We know how the NHL feels about the 12-year contract Marian Hossa signed - which was perfectly within the rules at the time - back in 2009. It made that clear during the last lockout when it took the punitive measure of imposing “cap recapture” penalties on such contracts without grandfathering the ones that had already been signed in good faith.
With the stunning news coming out of Chicago that Hossa has a progressive skin disorder that will keep him out of action for all of next season and could spell the end of his career, what does the league think about that? Well, that much is not so certain. Is the NHL satisfied with the facts as they’ve been presented? Has the league seen the medical reports? Will there be any further investigation?
Those precise questions were put to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly by THN.com and here’s what we received in an emailed response: “Yes, we had advance knowledge that today’s announcement was coming and we are familiar with the situation. Not going to comment on it beyond that at this point because we don’t really need to. Will further evaluate at appropriate time.” When asked whether “will further evaluate at appropriate time,” means the league will investigate it further, Daly responded: “Nothing really to ‘investigate.’ ”
Let’s be clear on this. There has been a lot of cynicism about the timing of Hossa’s announcement, in light of the fact that Hossa has four years left on his deal, but has already collected $59.3 million of the $63.3 million of the total contract and that the Hawks would be dinged to the tune of about $3.6 million per year in cap recapture penalties if he were to retire. But it’s conceivable that the Hawks could place Hossa on long-term injured reserve for the next four years, which would give them a whopping $5.3 million in cap relief.
Now for the Hawks, Hossa and the doctors to be able to slide this one past the NHL in a subversive way would require the kind of deception that would send a conspiracy theorist into overdrive. So we’re taking everyone at his word on this, that the 38-year-old Hossa indeed has a malady that will keep him from playing. But the future bears watching here. Will there be the same acceptance if Roberto Luongo develops debilitating groin problems in two years when his salary goes down to $1.6 million and then to $1 million for the two following years? Will Shea Weber suddenly become unable to play in 2023 when his salary goes down to $1 million? Will Zach Parise and Ryan Suter suddenly be stopped in their tracks in 2022 when the same thing happens to them?
The Hossa situation is just another example – Exhibit 2,343,676 by our count – of how a salary cap creates more problems than it solves. And that’s particularly true when the league imposing the salary cap arbitrarily changes the rules in the middle of the game. This is an issue because when the league established the cap, it failed to see the unintended consequence that teams would try to skirt it by signing their players to lengthy front-loaded deals. So it not only put an end to that practice, it penalized those teams that were playing within the rules.
If indeed Hossa does have to retire, it’s a shame that his career would end this way. It’s sad that the announcement came exactly 20 years to the day after he was drafted in 1997. Hossa has been a very good player in the NHL for a long time and a truly solid citizen who belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Now that’s a departure from previous leanings for your trusty correspondent. There was a time when I felt that putting Hossa in the Hall of Fame would be a case of allowing a really good, but not truly great, player into the shrine. But when you look at the body of work and the fact that he has been a key player on three Stanley Cup winners, the verdict is he should be there.
But where I differ from most is on the matter that Hossa is a slam-dunk and there’s absolutely no debate on that. He’s not and there absolutely is. If Hossa were a sure thing, then so would guys such as Dave Andreychuk and Mark Recchi, who are still waiting their turns.
Longtime THN editor Brian Costello, who devotes a lot more time to this stuff than I do, rates Hossa as a good bet, but not a guarantee in his first year of eligibility. That’s a step ahead of bubble candidate, but a big step below a shoo-in. His stats are better than those of Daniel Alfredsson’s, who is a bubble guy this year, but not as good as Andreychuk or Recchi who are good bets to eventually get in. Mats Sundin and Mike Modano both got in in their first years of eligibility, so it would not be a shock to see Hossa do the same. Nor would it be an outrage if it took him a while.
Hossa is recognized as one of the best two-way players of his generation, yet he never finished higher than fifth in Selke Trophy voting and was in the top 10 only three times. He was never a first- or second-team all-star, never won a major individual award and was not a serious consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy in the years the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.
He’ll get there to be sure. But it’s certainly not a given.
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