There are a lot of parts to the eye-catching, nine-piece trade that went down on Thursday, but the one thing that truly matters is that Marian Hossa’s contract is no longer on the Blackhawks’ books.
Oh, there’s no doubt that Vinnie Hinostroza — the sweetener that convinced the Arizona Coyotes to take on Hossa’s three years of dead money — will be missed. He gave the plodding Hawks some much-needed speed, and proved last season that he was a viable middle-six winger and not the AHL/NHL tweener he had previously been made out to be.
And yes, Marcus Kruger’s return to Chicago is intriguing, despite the mixed (at best) results the Hawks have gotten from bringing back former Stanley Cup champions over the years. Kruger ended last season with the Carolina Hurricanes’ AHL team, a shell of his former lockdown self, but it turned out he was playing through a sports hernia injury that he had surgically repaired in April. He’s still only 28, and has just one year left on his contract, so there’s little risk in putting him in his familiar fourth-line role ahead of, say, David Kampf or Dominik Kahun.
“I couldn’t be any more happy,” Kruger said. “Ready to go and just really excited to be back. … I can’t think of a better place than here to come back and show that I can play and be a good player.”
But what’s important here is the cap space — and the cap flexibility — opened up by unloading Hossa’s $5.25-million cap hit on the Coyotes, who have made similar dead-money deals for the contracts of Dave Bolland, Pavel Datsyuk and Chris Pronger in the past. The Hawks now have about $8.5 million in cap space with three or four roster spots left to fill. And if Kruger’s return makes Artem Anisimov that much more expendable, that number could increase by another $4.55 million.
Enough to swing a deal for Carolina’s Justin Faulk, who would look great on the top pairing and the top power play. Maybe even enough to acquire both Faulk and Jeff Skinner, a 26-year-old three-time 30-goal scorer whom Hawks general manager Stan Bowman has long had his eye on. Or maybe enough to land Montreal forward Max Pacioretty a four-time 30-goal scorer who could fill the void on the left wing of Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane. Or, heck, why not go for broke and say it’s enough to bring in Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, the best defenseman in the world, who happens to be on the market and entering the final year of his contract.
There’s no telling what the Hawks will do next. But it had better be something. They simply can’t enter training camp with the current roster. Not if they expect to return to the playoffs and to Stanley Cup contention after a miserable last-place season. Not in a Central Division that’s only getting better, with the Blues and Avalanche loading up via free agency and trades.
As for Thursday’s trade, the full details are as follows: Hossa, Hinostroza, defenseman Jordan Oesterle and a third-round pick in the 2019 draft for Kruger, 18-year-old prospect MacKenzie Entwistle, minor-league center Jordan Maletta, minor-league defenseman Andrew Campbell and a fifth-rounder next year. Maletta and Campbell are basically spare parts, bound for Rockford.
The return is underwhelming, but most importantly, the Hawks get significant cap flexibility. Hossa, who will never play again because of a skin disorder, was on long-term injured reserve last season, but dumping the contract on Arizona makes it much easier to actually use that cap space. The Hawks released a statement thanking Hossa for his memorable eight seasons with the Hawks (186 goals and 229 assists) and for waiving his no-movement clause to facilitate the trade.
The trade is reminiscent of the one that sent Bryan Bickell and his $4-million cap hit to Carolina. That one included Teuvo Teravainen as the sweetener. This time, it’s Hinostroza, the Bartlett product who had a breakout season last year, with seven goals and 18 assists in 50 games, frequently playing in the top six.
“Vinnie is a dynamic, right-shot forward with high-end skill,” Coyotes GM John Chayka said. “We expect he will continue to grow his game with increased opportunity.”
Oesterle posted five goals and 10 assists in 55 games last season, but Brandon Manning’s signing made him easily expendable.
Hossa’s brilliant career ended abruptly last spring when doctors told him the side effects from the medications he took to combat the skin condition were too severe. Hossa will go down as the greatest free-agent signing in Chicago sports history, the last piece of the puzzle for the first of three Stanley Cup seasons. After reaching the Stanley Cup Final in consecutive years with the Penguins and Red Wings, he signed with the Hawks before the 2009-10 season.
Over his 18-year career, the three-time 40-goal scorer reinvented himself as one of the game’s great defensive forwards. He finished his Hall of Fame career with 525 goals and 609 assists in 1,309 career games with the Senators, Thrashers, Penguins, Red Wings and Hawks.