As a full disclaimer, this article was inspired by an article by Lyle Richardson for The Hockey News. In it, he quotes another article by Larry Brooks saying that the ailing Canadian Dollar may just prevent the salary cap from rising at all next season. He looks at two teams who would be hit worst by this: the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins. I think he has a point, when you consider that each team had to dump a top-four defenceman (Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk) to the Islanders before opening night to stay cap compliant. Next year, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each see a raise of $4.2-million in cap hit, which would make it even harder for Chicago to remain cap compliant without seriously off-loading some salary.
Richardson lists some expected potential trade bait: Patrick Sharp, who is very good and paid appropriately, Kris Versteeg, who is less good but also paid less, and Bryan Bickell, who is severely overpaid but brings "grit" and size. He also points out that Brent Seabrook is due for a significant raise, and is a UFA at the end of 2015-16, which could lead to him becoming a hefty trade target if he's not re-signed by early next season.
One name, however, that I was surprised not to see is Marian Hossa. Hossa carries a cap hit of $5.275-million until 2020-21, but only makes more in actual dollars this season and next season. In fact, the last four years of that deal each carry a paltry dollars-paid value of $1-million. This seems like the kind of trade that would help the 'Hawks become cap compliant, and would be extremely attractive to a cash-strapped team that consistently flirts with the cap floor like the Florida Panthers, the Arizona Coyotes, or, I don't know, the Ottawa Senators.
From a financial perspective in the Eugene Melnyk era, a trade for Hossa seems like a home run. For this season and the next six, Hossa makes $23.8-million with a cap hit of $36.925-million. If he were acquired in the summer, he would make $15.9-million with a cap hit of $31.65-million over six years. That's $2.65-million in actual cash per year, which, for the record, is exactly Colin Greening's cap hit through 2016-17. I think we all know who we'd rather have playing. Under the cap recapture clause of the new CBA, if Hossa retired early, Chicago would be hit with the cap penalty, not Ottawa.
Of course, the first question with Hossa is his age. He's turning 36 in January, and would be 42 by the time his deal ends. However, he appears to be one of those players who doesn't slow down as much with age as most players. Last year, he scored 60 points in 72 games. The lockout-shortened season before, he scored 31 points in 40 games. The season before that, he put up a phenomenal 77 points in 81 games, which was 12th in the entire league. This year, he's off to a slower start, with 7 points in 15 games, but his shooting percentage is an unsustainably-low 4.3%. Not to mention that the Blackhawks as a whole aren't dominating the way we'd expect them to yet. I don't think we can expect Hossa to be the next Jaromir Jagr, a player who's still playing extremely well into his forties. Maybe a better comparable would be Daniel Alfredsson, a responsible player who still put up respectable second-line point totals until his fortieth birthday, and had occasional flashes of brilliance.
From a possession standpoint, Hossa is very strong. From (shameless plug alert) B_T's NaturalStatTrick.com, we can see that some of his most common on-ice teammates in Sharp, Seabrook, and Duncan Keith do significantly better possession-wise when Hossa is on the ice with them. Even Jonathan Toews sees a slight drop in his Corsi rating without Hossa, though Hossa's drop without Toews is more pronounced. Hossa seems to make the players around him better, even when he's already playing for a dominant team like Chicago.
One reason I think it makes sense to see Hossa here is the lack of strong possession right-wingers in Ottawa. Bobby Ryan and Alex Chiasson are both gifted players, but are in need of strong possession linemates to help them succeed. Mark Stone seems to fair better, but right now I like the look of The Kid Line. The other options are Chris Neil, Colin Greening, and maybe Erik Condra, with Buddy Robinson being the RW prospect with the most upside. In the few games we saw with Mika Zibanejad playing with Chiasson and Ryan, it was clear that Zibanejad needs players who help him drive possession. I would love to see Hossa on Zibanejad's wing. That pairing would be defensively strong and offensively potent. Also, this could give Zibanejad a mentor on his wing, much like Alfie was for Kyle Turris when he was first in Ottawa. I don't see an internal fit for Zibanejad that seems to make as much sense to me right now as Hossa does.
Of course, the biggest reason it makes sense to me is the Hossa-Ottawa connection. He was drafted by Ottawa, and played his first six NHL seasons in the capital. All signs were that he wanted to stay in Ottawa when he signed an extension in the summer of 2004, only to be flipped immediately to the Atlanta Thrashers for Dany Heatley. This trade had short-term benefits for the Sens, since Heatley was a two-time 50 goal scorer and helped the team to the Cup Final in '07, but Heatley would go on to demand a trade soon after, bringing Milan Michalek to Ottawa. More importantly, the handling of Hossa has been rumoured to be one of the factors in the departure of his fellow Slovak Zdeno Chara to the Bruins. If revisionism today can say we traded Hossa and Chara for Michalek, the Sens outright lost that trade. Bringing Hossa back to Ottawa would help to right a wrong. We'd probably see his #81 retired. And something always feels right about a player returning to the place where it all started for them.
Of course, there are snags to this trade. The obvious one is what Ottawa would give back. Chicago would be looking for a cap-friendly return, most likely, but they'd also want a pretty significant offer to take Hossa off their hands. This wouldn't be a cap dump of an overpaid player. It would be taking one of Chicago's most reliable forwards, and they most likely would want something good in return. I doubt a package of Greening and Buddy Robinson would be able to pry him away. What I'd be willing to trade away for Hossa is a tough question. I'd probably be willing to put in one promising prospect (Chiasson, or Shane Prince), but I definitely wouldn't sell the farm for him. Would trading Jared Cowen and Alex Chiasson together for Marian Hossa be worth it for the Sens? My heart says yes, but my head isn't as confident.
Another issue is that it would effectively block a spot for one of Ottawa's prospects. Stone, Mike Hoffman, and Matt Puempel are all players who could be in a top-six role by next season. Having Hossa could stunt their development as much as having him as a mentor could help it. Another question is whether Hossa would actually want to come back to the Sens. The GM that traded him has been fired, but there are likely still bad feelings about this franchise. He says all the right things when asked about his thoughts on Ottawa, but for many people, the best way to move on is to stay away.
The last problem is that all signs point to the 'Hawks not wanting to get rid of Hossa. The cap recapture clause has been in effect for two offseasons now, and in neither of those offseasons did they use a compliance buyout on Hossa, which would've been the safe move. If they weren't willing to lose him then, it's hard to see them wanting to lose him now. The fact that Richardson didn't even list Hossa as potential trade bait says that most pundits think he's staying put.
But I would love to see Hossa back in a Sens jersey, and I will take whatever glimmer of hope I can get.