What the Hossa trade really means


Marian Hossa is technically no longer a Blackhawk this morning, “going to” Arizona yesterday in a “major trade” that came about because of wrinkles in the collective bargaining agreement—which could just as (or more) likely end up a mere footnote in the history of the Blackhawks.

But, on the other hand, there could end up being more to this deal for either or both teams.

Jordan Oesterle goes to Arizona, and the Hawks pick up three guys who are either prospects (Mackenzie Entwistle), or AHLers/fringe NHLers (Andrew Campbell and Jordan Maletta). Meh.

To my eye, the “x factors” in this deal are center Marcus Kruger and RW Vince Hinostroza.

If Kruger can regain some or (who knows?) all of the form he had in 2015, then this could go down as a pretty shrewd deal for Hawk GM Stan Bowman. Conversely, Hinostroza may get the opportunity to be a regular top 6 forward in Arizona that he probably wasn’t going to get in Chicago. Will he produce—and more importantly—will he help elevate the rebuilding Coyotes in that role? Or will the Coyotes slot Hinostroza—and develop him—as I and others always felt the Hawks should have, as Kris Draper/Darren Helm 2.0: a fast, energetic, tough as nails guy to play against, with some occasional offense, who can be an absolute gem in a lower line role?

Kruger has battled injury for much of the last three years—a couple of wrist injuries and a sports hernia last year. Still, in 48 games with the Hurricanes last year, he was 55% in the faceoff dot.

Kruger never lit up the scoresheet in Chicago, and he became a whipping boy for Hawks’ fans when he signed a 3 year, $10 million deal after the last Cup. But the reality is, a healthy Marcus Kruger was the kind of guy who helps NHL teams win games, and series and Cups (not unlike the aforementioned Draper and Helm). Because he filled some important lower line/utility roles that not any bum can fill. Killing penalties, shadowing opponents’ top centers, driving a really effective shutdown/energy line.

The question is, is he still that kind of player. As of this writing, I don’t know what the Hawks’ scouting is on his health, and in truth, they may not even have any assurances. In that regard, Kruger could be nothing more than salary and a contract slot coming the other way to soften the cap hit for Arizona, at the same time a lottery ticket for Bowman.

Because if Kruger is relatively healthy this year, can still wein faceoffs and play his style of game, which is a lot bigger than his 6’1”, 190 pounds, then Stan Bowman very adroitly filled an underappreciated need on his team going into next season.

Which leads this narrative to another “overpaid” whipping boy: Jonathan Toews.

As far as Toews’ dropoff since 2015, there have been numerous theories. “Doesn’t care.” “Vegan.” “Takes too many supplements.” “Back injury” (which at least was legitimate season before last).

But one theory that I’ve heard from a team source, and has been echoed by Eddie Olczyk and others, is that when Toews is forced to do too much work, specifically taking faceoffs in too many situations, it detracts from his overall game, especially his offense.

Here’s the thing—winning faceoffs in the NHL is hard, physical work. And the two “centers” who follow Toews on the depth chart (Nick Schmaltz and Artem Anisimov) aren’t very good at it. So is killing penalties.

These were two things Kruger did a lot of from 2013-2015, so Toews didn’t have to—or not as much.

So if (and again, at this point, it’s a big “if”), Kruger is physically good enough this year to resume that role, in some form, there could be a subtle, yet important ripple effect for the entire Hawk team.

Or just some cap hit to absorb as a part of the cost of losing Marian Hossa’s cap hit. There was some speculation yesterday that the move was a cap clearing precursor to another deal—which I heard later in the afternoon had added urgency to some discussions I first reported a couple of weeks ago between the Hawks and Canadiens around Max Pacioretty.

Having reported on rumors for 9 years now, I can tell you that many, many more conversations happen than actual deals—and those big, seismic moves are exceedingly rare. So yesterday’s deal may end up being what it is. For better, worse or just moving some money around.

All I have for now. Follow @jaeckel and comment below.


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