it with the current contract. He could have got a lot more, but he committed to the the Indian (tee hee). I love this guy. We all should.

    • Matt

      These Swedes sure have some loyalty and/or commitment to them. Kruger obviously just signed a super Hawks-friendly deal. Even Oduya, who waited to see what the Hawks would do before signing.

      • jordyhawk

        That seems to be the case with our guys at least. They’re sure not about the bling and there are no two players on our squad that are willing to pay more of a price on the ice than 4 and 16.

      • Sopel the catfish

        As long as it isn’t a war they (Swedes) are good at picking a side. Kruger is due for a very nice contract next year, or at least some kind of lifetime Binny’s sponsorship.

  • Matt

    When I went to get my first Hawks sweater a couple years ago I wanted to get a Hammer sweater. The store didn’t have one, so I opted for Crawford, but he would have been my number one choice.

    You mentioned the third pairing being scary. How are they typically used? Is using them primarily in offensive zone draws not how it usually goes? Because if so, I wouldn’t be that stressed about a Daley-Rundblad-Hejda pairing.

    • Bruce

      I’ve got a Kane sweater I’ll sell you cheap.

  • sec. 317

    bot his sweater from triple threat after he had been called up briefly in 08…when scotty bowman says he was willing to stake his whole career that hammer would be a top 2 defenseman i knew it was a good choice. my favorite hawk.