Marian Hossa’s unfortunate situation opens up cap space, possibilities for Blackhawks

With Hossa likely headed to LTIR, the Blackhawks have a big hole to fill, but millions in extra cap space to do it.

It’s hard to want to focus on the silver lining right now given the unfortunate news that Marian Hossa will miss the 2017-18 season, but for the Chicago Blackhawks, there is an upside to the situation.

By allowing Hossa, who is being sidelined by a skin condition related to his hockey equipment, to leave hockey to focus on his health, the Blackhawks should be able to open up millions in salary cap space. They’ll do this by placing Hossa on long-term injured reserve, similar to what the Coyotes have done with Chris Pronger.

When a player is played on LTIR, his team is given an exception that allows it to go over the salary cap by the same amount as the cap hit on LTIR. For the Blackhawks, placing Hossa on LTIR would allow them to go $5.275 million over the $75 million upper limit next season. Hossa’s cap hit stays on their books, but they’re effectively allowed to spend up to $80.275 million in salary cap this offseason when accounting for Hossa’s $5.275 million.

That means the Blackhawks will have significantly more cap space to work with this offseason than initially expected.

There’s been speculation that the Hawks might’ve pressured Hossa into this situation in order to place him on LTIR to clear his cap hit, but there’s also a lot of reason to believe this is a serious condition that needed to be handled appropriately. It’s not like this issue in hockey is without precedent.

Cap Friendly currently projects the Blackhawks with a $77.5 million cap hit for next season before the expansion draft. That includes Hossa’s cap hit, and also Marcus Kruger, who could be retained now that the team isn’t in such a desperate cap situation.

If Vegas takes Trevor van Riemsdyk in the expansion draft, which remains likely unless there’s a deal in place for the Golden Knights to select someone else, the Blackhawks would be at $76.7 million with 12 forwards, six defensemen, and two goaltenders.

So assuming Hossa goes onto LTIR and Kruger doesn’t get dealt, the Blackhawks would have between $3-3.5 million in cap space to add one forwards, one defenseman, and ideally an upgrade to Jeff Glass as the backup goalie.

That’s doable, but it also involves needing to replace Hossa, who was expected to be a crucial part of the team next season. The Hawks’ projected current forward options are Kruger, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, Richard Panik, John Hayden, Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero, Vinnie Hinostroza, and Jordin Tootoo. They’ll likely need to make upgrades to that group this summer in order to look like a true Stanley Cup contender by October.

This is why trades still seem highly possible. Hossa’s situation could clear millions in cap space, but most of that will ultimately need to go to finding his replacement. If the goal was to make upgrades this summer, they’ll need to find Hossa’s replacement AND go add other pieces. Doing that on a still-limited budget would be difficult, so it seems like a greater shakeup remains possible this summer.

Trading Kruger would free up over $3 million, but like Hossa, he’d be another guy in need of immediate replacement. So just like before, big changes would still mean trading a core player, like we heard was possible not too long ago.

However, more than before, the Blackhawks have flexibility now in figuring out what they want to do. Hossa’s loss is a significant one that will be difficult to replace. But now GM Stan Bowman actually has some leverage in these trade talks because he’s not negotiating from a place of desperation where he needs to shed salary. Now trades would be firmly focused on upgrades, rather than cap dumps, and that’s when the front office should be at its most dangerous.

The Hossa story is undeniably terrible. He’s a legend, a future Hall of Famer who deserves a far grander exit than this. Hearing about him suffering through gross skin issues just to keep playing hockey bums me out, almost as much as it bums me out thinking we might never get to watch him again. He deserved a standing ovation. He deserved a chance for Blackhawks fans to show how much he’s meant to us. He’s the rare big-name free agent who lived up to the hype in every way. I’ll forever love him for it.

But the Blackhawks need to be proactive in trying to build the next great Hawks team, and now they have some extra cap space to do it. There is indeed a silver lining, as unfortunate as all this is.