A severe reaction to medication for a skin disorder has put Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa's career in doubt.
Hossa stunned the NHL on Wednesday by announcing he won't play next season because of severe side effect from medication to treat a progressive disorder he has been dealing with for years. At 38, the veteran may have played his last NHL game in a career that many believe will land him in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"Playing hockey is not possible for me during the upcoming 2017-18 season," Hossa said. "While I am disappointed that I will not be able to play, I have to consider the severity of my condition and how the treatments have impacted my life both on and off the ice."
Hossa has been a major part of the Blackhawks' core during their run of three Stanley Cup titles in six seasons and is considered one of the best defensive forwards of his generation. The Slovak had 19 goals and 26 assists for 45 points last season and is still a very effective player in his late 30s.
Not having him healthy and able to play could have a significant impact on the franchise given his contract situation. Hossa has four years left at a salary-cap hit of $5.275 million, though if placed on long-term injured reserve, cap-strapped Chicago would face less of a roster crunch.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the NHL still had to determine if the Blackhawks could place Hossa on LTIR. It's a method other teams have used with injured players, like Chris Pronger and Marc Savard, whose careers ended because of concussion problems.
Hossa's case is controversial because the $63.3 million, 12-year deal he signed with the Blackhawks was front-loaded, and he's owed just $1 million in each of the next four seasons. Commissioner Gary Bettman said he didn't believe the Blackhawks were engaging in cap circumvention with Hossa.
"I certainly am more concerned about Marian Hossa's medical condition," Bettman said after the league's board of governors meeting in Las Vegas. "I don't think he has got a medical condition so that he and the Blackhawks can deal with the cap. I assume he would play hockey if he could, so unless we have a reason other than sheer speculation to think something is amiss, I'm not even thinking in those terms."
Hossa said he has been privately undergoing treatment for the last few years under the supervision of Chicago's medical staff. Dr. Michael Terry said the team supports Hossa's decision not to play and that the skin disorder, which the team did not disclose, is "becoming more and more difficult to treat and control with conventional medications while he plays hockey."
"We feel in the most certain terms this is the appropriate approach for Marian in order to keep him functional and healthy in the short term and throughout his life," Terry said.
General manager Stan Bowman called Hossa's absence a significant loss. The 19-year NHL veteran has missed only 46 games over the past six seasons.
"His teammates and coaches know he battled through some very tough physical difficulties but never complained or missed games despite the challenges he faced," Bowman said.
Skin disorders ended the career of Blackhawks and North Stars defenseman Tom Reid in the 1970s and Kings and Predators defenseman Jan Volpat in 2000.
Dr. Jennifer Kim, an expert on skin disorders and treatments at Chicago's NorthShore University HealthSystem, has treated children with allergic reactions to soccer shin guards and that the main treatment is avoidance.
"It can get very severe, especially with reapplication and if the course is not removed from constant contact, you're just going to make the skin condition worse," Kim said. She also said oral steroids and other medications to treat skin disorders can cause eye, liver and kidney problems.
Assuming league approval, the Blackhawks will likely keep Hossa on LTIR rather than him retiring and costing the team cap-recapture penalties that were instituted for the last collective bargaining agreement.
With Hossa's cap hit off the books and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and center Marcus Kruger linked to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, Chicago won't have as many roster problems as originally predicted in the first season of Artemi Panarin's $12 million, two-year deal.
But Hossa's on-ice contributions will be difficult to replace. He has 525 goals and 609 assists for 1,134 points in 1,390 regular-season games with Ottawa, Atlanta, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago. He has 149 points in 205 playoff games and has appeared in the Cup Final five times.