Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa often said he would keep playing hockey no matter his age so long as his body allowed him to continue.
Hossa’s body may have made up his mind for him.
Hossa will not play in the 2017-18 season because of a “progressive skin disorder” and the “severe side effects” of the medication used to treat it, Hossa said in a statement Wednesday morning.
Hossa’s statement, however, did not say he was retiring from hockey, a distinction that has salary-cap implications for the Hawks.
“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,” Hossa said in the statement released by the Blackhawks. “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.”
If Hossa has played his last game, as appears to be the case, he will finish with Hall of Fame credentials. He played in parts of 19 seasons and compiled 534 career goals while winning three Stanley Cups with the Hawks, whom he signed with on a 12-year, $63.3 million deal before the 2009-10 season. Sportsnet in Canada reported Hossa was dealing with an allergy to his equipment.
“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,” Blackhawks team physician Dr. Michael Terry said in a statement.
“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.”
Despite the condition, which Hossa had a rebound season in 2016-17 with 26 goals and 19 assists. After the Hawks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Nashville Predators, Hossa said he planned on playing in 2017-18.
“I love to be in the gym,” Hossa said on April 22. “I love to train and prepare and maybe one year when I feel it’s not there I’m going to know, but right now I still enjoy it. …
“If I feel like I can not skate anymore keep up with the young guys that would have me thinking at home is it worth it to take somebody’s spot? But I still feel I have something to bring to the team, help the team in different areas so I don’t think that way right now.”
The next question is how Hossa’s inability to play next season affects the Blackhawks’ roster going forward. For next season, the Hawks will lose a player who was still capable of playing at an elite level.
If Hossa were to formally retire, the Hawks would face severe salary-cap recapture penalties for the next four seasons, the remainder of Hossa’s contract. The current collective bargaining agreement set in place these penalties for long-term deals like Hossa’s that were backloaded in terms of their payouts. Hossa is set to make just $1 million each of the next four seasons in real money and carries a cap hit of $5.275 million.
But that’s where the wording of Hossa’s statement comes into play. He did not retire. By saying he could not play next season, Hossa becomes a candidate for long-term injured reserve. The Hawks will likely get some cap relief next season to replace him.
“But he’s irreplaceable,” former Hawks defenseman Brent Sopel said. “You don’t replace a Marian Hossa. The Hawks have a little bit of relief to go an try and find somebody to take that spot, but you’re never going to find another Marian Hossa.”
It’s similar to what the Hawks did in 2015 when Patrick Kane went on long-term injured reserve because of a broken collarbone. Kane missed the remainder of the regular season but returned for the playoffs when the salary cap disappears. The Hawks were able to go over the cap during the regular season to replace him in the amount of Kane’s hit minus the amount of cap space they had prior to Kane’s injury. The Hawks went over the cap during the regular season to replace Kane and keep those acquired players, like center Antoine Vermette, on their playoff roster as they won the Stanley Cup.
The Hawks could do similar with Hossa and gain up to $5.275 million in cap relief for next season. During the offseason, the Hawks can be as much as 10 percent over the cap until the first day of the season, when they have to be cap compliant. Hossa will likely go on injured reserve just before the season to get the Hawks under the cap.
“The Chicago Blackhawks are in full support of Marian Hossa as he addresses his medical issues,” general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement. “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.”
Cynics around the league may point to Hossa’s announcement as a dubious way for the Hawks to get around the crunch of the salary cap. It’s not without precedent.
Some players at the end of their careers are placed on long-term injured reserve and their teams never face the cap penalties associated with it.
For instance, defenseman Chris Pronger was on injured reserve with the Flyers and later the Coyotes through this season even though he hadn’t played a game since 2011 because of the effects of concussions.
Tom Reid, a former Blackhawk and North Star who broadcasts games for the Wild, had to retire in 1978 after an 11-year career because of skin problems related to an allergy with his equipment, or “gunk,” as players called it at the time. Reid told the Tribune his ailment was caused by a combination of friction and sweat and took away a layer of skin from his neck to his waist.
Hossa is widely regarded as one of the best two-way forwards ever to play hockey. He became a star last decade playing for the Senators and later the Thrashers.
“I was sad and shocked,” former Hawk Adam Burish said of the news. “He’s one of the best teammates I ever had. Anybody that played with him will tell you the same thing. The guy works so incredibly hard and I think for the casual fan that watches the Blackhawks and sees Marian Hossa doesn’t understand the time he puts into playing to play as long as he did at a Hall-of-Fame level.”
By 2008, Hossa was hunting for his first Stanley Cup. The Thrashers traded him to the Penguins, who lost in the Cup Final in 2008 to the Red Wings. He joined the Red Wings in 2009 only to lose the Cup Final that year to the Penguins.
But after that season, Hossa’s timing got better. He was tired of going from team to team and wanted long-term stability to start a family with a competitive team that stood a good chance of having long-term success. The Blackhawks were the right fit for Hossa, and he joined a young team that lost in the conference finals the previous season.
Hossa’s success in Chicago matched his vision for what he saw before he signed with the Blackhawks. His two-way prowess played a big part in the Hawks capturing three Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015 and helped cement his legacy.
In 2016, Hossa had a down year with just 13 goals, the lowest single-season output of his career. But he came back last season and put to rest any doubt that he was still physically capable of playing high-level hockey.
But now, the doubt about his career continuing is stronger than it ever has been and it may be over for good.
“This guy works harder than anybody I’ve played with,” Burish said. “For him to have to miss time for something he can’t control or something he can’t work through it’s sad. Because if it was in his control, he’d be playing.”