In the grand scheme of things, signing a defenseman who played only 48 games last season and had just one goal is not going to cause the earth to shatter, but the Arizona Coyotes inking Nicklas Hjalmarsson to a two-year contract extension worth $10 million is a huge sign of progress for one of the league’s most moribund franchises.
Good things are happening in Arizona, in large part due to the efforts of GM John Chayka. But with the announcement of the extensions to Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Hjalmarsson today not only solidified the Coyotes defense corps, but also sent a signal to the rest of the league that they are intent on not continuing to be the Montreal Expos of the NHL. The fact they were willing to commit $5 million a year to a player on the other side of 30 who still has a year left on his contract is a clear indication of that. (It’s important to note that Hjalmarsson is still under contract for $4.1 million in 2018-19 before the extension kicks in, so they have him for three more seasons.)
Until this summer, the Coyotes had made an annoying habit of developing players not named Shane Doan for other teams that took advantage of their financial situation to scoop up their best players. Partly because the NHL requires a team to spend a minimum on players and someone has to make money and partly because Chayka is quietly and methodically building something in Arizona, the Coyotes are starting to be able to keep their own players.
On the ice, the Coyotes really haven’t yet seen what they hope to have in Hjalmarsson. After his trade to the Coyotes from the Chicago Blackhawks last summer, Hjalmarsson was limited to just 48 games. But at the age of 31, he still has some game left and the way he plays the game will not be as impacted by age as it might be for other players. Hjalmarsson is a shutdown defender and shot blocker and $5 million a year is an awful lot to pay a player who does that, but when you’re trying to establish something with a group of young players, he brings certain intangibles that will help.
“Hammer is just a winner in every aspect of life,” Chayka said. “To have that attitude and mindset is amazing and I know it (rubs) off on people. He works day-in and day-out and our coaching staff has a tremendous amount of respect for him. I know he’s motivated and excited to be a Coyote.”