Though Marian Hossa’s last career game was played as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, the history books will show that his official retirement came as a member of the Arizona Coyotes.
On Thursday, the Blackhawks announced that they completed a massive nine-piece deal with the Coyotes that sent the final three years of the veteran winger’s deal to Arizona along with winger Vinnie Hinostroza, defenseman Jordan Oesterle and a 2019 third-round pick in exchange for Marcus Kruger, MacKenzie Entwistle, Jordan Maletta, Andrew Campbell and a 2019 fifth-round selection.
The impetus for the deal, plain and simple, was Hossa’s contract. Even prior to Hossa skating his final game as a Blackhawk during the 2016-17 post-season, speculation was abound that the veteran winger, who was set to see his salary drop drastically as he entered the final four years of his contract, would eventually end up in so-called LTIRetirement and have the last few seasons of his deal moved along. Thursday’s deal completes that process, and it comes little more than one year after it was announced Hossa would no longer be able to continue his career due to a skin disorder.
Effectively, the move frees Chicago from the $5.275 million commitment to Hossa over the next three campaigns and clears up in the range $4.5 million in cap space for the Blackhawks this season with upwards of $7.4 million coming off the books next season when Kruger becomes an unrestricted free agent. In turn, that gives more than $8.5 million to spend ahead of the coming campaign — a type of salary cap freedom seldom found in Chicago over the past several seasons — and nearly $21.5 million next summer. The money that has been freed up will be used one way or another, particularly given Chicago is about one full line shy of fielding an opening night roster with proven NHL-calibre talent.
The Blackhawks aren’t getting away with shedding Hossa’s salary scot-free, however. Hinostroza was a nice, young piece in the Chicago system who came into the lineup last season and played a handy role as a bottom-six scoring option. The 24-year-old managed seven goals and 25 points in 50 games with the Blackhawks, and his speed can be an asset as a depth attacker in Arizona. Meanwhile, Oesterle showed the ability to be a contributing depth defender with some offensive flair. He had five goals and 15 points in 55 games with Chicago last season, and he seems a lock to battle for a bottom-pairing job with the Coyotes.
And even if that’s not necessarily the type of return some might expect given Arizona did the Blackhawks a favor by taking Hossa off their hands, consider what the Coyotes had to give up. Neither Maletta or Campbell will truly compete for a bottom-of-the-roster role in Chicago, while the fifth-round choice is nothing more than a draft-day prayer for the Blackhawks. Kruger is the only NHL ready option, but, familiar face that he is and effective as he may be on the penalty kill, he’s unlikely to last in the Windy City beyond this coming campaign barring a significant pay cut as a free agent. Entwistle has potential as a project prospect, but he’s only that at this point: a project prospect.
Essentially, what Arizona has done is turn their willingness to take on Hossa’s cap hit into two players who can suit up and contribute this season. And this is the type of deal that Chayka and the Coyotes have started to perfect over the past few years.
One of their initial dead-weight deals involved the acquisition of Chris Pronger from the Philadelphia Flyers in June 2015, a move that pre-dated Chayka’s arrival, but Arizona’s incumbent GM has now completed three deals to free other teams from the shackles of the LTIR contract in exchange for assets. Only months into his tenure as team architect, Chayka completed a deal with the Detroit Red Wings to bring Pavel Datsyuk’s contract to Arizona, followed it by taking on Dave Bolland’s contract from the Florida Panthers, and has now added the Hossa contract to the tongue-in-cheek Coyotes Hall of Fame.
It can’t be said that the moves haven’t paid dividends for the Coyotes, either. While nothing much resulted from taking on Pronger’s LTIR money, Arizona has been able to use these deals to now bring aboard four players who can make an impact on the roster this coming campaign. Promising prospect Lawson Crouse came along as part of the Bolland trade, top-four calibre defender Jakob Chychrun was selected after the Coyotes moved up four spots in the first round of the 2016 draft as part of the Datsyuk deal and taking on Hossa’s salary for another three campaigns has landed Hinostroza and Oesterle in the desert, not to mention transforming a fifth-round selection into a third-round pick. Decent haul.
That’s not to say this is a loss for the Blackhawks, either. The swap is a win-win, if anything. Both sides get what they needed. For Arizona, that’s pieces that can help in the immediate in return for taking on an insured contract. Chicago receives cap space now and in the future. And chances are the Blackhawks aren’t done with this deal alone.
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