Fans of the Chicago Blackhawks are no strangers to euphoria. The 2010 Stanley Cup championship run is still not too distant a memory, not to mention the team's unprecedented 24-game point streak to start the 2013 campaign.
For all that joy, however, Hawks fans are also accustomed to pain. Yes, there were the lean final years of “Dollar” Bill Wirtz’s stewardship of the team, but there was also the dismantling that took place after the 2010 championship. This salary cap-driven send-off of talent saw fan favorites like Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien forced to leave town and Antti Niemi to vacate the Chicago crease.
Finally, the team has regained the exceptional depth that marked their championship run, but with the salary cap slated to go down about $6 million next season, fans of the club could find themselves in the familiar territory of saying goodbye to popular players yet again.
Surprisingly, one player who might be finding himself a new address could be winger Marian Hossa. At least, that’s what sportswriter Larry Brooks seems to think:
“Chicago is going to have to face a painful decision over the summer regarding Hossa, the 34-year-old winger whose contract runs through the 2020-21 season. The cap-recapture formula would inflict penalties of a minimum of $4.6 million per season and a maximum of $9.2 million per if he were to retire before the expiration of his contract at age 42.”
“The Blackhawks, who will have approximately $4.6 million to fill six NHL roster spots next season, may have to use an amnesty buyout on Hossa over the summer in order to avoid potential future debilitating dead cap space.”
For those unfamiliar with the way salary cap recapture works, here’s a synopsis (and this rule only applies to pre-CBA contracts of six years or longer). It basically means that for every year a player’s salary cap number (the average annual value of his contract, or AAV) is lower than his actual salary, the difference is held in reserve. This number compounds every year, so if the player retires before the expiration of his contract, that difference is divided by the number of unused years remaining on the contract, and then it is applied to the remaining years the contract would’ve been in place.
In Hossa’s case, the numbers break down like this (and remember, the “penalty” counts against the salary cap EVERY year until the contract would have expired, so if he were to retire in 2015, the Hawks would have a $2.6 million cap penalty for six years. The numbers are in millions):
So with those numbers in mind, here is the potentially $9.1 million question: Should the Blackhawks amnesty Hossa? The answer is no, and there are a couple reasons why. The first of those is the salary cap isn't going to be stuck at $64.3 million forever. Just like under the last CBA, the cap will likely go up as time goes on, so a $2.6 million penalty isn't going to be as budget-killing as it would be after this season. Yes, a $9.1 million cap hit would really hurt the 2019-20 Blackhawks, but odds are Hossa will either retire before then, or hang around afterwards with that knowledge in mind.
Even if Hossa does decide he's done, the Hawks could exploit a loophole that Grantland.com writer Sean McIndoe discovered. Long Term Injured Reserve still exists under the new CBA, so if Hossa wants to be done playing, Chicago could theoretically say he has a "head injury" and put him on LTIR. He would still get paid, and the Hawks wouldn't have to worry about his cap hit OR recapture penalty.
Would that be a bit unethical? Absolutely, but then again, so was signing Hossa to such a massively front-loaded contract to circumvent the cap in the first place.