Veteran defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson is nothing if not loyal. In his 14-year NHL career, Hjalmarsson has never once tested the free agent market. Instead, he has always signed an extension with his current team, each time arguably below market value as well. Hjalmarsson spent a decade in Chicago to begin his career, playing a key role in three Stanley Cup championships. Then, after the team traded him to the Arizona Coyotes, Hjalmarsson again decided to re-sign with his team, despite an unfamiliar rebuild underway in the desert. This season, in the final year of his current contract, Hjalmarsson even told the Coyotes that he would not waive his No-Movement Clause, opting instead to stick it out with his team.
It should come as no surprise then that, with the 33-year-old finally expected to become a free agent this summer, he is considering a return to a former team. No, not the Blackhawks. Swedish new source AftonBladet reports that Hjalmarsson is considering a return to the SHL’s HV71, the club with whom the blue liner played his developmental hockey. Hjalmarsson spent four seasons with HV71 before making the move to North America in 2007, but clearly the club has not forgotten their star alumnus. The report quotes the club’s GM, Johan Hult, as stating that Hjalmarsson is a “dream recruit”. Hult also notes that he has met with Hjalmarsson multiple times – at his home near HV71’s Jonkoping no less – to discuss the possibility of this move.
Of course, Hult admits that the move is dependent on Hjalmarsson not being blown away by an NHL offer this summer. It will be interesting to see what kind of attention, if any, Hjalmarsson draws in the off-season. Formerly a dominant two-way defenseman, Hjalmarsson’s game has slipped over the past few years. With two games left in his 2020-21 season, the veteran defenseman is on pace to record career-lows (among his full NHL seasons) in points per game, plus/minus, and time on ice per game, while his blocks, hits, takeaways, and possession numbers are all down as well. With that said, veteran presence still has value and contenders could still see Hjalmarsson as an experienced third-pair option – at the right price. However, the potential to return home to HV71 to play a major role may be more enticing to Hjalmarsson than chasing a fourth Cup as a depth piece. With the regular season ending soon, we could know shortly what Hjalmarsson’s next step may be.