By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The tone of coach Joel Quenneville’s voice spoke volumes of what winger Marian Hossa has meant to his Blackhawks. His words were clear, the disappointment real.
The 38-year-old Hossa won’t be suiting up in a Blackhawks sweater for the 2017-’18 season and likely has played his last hockey game altogether. A progressive skin disorder and the side effects from medication to treat it will prevent one of the game’s great two-way players from dressing with his team. On Thursday, general manager Stan Bowman couldn’t say whether Hossa will play again.
In Hossa, the Blackhawks won’t only be missing a future Hall of Famer but also a tremendous teammate. Their three Stanley Cups in the past eight years have come with Hossa’s guidance.
“I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this day, where all of a sudden it’s real,” Quenneville said with his voice somber.
The Blackhawks and Hossa have been facing this realization for some time, with his condition only worsening in the last year, as Quenneville explained. This skin condition is spurred by the contact with his equipment and uniform and finally reached a breaking point.
Over time, the Blackhawks attempted to seek solutions. Quenneville couldn’t manage a number of the constant tests run behind the scenes to keep Hossa on the ice. The team would even provide Hossa with extra off days in an attempt to keep him from putting on the equipment and dealing with more effects from the condition.
Quenneville had seen similar cases of this in hockey before, but not quite like this.
“It’s been a tough process,” Quenneville said. “They turned over every stone to figure out. How it has played out is tough.”
Chicago welcomed in Hossa in summer 2009 on a 12-year, $63.3-million deal, hoping that he could be the missing piece to the organization’s hopes of winning a Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks had just bowed out to the rival Red Wings in the Western Conference Final a little more than a month before, with their young core falling short to a veteran force in Detroit.
Hossa was with the Red Wings in 2009, losing to the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. He was with the Penguins in 2008, losing his championship chance to the Red Wings.
The match made between Hossa and the Blackhawks proved to be enough, with the team capturing the 2010 championship in six games over the Flyers. Hossa finally got to hoist the Cup, then did so twice more, in 2013 and 2015.
“Marian is such an incredible person to be around,” Bowman said. “Let’s just set aside his abilities on the ice. He’s the most classy and humble person I think I’ve ever met. Marian is probably the biggest reason the culture here changed.
“He handles every situation with a perfect amount of humility and class, and I think he was a great role model for our players. I think off the ice, he helped establish a tradition and a culture here that’s going to live on for decades and decades. That’s the thing you remember the most.
“Marian really did everything he could to make the team better.”
Hossa is in the back end of his lengthy contract with the Blackhawks. He’s set to make $1 million in each of the final four seasons of his contract, with the team absorbing a cap hit of $5.275 million in each of those years as it’s spread across the length of the 12-year deal.
Suddenly, the Blackhawks are faced with a harsh reality without Hossa. By placing him on long-term injured reserve, the team will avoid the $5.275 million cap hit and join the NHL’s 30 other teams under the salary cap. There are many complicating factors, but there would be financial relief for Chicago if Hossa goes to LTIR. The NHL will soon examine whether Hossa is eligible for LTIR, league deputy commissioner Billy Daly told reporters Wednesday.
Bowman explained that there are misconceptions with the LTIR provisions and how it impacts the salary cap. He hasn’t yet heard from Daly or the league. The Blackhawks are still sorting through potential solutions, with free agency set to begin on July 1.
If granted the extra grounds from the salary cap, the Blackhawks could potentially move to fill Hossa’s void on the roster. There are other priorities, the latest being adding a defenseman after losing Trevor van Riemsdyk to the Vegas Golden Knights in Wednesday’s expansion draft. Center Marcus Kruger also faces an uncertain future with the team, one directly affected by the situation with Hossa’s cap hit.
While Bowman and the Blackhawks have been aware of Hossa’s condition for some time now, they’re sorting through how it relates to their offseason. They’ll search for a two-way forward and somebody who can make an impact in a critical offseason for the organization, this after two consecutive first-round exits.
But they won’t find one of the greatest ever on the market.
“I don’t think you replace Hoss, because he’s a special player,” Quenneville said.
With the NHL Draft beginning Friday in Chicago and the United Center decked out for a weekend of festivities, the only focus around the building Thursday was on Hossa. Fans roaming through the arena donned his No. 81 on T-shirts, and his jersey is available for purchase at the new team story at the arena.
Come Friday, the Blackhawks will have added an infusion of youth. It’s an exciting time for Bowman, Quenneville and the organization but one dampened by the sudden loss of Hossa.
The Blackhawks are still sorting through the realities of life without one of the game’s great two-way players.