Perhaps that four game sweep at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks left such a lasting sting on the San Jose Sharks that revenge was in order. Either that, or they were so impressed with the play of defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson that Doug Wilson felt signing him to an offer sheet would be an instant upgrade of the Sharks’ depleted blue line.

Hjalmarsson has in fact signed a 4-year $14 million offer sheet with the Sharks, which will likely end his tenure with the Blackhawks who find themselves battling the financial constraints of the salary cap. Chicago now has a week to match the offer, or let Hjalmarsson go to San Jose in exchange for a couple of draft picks. Finding room for Hjalmarsson’s new $3.5 million cap hit will be a challenge for the cap-strapped ‘Hawks.

Offer sheets are nothing new, having become all the more popular in the post-lockout era. For the most part, teams have chosen to match poaching offers. Other than the Anaheim Ducks refusal to match Edmonton’s offer sheet on Dustin Penner, we have to go back to 1997 when the Philadelphia Flyers inked Chris Gratton to a 5-year $16.5 million offer sheet which the Tampa Bay Lightning declined to match.

Below is a table outlining the six offer sheets that have been tendered since the NHL returned from its year long layoff in 2005:

Player Date Offer Sheet Offering Team Original Team Result
Ryan Kesler Sept. 12, 2006 1-Year $1.9M Philadelphia Vancouver Matched
Thomas Vanek July 6, 2007 7-Year $50M Edmonton Buffalo Matched
Dustin Penner July 26, 2007 5-Year $21.5M Edmonton Anaheim Accepted
David Backes July 1, 2008 3-Year $7.5M Vancouver St. Louis Matched
Steve Bernier July 8, 2008 1-Year $2.5M St. Louis Vancouver Matched
Niklas Hjalmarsson July 9, 2010 4-Year $14M San Jose Chicago Pending

The Anaheim Ducks, much like the Blackhawks today, were facing limitations due to the salary cap and had to let Dustin Penner go to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round draft picks.  We all remember how Brian Burke felt about Kevin Lowe’s poaching of Penner.  Although the collective bargaining agreement makes offer sheets fair game, it’s obviously unsettling for respective general managers.  Just take a look at the ‘eye-for-an-eye’ offer sheets tendered between St. Louis and Vancouver in 2008, forcing opposing GMs to pay a premium for the restricted free agents obviously doesn’t sit well.

So now Stan Bowman is faced with the unenviable task of letting a 23-year old skilled defenseman walk away, or finding a quick deal to free-up some precious cap space.  After already being forced to dismiss Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd, the Blackhawks are now looking at another key piece of their championship team being severed due to the financial pressures of the cap.  Is it the cost of winning a Stanley Cup, or merely the price to pay for past mismanagement?