CHICAGO — The salary-cap strapped Chicago Blackhawks gained a little financial breathing room while arguably making the weakest part of their team even weaker.
Niklas Hjalmarsson, a 30-year-old defenseman who played on all three of the Blackhawks’ recent Stanley Cup teams, was traded to Arizona Coyotes for defenseman Connor Murphy and center Laurent Dauphin.
“Niklas’ contributions to the three Stanley Cup championship teams are well known but his dependability as a teammate, selfless attitude and the way he represented the Chicago Blackhawks on and off the ice are what made him such a beloved member of the organization,” said Chicago Blackhawks Senior Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman. “He made his debut in Chicago in 2008 and quietly established himself as one of the toughest competitors in franchise history. We wish he and his family continued success.”
Murphy is a four-year NHL veteran who had two goals and 15 assists in 77 games last season with the Coyotes, playing 19:11 per night. Dauphin, 22, has played 32 career games in the NHL over the last two seasons with Arizona, scoring three goals and one assist. Last year, he split time between Arizona and the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL. He has one year left at $745,000 before going restricted next summer.
The centerpiece of this trade, obviously, is Hjalmarsson vs. Murphy. The Blackhawks are acquiring a player that’s six years younger and cheaper in the long term: Murphy makes $3.8 million against the cap through 2022, while Hjalmarsson makes $4.1 million over the next two seasons before becoming a UFA.
But they’re also acquiring a player that isn’t Niklas Hjalmarsson, as Tracey Meyers points out:
Hjalmarsson has been a strong, steady presence for the Blackhawks. He once again led the team in blocked shots (181). Plenty of bumps, bruises and pain come with that job description but despite that, Hjalmarsson hasn’t missed much time. Since the 2012-13 season Hjalmarsson has missed just 12 games, and just four of those have been due to injury (suspected back injury last season).
The Blackhawks’ defense looked older and slower in their brief postseason run against the Nashville Predators, and they certainly have to start moving toward the future. But with Hjalmarsson playing at the level he has the past few seasons, his absence will hurt.
Murphy’s an intriguing acquisition here. He was fifth in possession on a bad possession team. Maybe new defensive guru Ulf Samuelsson sees something there. He better. Hjalmarsson is a heck of a loss.
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