[NOTE: some of the musings are out of date; I am not updating anything other than to throw some highlighting on the Chicago stuff and I am adding one editorial comment in a big blue font; you have been warned]
Let’s organize this by “contenders, “Stocks rising,” “Stocks falling” and “rebuilders.”
Detroit — in this thought experiment, they have signed Franzen and let Hossa go. [UPDATE: Detroit has signed Franzen, so we're half way there]
San Jose — $10MM in cap space with 11 players to sign, including Clowe, Goc and Moen. Also, they have Marleau to think about, who is a free agent in 2010. Verdict: they can’t do it.
Boston — $10MM in cap space with 10 players to sign, including Kessel and Krejci. Verdict: can’t.
Washington — $11MM in cap space with 10 players to sign. Verdict: can’t.
New Jersey — $16MM in cap space with 11 players to sign. Hmm. Lots of space, relative to the others. They’ve got Gionta, Madden, Holik, Rupp, Shannahan, Oduya, Havelid, Zajac and one of Weekes or Clemmenson to sign. Let’s say they commit $8MM to Hossa. Now they’ve got $8MM left to sign 10 players. So, I’m going to say it’s just barely doable, but they would be replacing all the aforementioned vets with prospects or like-priced players. It would therefore be a totally different team. Verdict: can’t.
Chicago — $20MM in cap space with 13 players to sign. They’ve got six or seven RFAs this summer and Toews and Kane RFA in 2010, so they can’t do anything to their cap that would push those salaries through the roof. If they don’t re-sign Havlat or Khabibulin, they could conceivably sign Hossa, and Hossa might actually like playing in Chicago with Kane and Toews. However, it would be dangerous, since Kane and Toews will get big money in’10 and there simply wouldn’t be room for all those contracts. Is Chicago willing to part with Havlat, Bulin wall this year, and make themselves vulnerable to an offer sheet for Kane or Toews which they would be hard-pressed to match? I doubt it, but crazier things have happened. Let’s say they sign Hossa to $8MM this year and then next summer they sign Kane and Toews to contracts at…(okay, I have no idea, but I’m going to conservatively say) $11MM/year total for the two of them put together. [UPDATE: after the playoffs these two have had, their prices are going up.] For the 2010 season, they would then have $10MM in cap space with a likelihood that it will be less than that because the cap will probably come down, and they will have 15 players to sign. So in that light, signing Hossa would be a horrible idea that would only look horrible after the 2009 season. Verdict: shouldn’t (one step down from can’t). Doesn’t mean they won’t. But I think they won’t. Because I think they’re not stupid.
[UPDATE: THEY ARE THAT STUPID.]
Calgary — $11MM in cap space with 10 players to sign. They can’t afford Cammy, but they’re going to sign Hossa? Verdict: can’t.
(bonus category!) Second Tier Contenders:
Philly — $4MM in cap space, five players to sign. Verdict: can’t.
Carolina — $14MM cap space, 9 players to sign. It’s almost kinda sorta possible for them, if they let Cole walk as a UFA. Say they sign Hossa, then they’ll have $6MM left to sign 8 players. If they let Ruutu walk as well, they could just about do it. And it might sort of be worth it, but there would be some retooling needed the next year with a big crop of UFAs coming ripe, many of whom would have to go. Verdict: possible (which is like shouldn’t but with slightly more upside).
Vancouver — a whopping $25MM in cap space, but with 13 players to sign. Of their nine biggest forward contracts, only three are signed for next year (Demitra, Kessler and Johnson). That’s one top-six player. They’ve got eight UFAs who could end up anywhere. It’s anybody’s guess what’s going to happen to the Sedins and Sundin. Vancouver certainly could make room for Hossa, sort of plug him into the Sundin expensive UFA slot. But if I’m Hossa, I don’t think I’m willing to sign a long-term contract with a team that has so many question marks that won’t be answered until the end of the summer, if then. Verdict: won’t work.
Pittsburgh — $10MM cap space, 10 players to sign. Can’t.
Montreal — $34MM in cap space, 13 players to sign. Their biggest forwards under contract are two Kostitsyns and Georges Laraque. Everyone else is UFA or RFA. If I’m Hossa, I have no idea what this team is going to look like in the fall. Verdict: won’t work.
Rangers — $15MM in cap space, 14 players to sign. Can’t.
Columbus — $17MM in cap space, 6 players to sign. Hmm. Team is up and coming, good coach, that’s all good if you’re Hossa. They might even be able to keep some space for re-signing Nash the following summer, which is their biggest upcoming cap issue. Verdict: possible.
Nashville — $24MM cap space, 11 players to sign. I’m just going to say that’s doable. I’m not sure what would make Hossa pick Nashville over Columbus or Los Angeles, but the numbers themselves could work.
St Louis — $13MM cap space, 6 players to sign. They’ve got an Erik Johnson and goalie issue the following summer, but they could conceivably sign Hossa at $8MM and five more players with the remaining $5MM. They would be cutting Tkachuk loose, but that’s okay. Add them to the list of teams that could swing it, but again, why Hossa would pick St. Louis over anybody else in this category is beyond me.
Los Angeles — $14MM cap space, 4 players to sign. Two of those — Purcell and Boyle — will be cheap-ish. The third, Johnson, will be medium expensive. Plenty of room to sign Hossa. The pitch is, come skate with Kopitar and Frolov. The team is built so that they don’t have to break up the core because of any one contract, even Hossa’s. Also, the team doesn’t have to cut anyone loose to make it work (c.f. Carolina, Chicago, Minnesota). Verdict: doable.
Minnesota — oh, I don’t know. Maybe their stock really isn’t falling. They could afford him by not re-signing Gaborik, but what’s the point of that? I get it from the team’s point of view, but not from Hossa’s. Who’s he going to skate with?
Edmonton — $10MM in cap space, 6 players to sign. Can’t.
Buffalo — $10MM in cap space, 9 players to sign. Can’t.
Anaheim — they’re dumping assets. Once they decide what’s happening with Niedermayer, they’ll have a better idea how much cap space they have left. And they can hardly put themselves in a cap position where next summer (’10) they can’t afford to pay Bobby Ryan. Anyway, so many reasons Hossa won’t end up in Orange County. [UPDATE: the Ducks redeemed themselves quite a bit since I originally wrote this, but I'm going to stick with the assessment that they are on a downward trajectory and in any case have too many cap issues to work out. And I really don't think Hossa wants to go to the hated Ducks. Projection on my part? Maybe.]
Dallas — They could let Lehtinen and Morrison walk, sign Zubov and pay Hossa his $8MM. They’d then have three or four million to sign five players, which could happen. But Dallas can hardly pitch themselves as a team of the future, cap space or not.
Ottawa — no cap space, too many big contracts already.
Toronto, Phoenix, Atlanta, Colorado, Tampa Bay, Islanders — he’s not going to a team that’s virtually guaranteed to miss the playoffs.
So, to sum up: Chicago, Carolina, Nashville, St. Louis and Los Angeles (and you may as well throw Minnesota into the mix), all could do it. One is a contender. One is sort of almost one. The rest are not. If I’m Hossa, and those are my choices, I would try for either Chicago or LA. If the Chicago numbers are what I think they are (i.e. season after next the whole house of cards falls apart if they sign Hossa), that really leaves LA looking pretty good.
Not to say Hossa will therefore sign with the Kings. My point is merely that a lot of Hossa’s first choice destinations become far less likely once you look at the numbers. And that calculus always leaves the Kings looking better by comparison.