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NHL star confirms suspicions: playing career is over

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Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks has been in the NHL so long that Bill Clinton was still president when he made his debut in 1998.

Now, after 20 years in the league and three Stanley Cups in Chicago, Hossa is hanging up his skates, putting his home in Chicago on the market and heading back to his native Slovakia.

“I will not play hockey anymore,” Hossa told Slovakian tabloid Novy Cas.

The reason, as retirement reasons go, is kind of an odd one, however.

Hossa has a progressive skin condition that the Chicago Sun-Times summarized as essentially an “allergy” to his hockey equipment.

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Hossa missed all of the 2017-18 season with the condition and speculation ran wild over whether the 39-year-old would ever play again.

Hossa is not retiring — not officially at least — but he will remain on long-term injured reserve until his contract is done, a result of the NHL’s bizarre salary cap rules that were heavily exploited during the collective bargaining agreement that governed the league between the 2004-05 and 2012-13 lockouts.

Prior to the 2009-10 season, the Blackhawks signed Hossa to a 12-year, $63 million contract, which the Blackhawks heavily frontloaded such that Hossa made $7.9 million for each of the first seven years (prorated in 2012-13 for the lockout), $4 million in 2016-17 and $1 million each for 2018, ’19, ’20 and ’21.

This allowed Chicago to dodge the full impact of Hossa’s contract while they were winning all those Stanley Cups, as his cap hit for each season was just the $5.25 million average of its value over those 12 years.

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There’s just one problem. In order to prevent backloaded contracts like the ones Hossa and former NHL goalie Rick DiPietro signed that use those creative accounting tricks, the league now requires players to remain active for the entire length of their contracts lest they be subject to “recapture penalties”.

As long as a player is in the league, his contract is considered genuine and in good faith, while a player’s retirement leads to salary cap penalties. For the Blackhawks, they would be liable for the $4.25 million difference between Hossa’s salary and his cap hit.

However, this does make Hossa an attractive trade target for the NHL’s financially strapped small-market teams.

An NHL team not only has a salary cap but also a salary floor. As in other sports like basketball, if a team’s payroll is too low, it must pay out the shortfall, which gets divided between the players on their roster. This is a concession to the union, which sacrifices potential higher salaries like baseball’s big-spending teams can pay out (baseball has no salary cap but it does have a luxury tax) in favor of some measure of income security, ensuring that players get a certain percentage of league revenue.

The point is, a team could pay just $1 million for Hossa to sit in Slovakia and watch TV while on injured reserve and at the same time still take a cap hit of $5.25 million to push them up toward the salary floor.

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As for simply putting some skin cream on it so he can play, the Blackhawks sent Hossa to a clinic in Minneapolis to preclude just such a possibility; the only way to ameliorate his condition is to remove the stimulus that causes the allergic reaction.

“His status is unchanged,” Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said last month. “His physical condition hasn’t improved, so at this point there’s no indication he’s going to play next year, either. That’s about all I know at this point. We’ll probably have more discussions on that in the coming weeks, but his medical condition is unchanged.”

Hossa finishes his career with 525 goals, 609 assists, three Stanley Cups and a seemingly surefire ticket to the Hall of Fame.

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Boston born and raised, Fox has been writing about sports since 2011. He covered ESPN Friday Night Fights shows for The Boxing Tribune before shifting focus and launching Pace and Space, the home of "Smart NBA Talk for Smart NBA Fans", in 2015. He can often be found advocating for various NBA teams to pack up and move to his adopted hometown of Seattle.
Boston born and raised, Fox has been writing about sports since 2011. He covered ESPN Friday Night Fights shows for The Boxing Tribune before shifting focus and launching Pace and Space, the home of "Smart NBA Talk for Smart NBA Fans", in 2015. He can often be found advocating for various NBA teams to pack up and move to his adopted hometown of Seattle.
Birthplace
Boston, Massachusetts
Education
Bachelor of Science in Accounting from University of Nevada-Reno
Location
Seattle, Washington
Languages Spoken
English
Topics of Expertise
Sports




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