Hossa plans to sit out next season because of severe side effects from medication to treat a progressive skin disorder, and it’s unclear if he will be able to play again. The decision creates all sorts of questions for the Blackhawks, ranging from how they might go about replacing the rugged forward to what they might do with any cap space created by his absence.
“Everybody’s got a different style, so we don’t want to say we’re going to go look for a Marian Hossa,” coach Joel Quenneville said Thursday ahead of this weekend’s NHL draft. “I think that recipe, we’re very fortunate the way we did acquire him and how he’s played when we did have him. So, it’s tough to say, but I don’t think you’re going to find him unfortunately.”
Hossa, who signed a $63.3 million, 12-year deal with Chicago in July 2009, played a crucial role in the Blackhawks going from promising young team to a run of three Stanley Cup titles in six seasons. The Slovak winger, long one of the NHL’s best defensive forwards, had 19 goals and 26 assists last season.
The challenge of replacing Hossa will take on increased significance when the Blackhawks report to training camp in September. In the meantime, all eyes are on general manager Stan Bowman and the NHL’s tricky long-term injured reserve.
Hossa’s contract with Chicago was front-loaded, and he’s owed just $1 million in each of the next four seasons. His salary-cap hit for the Blackhawks is $5.275 million each year, potentially creating some valuable space if he goes on that long-term list at some point, as expected. But it’s a much more complicated situation than just spending the money created by his absence.
“You can use offseason LTI and in-season LTI and there’s drawbacks to both, and there’s limitations the way that the league handles those things,” Bowman said. “It’s not as simple as people might think that we just have this ability to suddenly replace Marian with another player. It’s way more involved than that. We’re going to do our work and we’ll figure out a solution to it in time.”
Bowman has been balancing the Blackhawks’ high-priced roster against the salary cap practically since he was promoted to GM in 2009. He also has plenty of experience with the long-term injured list, including when star winger Patrick Kane missed the last part of the 2015 season, but returned in time to help Chicago win the Stanley Cup.
Free agency begins on July 1, but signing a player at or near Hossa’s salary would present its own issues for the Blackhawks.
“If you did that you would be essentially starting the year with an inability to make any transactions,” Bowman said. “And that’s why it’s a harder discussion to have because you’ve got to kind of give you examples of if this happens. But it just doesn’t work that way. I wish it were that simple, but it’s not. It’s a much more complicated provision than people think.”
Hossa was selected by Ottawa in the first round of the 1997 draft and made his NHL debut that same year with the Senators. He has 525 goals and 609 assists in 1,390 regular-season games, also playing for Atlanta, Detroit and Pittsburgh. He has 149 points in 205 playoff games and has appeared in the Stanley Cup Final five times.
The 38-year-old Hossa missed only 46 games over the past six seasons, and Quenneville, a former NHL defenseman, sounded almost amazed that Hossa was able to play as much as he did with his skin condition.
“This is a major issue. It wasn’t easy on him,” Quenneville said. “It was constant pain and constant annoyance. Dealing with it almost full time was something you got to commend him what he was going through and what he was dealing with, that he would get himself ready to play and fight through it.”
Ritch Winter, Hossa’s agent, declined comment in an email to The Associated Press.
Asked if Hossa might be able to play again if there is no change in his condition or available treatments, Bowman said he wasn’t sure.
“I can’t answer that,” he said. “That’s probably something better for Marian. I don’t want to speak for him.”