AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward

Note from Bartl: I am very proud to welcome the newest addition to Cheer the Anthem: Chris Deme, who is the creator of the famous Facebook page Joel Quenneville’s Mustache. Chris is finishing up this year of law school at the moment, but he will be adding his thoughts on a regular basis. Please give him a warm welcome, as we are all very excited to have him on here at CtA!

Mentioning the name Niklas Hjalmarsson around Hawks fans these days is sure to start a debate, not only about Hjammer’s current state, but also his future on the Hawks.  It almost seems like a “Civil War” is brewing amongst Hawks fans about what to do with him, with half of Chicago wanting to give him the ax, while the other half are ready to drop to their knees and beg Bowman to stick with him.  As a law student, I’ve been trained to examine both sides of every issue or argument, so I’m notorious for playing devil’s advocate in everything I do.  That being said, let’s take a look at both sides of this debate.

Let’s start with Hjammer’s numbers, because as the saying goes, numbers don’t lie.

•  Age: 24

•  Cap Hit: $3.5 million through 2014

•  Goals: 0

•  Assists: 2

•  +/-:  4

•  Blocked Shots: 62

•  Hits: 19

•  Average TOI: 20:23

Pros:

Hjalmarsson is 24 years old, which means he still has time to improve.

Hjalmarsson, along with teammate Sami Lepisto, lead Blackhawks defensemen with a +4.

Hjalmarsson’s blocked shots currently rank 4th in the NHL just behind Josh Gorges, Ladislav Smid, and Niklas Kronwall.  He has improved his shot-blocking skills each season.  In 2009-2010, Hjalmarsson posted 137 blocked shots.  After the departure of shot-blocking specialist Brent Sopel the following year, Hjammer posted a team-leading 166 blocked shots (13th in the NHL).  This season, Hjammer is on pace for just shy of 200 blocked shots.  He has undoubtedly taken over as the shot-blocking specialist on the team.

Cons:

Hjalmarsson has not learned how to check.  When he checks, he checks hard, but for a guy who is 6’3″ and 210 lbs, he should be using that body far more often.  His 19 hits this year has him 13th on the team, trailing even Marian “Enrique” Hossa.

Hjalmarsson’s offensive stats have fallen in each of his two seasons since winning the Cup.  In 2009-2010, Hjammer posted 17 points.  The following season, last year, Hjammer posted 10 points.  This season, Hjammer is on pace for 6.5 points.

Hjalmarsson’s cap hit of $3.5 million, makes him the third highest paid defenseman on the Hawks.

Hjalmarsson has struggled significantly with moving the puck to his forwards to set up breaks.

Conclusion:

The Blackhawks’ struggles at the blue line are no mystery.  They are very real and very evident in each and every game.  The passing is sloppy.  The defense is getting crushed by forechecking.  Defensive turnovers are costing us goals and momentum left and right.

It should be becoming clearer by the minute that Hjalmarsson either needs to pick it up or should be packing his bags shortly.  Yes, the Blackhawks have over $5 million in cap space, but are we really prepared to spent $3.5 million dollars per year on a shot-blocking specialist?  Some of that money could be invested elsewhere.  Hjalmarsson is still young and could be used as trade bait to land a cheaper, big, checking, stay-at-home defenseman in a package deal with someone to help out the forwards.

Of course, the other option is to stick around and wait for Hjalmarsson to pick it up a bit, but this patience is sure to run thin if the blue line struggles continue.