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Marian Hossa’s incredible NHL career deserves a better ending than this

This can’t be the end, right?

Philadelphia Flyers v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I was talking about the Chicago Blackhawks offseason with some friends on Tuesday night when I made the offhand comment: “Hey, remember when Marian Hossa was a perennial choker who was never going to win the Stanley Cup?”

I mention that anecdote because it’s the only way I can think of to segue into the bombshell dropped by Sportsnet reporter Elliotte Friedman this evening: we may have seen the last of Hossa’s career.

The only thing more shocking than the news itself? The details.

According to several sources, there is a legitimate possibility Hossa has played his final NHL game. (He could not be reached for comment. Neither could his agent, Ritch Winter. The Blackhawks declined to comment.) Apparently, he suffers from a serious allergic reaction to the equipment he wears.

The sources who confirmed the allergy stressed not to make fun of it, with one saying, “It’s only funny to anyone who’s never had it.” Details are sketchy, because no one would give full information, but the medication necessary to combat the allergy is potent enough that doctors wanted his blood tested every few weeks to make sure there were no major side effects.

Like the rest of you, I’m stunned. I’m in shock. An allergy is going to end the career of the demi-god? This doesn’t happen to someone who’s immortal.

Two types of free agents

I can’t remember where I picked this up, but free agent acquisitions in pro sports typically fall into two categories. The mercenary types, who stick with your team for a year or two, without leaving any significant impact, and then there are the players who become part of the fabric of your franchise.

When Hossa first signed with the Hawks in the summer of 2009, I thought he was going to be in the former category, not the latter. He’d just spent seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings, respectively, losing the Stanley Cup at the end of each of those seasons. I still have nightmares about the Blackhawks-Red Wings shootout that he ended by firing a slapper from the top of the faceoff circles past Antti Niemi.

I figured he’d chase another Cup or two with the Hawks and then they’d somehow find a way to unload his incredibly long contract. I didn’t think he was going to become a staple of the franchise. A member of the “core,” if you will.

What a joy to watch when he arrived in 2009.

He was everywhere, man. He’d carry the puck into the zone and hold it by himself for 15 seconds until a teammate got open. In the neutral zone, his red sweater was a blur across the screen during one of his patented, ferocious back-checks. And point shots just didn’t get to the net when Hossa was covering that defenseman.

But the moment that things changed, in my mind, was perhaps the most cringe-inducing moment of this whole run: when Hossa was nearly decapitated by Raffi Torres in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Seeing Hossa out on the ice made me worry that we’d just witnessed the end of his career, when he was still in the final stages of his prime.

It was a long offseason, waiting to see if Hossa would be ready to go when the lockout ended that winter, and there was no guarantee he’d ever be the same. I was so relieved to see him come back and be the player we all fell in love with during the prior three seasons. And it helped that the Hawks ran to the Cup that year.

Since then, Hossa has become one of the most beloved sports figures in this city. He’s spawned more memes then just about any other player on the team and countless references to his god-like status are omnipresent in the comment sections here and on Twitter.

One of the toughest parts? The timing.

We just saw Hossa find a fountain of youth in the 2016-17 season. It wasn’t 28-year-old Hossa, but there still flashes of the incredible two-way play he’s known for, and those moments of the-puck-is-mine-and-you-can’t-have-it.

And that’s what makes seem so unfair for Hossa. He’s dealt with plenty of injuries in his career. It wouldn’t have been a surprise to see his career end due to the nagging back problems he’s dealt with for so long — like kryptonite for hockey players. Then there were all of the concussions he’s had, most notably the aforementioned hit from Torres.

But an allergy? To hockey equipment?! I didn’t even know that could happen.

That’s what is going to force him to hang up his skates? That’s what is going to keep his career goal total at 525?

It doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t even seem possible.

And that’s why it doesn’t seem real.