There never was any real chance that Marian Hossa was coming back. Not at 39 years old, not with a skin condition that prevented him from wearing basic hockey equipment, not with the medication he needed to take to combat that allergy.
Just a month ago, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman made it clear Hossa — who was so sorely missed during the team’s worst season in more than a decade — wasn’t returning.
“His status is unchanged,” Bowman said. “His physical condition hasn’t improved, so at this point there’s no indication he’s going to play next year, either. That’s about all I know at this point.”
Still, there was some seismic finality to Hossa’s admission to a Slovakian newspaper that his NHL career was indeed over. One of the greatest players of his generation, one of the best two-way forwards in the modern era, one of the most important players in Hawks history, and maybe the greatest free-agent signing in Chicago sports history was truly done.
The next time No. 81 is seen at the United Center, it will be either for his inevitable “One More Shift” ceremony, or his jersey retirement ceremony.
“I will not play hockey anymore,” Hossa told Novy Cas.
That doesn’t mean Hossa is officially retiring. He can’t, not without slapping the Hawks with significant recapture penalties that would greatly affect their salary cap moving forward. Hossa will live out the last three years of his contract in Slovakia — he recently put his Gold Coast condo up for sale — before, he hopes, he returns to Chicago in another capacity. He told the Slovakian paper that he’s already discussed a future job in the organization.
The Hawks did not respond to a request for comment, and Hossa could not be reached. The team likely will avoid officially commenting on the end of Hossa’s career until his contract expires, or until they move it to another team.
Hossa told Novy Cas that the NHL sent him to a clinic in Minneapolis before last season to confirm that his medication would not allow him to continue playing. That allowed the Hawks to place him on long-term injured reserve and avoid his $5.25-million cap hit.
The Hawks can continue to put him on LTIR, but more likely will pursue a trade. Hossa’s actual salary is just $1 million over the last three years of his contract, so he could be a valuable asset to a team trying to reach the cap floor. That’s how injured players such as Chris Pronger and Dave Bolland wound up on the Arizona payroll despite having no chance of ever playing for the Coyotes. Bolland hasn’t played since the 2015-16 season, but still will be the Coyotes’ second-highest paid player next season.
The Hawks would have more cap flexibility with Hossa off the roster entirely rather than on LTIR.
When the Hawks announced last spring that Hossa would sit out the 2017-18 season, it was met with arched eyebrows around the league, as fans and opponents alike found it a convenient way to free up some cap space. But the Hawks didn’t utilize most of the cap space, and Hossa’s absence was felt far more than his cap hit ever was. Throughout the season, opponents noticed the difference in the Hawks lineup without him.
“He’s very big and has a ton of skill, and that’s usually very hard to find,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said. “I played enough against him where he made me look silly a couple of times. But he’s a great all-around player. I don’t think he got enough credit for his defensive play, either.”
Said Hossa’s longtime linemate, Jonathan Toews, who suffered without him: “He pretty much puts up almost 30 goals a year, even if he’s on your third line. He was quiet in the sense that I was getting the recognition of being a Selke [Trophy] nominee, but a lot of that I owed to him being such a great two-way forward. It’s kind of funny that missing a guy like Marian Hossa isn’t talked about as often.”
Over his 18-year career, Hossa evolved from a pure sniper — he was a three-time 40-goal scorer — to a brilliant defensive forward. After losing in the Stanley Cup Final in consecutive years with the Penguins and Red Wings, he signed with the Hawks before the 2009-10 season. He turned out to be the final piece of the puzzle, helping the Hawks win the first of three Cups that season. His overtime goal in Game 5 of the Nashville series in 2010 was one of the franchise’s defining moments.
Hossa finishes with 525 goals and 609 assists in 1,309 career games with the Senators, Thrashers, Penguins, Red Wings and Hawks. He had 186 goals and 229 assists in eight seasons with the Hawks.
After winning it all on home ice in 2015, Hossa said he never dreamed his time in Chicago would be so successful.
“I’d say you must be crazy,” he said. “Signing a 12-year deal to Chicago and in the first six winning three Cups, I would never have believed that. I’m just thankful I’m part of this great group and this greta organization.”