Some shocking news was swirling around the hockey world last night, and was confirmed by the Blackhawks this morning. Hossa said in a statement:
“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.”
The statement can be viewed in its entirety here. While the statement only rules Hossa out for the upcoming season, there are several reports that Hossa’s career is over.
This is a shock to Hawks fans and hockey fans in general. This is a complicated and rapidly-developing situation, so it is important to analyze it in detail.
What does this mean for the Blackhawks?
As you are probably aware, the Hawks are struggling with the salary cap, and while they have some opportunities to unload salary with the Expansion and Entry Drafts coming up, it will still not be easy for Stan Bowman to get under the cap. Benny did a nice job of summarizing this situation yesterday if you want to learn more. Hossa being out for this season and possibly longer obviously greatly impacts this situation. If (when) the Hawks place Hossa on the Long Term Injury Reserve (LTIR), his $5,275,000 cap hit will not be counted this year. If his situation does not improve, he will almost certainly be left on the LTIR until his contract is up, since a formal retirement would trigger a cap recapture penalty of several million dollars per year until his contract is up in 2020-21. This strategy has been used before, most notably after concussions ended Chris Pronger’s career in 2011.
Obviously this will free up some cap space, but at what price? Last season, at age 38, Hossa was third on the team in goals behind only Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, and fifth in points. He is an excellent two-way player on a defense-thin team, and is a consistent penalty killer on a team that often struggles with consistent penalty killing. On top of all this, he is, by all reports, a tremendous leader, which is extremely important on a fairly young team like the Hawks. That is obviously a lot to lose.
What does this mean for Hossa?
This development is actually not the worst thing that could happen to Hossa. Because of the way that his contract is structured, although his cap hit is over $5 million, he is only getting paid $1 million a year for the next four years. He is 38 years old and has a family. He has made several millions of dollars in his career. He has three Stanley Cups. Is it worth battling a significant illness every day, along with the other injury risks (namely concussions) that go along with playing hockey at the highest level, at his age, for only $1 million a year? Only he can answer that, but it would not surprise me if he answered “no.” Does Hossa want to end his career by getting swept in the first round? Of course not, he wants to end it by raising the Cup over his head. Every player does. Does he want to go out suddenly, with no “farewell tour,” as has become customary for retiring superstars? He, being very humble, is probably fine without all the attention. Those tours, in my opinion, are more for the fans than anything. In the long run, I do not think that it is a bad move to step away now in order to preserve his health for the rest of his life.
Also, most players see a steep decline at the end of their careers. Hossa has not seen it yet, but is definitely due for a downswing. I would hate to see a few bad seasons around age 40 tarnish his sterling legacy.
Speaking of legacy, it is worth taking a look back at what he has done for the Hawks and for the game of hockey. He has played in over 1300 games in his 19-year NHL career. He has scored over 500 goals. He has scored over 1000 points. As mentioned before, he has won three Stanley Cups. He is a no-doubt hall-of-famer. If Hossa’s career is indeed over, he will live forever with the greats of the NHL. He will also never be forgotten as an integral piece of Chicago’s first Stanley Cup in 49 years, and the two thereafter.
So how should fans feel about this?
When I first heard rumors about the situation, my first reaction was to commend the Hawks for what I thought was a creative way to circumvent the salary cap. I joked about it. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was wrong to think like that. It is easy to look at athletes as pawns that exist for your entertainment, but when you realize that they are real people with real lives and real families, the situation becomes sad. Marian Hossa is struggling with a real, painful skin condition. His health and financial future are potentially at stake. Yes, he has more money than any of us could possibly imagine. However, please realize that he has earned this money by being one of the most talented human beings to ever wear hockey skates. He has also helped mentor countless younger players. It is not a stretch to imagine that Patrick Kane would not be the player that he is today without Hossa’s help. Hossa was also one of the only players, along with maybe Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, to give 100% every game over the last 7+ seasons. To see his career potentially end like this is sad, and nothing else.
He has given so much to the Blackhawks organization. He has brought so much joy to the fans, and done it with so much class. As fans, we have taken his consistent greatness for granted. If nothing else, this situation should make fans take notice of everything that Hossa has accomplished in his hall-of-fame career.