Following the stunning news that Marian Hossa would miss the entire 2017-18 season, much has been written, spoken, and analyzed regarding the loss of an impactful player. At 38, Hossa still put up great numbers (26-19-45) with the Hawks and continued to be the two-way forward whose best contributions often came away from the puck. It goes without saying that Hossa’s signing prior to the 2009-10 season was the missing piece that fulfilled the Chicago machine that won three Stanley Cups over the next six seasons. Often described as a true gentleman and all-around great human being, one can’t help but feel bad for a guy who appeared to still have several good years of hockey left in him–not to mention the effect it’s had on his life.
So now what?
There are a myriad of issues at play here, some of which have already begun to discussed. Long rumored to be traded to Vegas, center Marcus Kruger still finds himself a member of the Blackhawks. While it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll still be in the Windy City come training camp, it’s very likely that the loss of Hossa gave the Blackhawks brass pause in terms of ensuring their depth isn’t totally wiped out. Though Kruger hasn’t put up the numbers that earned him the $3.08MM contract he owns, he’s still a very worthy center who like Hossa, makes his impact felt off the scoresheet, mostly on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circle.
But his contract is still cumbersome for a player who hasn’t cracked 20 points since the 2013-14 season. Unloading the contract, if they can, would help with additional cap issues and that was apparently the plan until the Hossa announcement. But it’s anyone guess as to what Chicago will do.
Chicago Sportsnet’s Tracey Myers goes writes that general manager Stan Bowman feels it’s unfair to speculate about a player’s status. Having Kruger off the books along with Hossa’s contract would certainly free up over $8MM. But if Kruger isn’t moved, it’s not an issue since Hossa’s contract will come off the books.
Should the Blackhawks get cap relief from placing Hossa on the LTIR, it would relieve north of $5MM. This would allow Chicago to fill it with another player or two in theory. But it’s not as cut and dry as it sounds. Myers goes on to explain:
Here are two basics about the cap: a team can be 10 percent over it during the summer, and a team must be at or below it the day the regular season begins. If the Blackhawks place Hossa on LTIR, it wouldn’t take effect until the second day of the regular season. So on Day 1 of the season, the Blackhawks would still be carrying Hossa’s $5.275 cap hit.
Once the LTIR would take effect, though, the Blackhawks would have wiggle room. If they spent to the $75 million cap, they could utilize Hossa’s entire $5.275 million cap hit on other players.
It’s not about the Blackhawks finding a guy this summer that makes an equal cap hit.
The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Hine doubles down on this, tweeting that Chicago most likely won’t be major players after July 1. Hine wrote earlier today that one other option the Hawks would have would be trading the contract to another team, to completely escape the hit should the league deny the move to the LTIR, though this seems unlikely.
Teams eager to reach the cap floor would stuff the contract away, and Hossa, if this truly ends his career, would never take the ice for that team. The Arizona Coyotes have done this in the past, taking Pavel Datsyuk and Chris Pronger’s contracts when it was known their playing days were over.
The reality is that the Blackhawks are not only losing a great player, but also a leader. And that’s not instantly replaceable. Though there are options in free agency, adding a Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau should they become available would still garner considerable cost, one that doesn’t seem justified. Players like T.J. Oshie would require a longer deal team for a lot of dollars, a spot the Blackhawks can’t possibly be in. As for Kevin Shattenkirk, he’s rumored to be heavily interested in the New York Rangers and while it would be an upgrade on the blueline, he would fall under the category of too expensive as well.
So what options are left? Thankfully, help is on the way in the name of Alex DeBrincat, who set the OHL on fire as a member of the Erie Otters. Though the Hawks will exercise patience with him, he at least is a glimmer of hope with a scoring prowess and coming in at the age of 19. But don’t doubt Bowman’s to find a deal. The most likely upgrade will come from a trade, one that will address some of the concerns while keeping things economically viable.
Few players are irreplaceable, but Hossa certainly seems to be. Between the contract issues and the loss of him on the roster, the Blackhawks certainly have a number of interesting decisions ahead to try and fill the void.