It’s been a bittersweet week for Blackhawks fans. From the Hossa news, to the two trades, to hosting the NHL Draft at the UC, it’s been a six day roller coaster ride.
Part of it was the Hawks’ trading of veteran defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes. In return the Hawks received Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin. Out of the two, Murphy has the highest upside as a young defenseman that the Hawks can hopefully mold into another Seabrook or Hjalmarsson type D-man.
While it’s easy to see why the trade was necessary given the Hawks’ current cap and roster situation, it doesn’t mean that losing Hammer doesn’t sting. We’ve talked a lot about how the Hawks’ biggest need was to get younger on defense this summer. Nostalgia aside, this trade did just that.
Despite the logic, Hammer has still been a core piece in the Hawks’ defense for the last ten years. While Seabrook and Keith have gotten more “glory” in big moments, Hjalmarsson has consistently been the steady force and unsung hero.
His smothering defense, checking and shot blocking have been so critical to the Hawks’ success. It seemed like every time a Hawk blocked a shot we’d look and see that it was Hjalmarsson. It became so commonplace that we just always expected him to always be the one wearing the shot. In ten years he’s racked up 1,186 official shot blocks.
I remember the first time I heard who Niklas Hjalmarsson even was. I was at my cousin’s house. It was either 2008 or 2009, a road game against the Red Wings. It may have even been his first career goal. But before Hammer even scored we had all been talking about this new defenseman with the really confusing last name who wore number four. Next thing we knew Hjalmarsson scored and we all went crazy. After the goal we all did our best to sound out Hjalmarsson.
I think even the announcers got it wrong.
As his young career budded, Hammer continued to endear himself to Hawks fans and the Chicago community. While many times not peppering the scoresheet, he became a steady presence of a Hawks defense that eventually anchored three Cup runs.
Hammer’s best years came while paired with his Swedish countryman Johnny Oduya. The two of them were crucial pieces in the Hawks’ run to Stanley Cup triumphs in 2013 and 2015.
Hjalmarsson was unfortunately robbed of maybe his biggest moment of glory in Game 7 against Detroit. Tied 1-1 in the waning minutes, the Hawks came up on a rush as players tangled in the neutral zone. Hammer floated into the slot and ripped a missle past Jimmy Howard to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead and send the UC into orbit with just over a minute left. It would forever be the goal remembered that dethroned the hated Red Wings.
Except that it wasn’t.
The referees had blown the whistle behind the play, handing out matching penalties, taking away what looked to be the Hawks’ winning goal.
Of course, Seabrook would score in overtime to send the Hawks to the Western Conference Final. They had gotten the job done despite almost having it stolen away by the refs. But I always felt really bad that Hammer was stripped of that great moment. I’m sure the OT winner, and three rings, have made up for it for him, but I feel like it played into the underappreciation he received at times.
He’s been a quiet producer for the Hawks. While never overly flashy, Hammer always made the greasy plays to flip the ice to set up, or bail out, his teammates. He’s everything you want to have in a defenseman, and he was our guy.
Hjalmarsson is yet another guy from the 2010 championship team to leave Chicago. Current salary rules make it nearly impossible to keep title teams together, but it’s sad to see the number of 2010 guys continue to dwindle. The pruning is obviously necessary to keep moving forward, but nevertheless still sad. We’ve lost Hossa and Hammer just in the last six days, now only down to Toews, Kane, Seabrook and Keith (and Campbell, I guess).
This was part of Hammer’s statement following the difficult trade: “I had the best time in Chicago. I enjoyed every single year playing in front of the best crowd in the league and the best fans. I was spoiled and had a great time. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and create some new memories.”
Hammer has been nothing but first class in his time here. Him and his wife have also been great in the community here as well. Great ambassadors for the Blackhawks and the sport in general.
While the business of sports will never change, this one is still a tough one to swallow. I’m going to miss Nik Hjalmarsson a ton, I’m going to miss hearing Pat Foley’s calls of “HJAAAAAALMARSON,” and I wish him nothing but the best out in the desert.
Chicago’s unsung hero.