Marian Hossa and a sickening Blackhawks salary cap escape

LAS VEGAS – Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa, a 38-year-old winger, will miss the entire 2017-18 season with what he calls a “progressive skin disorder.” It’s an allergy to the very equipment he wears, and the treatment he’s undergone has “severe side effects” that have impacted his life.

His team, which is currently the only one in the NHL that’s over the $75 million salary cap, will place him on long-term injured reserve, effectively taking his $5.275 million contract off the cap, which will allow them to make impactful moves for high-salaried help after getting swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season – moves that, frankly, would have been impossible otherwise given how many no-movement clauses are attached to their own high-salaried players, including Hossa.

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Now, if you were able to make it through that entire preamble without a moment of cynicism about this entire situation, congratulations. We envy your endlessly optimistic life, and what we assume is your job as greeter at the gates of Disneyland.

Now, for the rest of us cynical bastards: This is sickening.

This is one of the saddest, oddest, most uncomfortable and most convenient bits of hockey news to come along since … well, since Chris Pronger was both a member of the Philadelphia Flyers’ long-term injured reserve and the NHL’s Department of Players Safety.

Like Hossa, Pronger had a situation where his hockey career was put in jeopardy through factors beyond his control – in his case, concussion effects. Like Hossa, Pronger had a contract that was problematic for the Flyers – in his case, a $4.9 million salary cap hit that would have counted for years had he retired.

So he didn’t. He was just on long-term injured rpatrikeserve while working for the NHL, before he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes so he could count towards their cap floor.

Again, this isn’t meant to question the health concerns of either individual. In Hossa’s case, everything sounds really painful and undeniably tragic: a guy can’t do the thing that he loves because his body literally rejects it.

From Hossa:

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. 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 both on and off the ice.

From the Blackhawks:

The Chicago Blackhawks are in full support of Marian Hossa as he addresses his medical issues. This is extremely difficult for us because we all know the incredible person and player that Marian Hossa is – competitive, loyal and humble. 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. 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.

From Blackhawks team physician Dr. Michael Terry:

Marian has been dealing with the effects of a progressive skin disorder that is becoming more and more difficult to treat and control with conventional medications while he plays hockey. Because of the dramatic nature of the medications required and their decreasing effectiveness, we strongly support his decision not to play during the 2017-18 season. We feel in the most certain terms this is the appropriate approach for Marian in order to keep him functional and healthy in the short term and throughout his life.

Notice anything missing from all three statements?

Any mention of Hossa working back from this and continuing his playing career.

Because we all know that’s probably not happening.

He turns 39 in January. He’ll have missed a full season due to this skin condition. The idea that he’s going to ramp it up and skate into his 40s is unlikely. And for the Chicago Blackhawks, from a salary cap perspective, it’s unpalatable.

Hossa has a hit of $5.275 million against the cap through 2021, thanks to the 12-year deal that started in 2009. Please note that his base salary dropped from $4 million last season to $1 million in 2017-18, and then it’s $1 million annually through the end of his contract, which is an amazing coincidence when said player suddenly steps away from hockey, isn’t it?

(deep, cynical sigh)

If Hossa had retired, the cap recapture penalty would be $3.675 million of dead space on the Blackhawks’ cap through 2020-21. So long-term injured reserve bails out the Blackhawks spectacularly, because they were in salary cap hell: No-move clauses for Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Hossa, Artem Anisimov (!), Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and partial ones for Corey Crawford and Niklas Hjalmarsson. I had an actual conversation with someone who covers the Blackhawks about them potentially trading Artemi Panarin because their options to shake up this roster and add, let’s say, to their blue line were so limited. That’s the level of hell they’re in.

Before Hossa’s announcement, at least.

And so we come back to the crux of this ugly, prickly mess: That the NHL’s own financial system created an environment where Marian Hossa’s stunning departure from the NHL is treated as a shady financial transaction first and a tragic end to a Hall of Fame career second.

That the retroactive punishment for a legal, approved contract has planted that cynical seed in our minds that Hossa’s announcement was perhaps a little too convenient for his team. Which again, is a sickening thought, but here we are.

Cap recapture sucks. It was Gary Bettman’s petty punishment against teams that smartly gamed the system they helped create. The teams signed these players to dozen-year contracts with small-salary final seasons under the terms of that CBA, and the contracts were approved by the NHL without any caveat that future punishment could befall them.

(From a philosophical standpoint, allowing teams to lock up their own assets – that they drafted, trained, marketed and built around – for as long as they damn well please was good for business in the NHL. Unless you believe the Chicago Blackhawks’ three Stanley Cups were bad for business, because the back-diving contracts for Hossa and Duncan Keith were major reasons they were able to happen in a capped league.)

Hossa signed a deal in 2009 that neither he nor the Blackhawks ever had an intention of seeing through to 2021, when he would be a 42-year-old winger. Ending his career before the end of his contract was preordained, and the cap was successfully circumvented until the 2012 lockout rewrote the rules.

And now he and the Blackhawks have circumvented it again, allowing Hossa’s cap hit to potentially linger on long-term injured reserve in perpetuity, so long as he has an expressed desire to play again like Pronger did.

“We all know the incredible person and player that Marian Hossa is – competitive, loyal and humble,” said Stan Bowman.

He was humble in his admission that his ailment had finally superseded his playing career. He was loyal in making the decision to sit out next season and potentially hold off his retirement for years. Which, in the end, will make the Blackhawks more competitive.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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