Marian Hossa won’t be playing in the NHL this season (or likely ever again), but his contract is still on the books for the Chicago Blackhawks. Though they can place it on long-term injured reserve to get some cap relief, doing so still complicates things for a team that is always pushing right against the cap ceiling. Because of this there has been plenty of speculation about the team moving out Hossa’s deal to a team closer to the salary cap floor, and that team is the Arizona Coyotes. The Blackhawks have sent Hossa, Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle and a 2019 third-round pick to the Coyotes in exchange for Marcus Kruger, Andrew Campbell, MacKenzie Entwistle, Jordan Maletta and a 2019 fifth-round pick.
This isn’t the first time the Coyotes have done something like this, as they previously took on Pavel Datsyuk’s contract after he returned to Russia, Chris Pronger’s deal after he was forced out of the game by injury, and still have Dave Bolland on the roster despite him never playing a game in Arizona.
Hossa, 39, has three years remaining on the 12-year, $63.3MM contract he signed in 2009, but is actually only owed $3MM in salary due to the front-loaded nature of the deal. That cap hit hurts for the Blackhawks, as Hossa isn’t able to play due to a skin condition that has worsened over his career and forced him into retirement after the 2016-17 season. For Arizona though it wouldn’t have much impact as the team isn’t expected to push all the way up to the cap ceiling this year. For the low cost of covering whatever insurance won’t of the $3MM (CapFriendly reports the deal is 80% insured), they will add assets that could pay off quickly as they try to rebuild the franchise and make it back to the playoffs.
Hinostroza and Oesterle are both useful players who showed last season that there may be more to their skill set than previously believed. The former is a sixth-round pick who has turned into a legitimate NHL offensive threat—Hinostroza scored 25 points in 50 games last season despite relatively limited minutes—and recently signed a two-year contract that will pay him a total of $3MM. He’ll still be a restricted free agent at the contract’s end, and should fit in nicely on a young Arizona roster that wants to play with speed and skill.
The latter, Oesterle, found new life in his career when he debuted in Chicago. Quickly ascending to the top pair alongside Duncan Keith, the undrafted defenseman ended up with 15 points in 55 games and excellent possession statistics. Whether he’ll find that kind of success in Arizona isn’t clear—Oesterle struggled to find playing time on the Edmonton Oilers through the first part of his career—but at the very worst he’s an extremely cheap depth option for the Coyotes. The 26-year old will earn the league minimum of $650K this season before hitting the open market as an unrestricted free agent next summer.
For Chicago, getting anything of value back in a trade like this is a positive. The team has cleared Hossa’s contract off the books while bringing back a familiar face in Kruger, who was part of the team’s last two Stanley Cup victories and had the best seasons of his career in a Blackhawks uniform. Dealing with injury last season he struggled mightily for the Carolina Hurricanes and was eventually sent to the minor leagues. The Blackhawks will hope that’s not the story this year, as he’s still carrying a cap hit of almost $3.1MM.
Maletta and Campbell will more than likely spend the entire 2018-19 season in the minor leagues and aren’t expected to make an impact at any point in the NHL, but Entwistle could be a different story. The 2017 third-round pick is a big lanky winger that played down in the Hamilton Bulldogs lineup this year but made quite an impact in the OHL playoffs. Once a very intriguing prospect the shine has come off him somewhat in the last year, but there’s no telling what he could become at this point. He’ll turn 19 in a few days and will play next season again in the OHL.
There will be obvious speculation surrounding the Blackhawks now that they’ve cleared some cap room, as the team now projects to have $9.3MM in free space for next season. While CapFriendly’s estimate of that number only includes nine forwards and six defensemen, there is obviously room for the team to add some bigger names over the next few months. The team has been linked in the past to potential scoring threats like Jeff Skinner and Max Pacioretty, but will still have to spend their assets carefully in any trade. The team can’t afford to get into any more long-term contracts for aging players if they want to compete down the road, but they do want to give the team a chance at the playoffs this year. You can bet that GM Stan Bowman is still working the phones trying to use that cap space on something, and there isn’t much left on the free agent market that could help the Blackhawks.