For 19 remarkable seasons, it was almost impossible to knock Marian Hossa off the puck — the chiseled Slovak winger was too big, too strong and too savvy for opponents to handle. But a skin condition might have knocked him out of the NHL altogether.
Hossa, 38, will miss the 2017-18 season and his career could be over because of what he called a “progressive skin disorder” and what team doctor Michael Terry described as the “dramatic nature” and “decreasing effectiveness” of the medication he has been taking.
“Over the course of the last few years, under the supervision of the Blackhawks’ medical staff, I have been privately undergoing treatment for a progressive skin disorder and the side effects of the medications involved to treat the disorder,” Hossa said in a released statement. “Due to the severe side effects associated with those medications, playing hockey is not possible for me during the upcoming 2017-18 season. While I am disappointed that I will not be able to play, I have to consider the severity of my condition and how the treatments have impacted my life on and off the ice.”
Hossa’s agent, Ritch Winter, said the Hawks star — inarguably the best free-agent signing in team history — will not comment further.
Hossa, a future Hall of Famer and three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Hawks, will be difficult to replace. He has long been one of the top defensive forwards in the game and enjoyed a bounce-back season — his 19th in the NHL — with 26 goals, the third-highest total on the team. But Hossa’s stunning decision to step away will have a dramatic effect on the Hawks’ salary-cap situation. Hossa has four years left on his back-diving 12-year contract signed before the 2009-10 season, and if he simply retired, the Hawks would be hit with a “recapture” penalty of more than $4 million against the cap for the next four years.
Instead, the Hawks can put Hossa on long-term injured reserve in October, instantly giving them up to $5.275 million in cap relief. In other words, they’ll be allowed to exceed the $75 million salary cap by up to that much. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told reporters in Las Vegas that the league would rule by July 1 on whether Hossa is eligible for LTIR, but it’s likely a mere formality.
So with Trevor van Riemsdyk off to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, and Marcus Kruger and his $3.08 million cap hit still possibly on the trading block, the Hawks suddenly could have more than $6 million to play with as they pursue a replacement for Hossa and a backup goaltender when free agency begins July 1. Teams don’t have to be cap-compliant until opening night (which was announced Wednesday as Oct. 5 against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins) and are allowed to be up to 10 percent over the cap during the offseason as they massage their rosters.
Despite the legitimate medical situation, the move raised eyebrows and provoked snarky conspiracy theories around the hockey world, considering Hossa’s actual salary suddenly drops to $1 million for these last four seasons. But the Hawks wouldn’t be the first team to use such a situation to gain cap relief. Chris Pronger stopped playing in 2011 but was still considered an “active player” with the Arizona Coyotes this past season.
Hossa has 525 goals and 609 assists in 1,309 games and indicated after the season that he was planning to return to the Hawks. He said he felt better physically and mentally this past season than he did during a difficult 2015-16 campaign, and when asked if he was thinking about calling it quits, he responded, “I’m not calling anything.”
“He has played a major role in the success our franchise has experienced in recent years, which makes his departure from our lineup a significant loss,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “His teammates and coaches know he battled through some very tough physical difficulties but never complained or missed games despite the challenges he faced. The organization will continue to provide him every resource he needs to maintain his health.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.