NHL investigating Hossa deal: Scare tactic or taking a stand?

The first two questions that need to be asked about the NHL's investigation of Marian Hossa's contract would be "Why was it approved by the NHL in the first place?" and "Why, out of all of them, this contract?"

Like we pointed out last week, Hossa's is one of a handful of contracts that bring down their total cap hit by offering peanuts on the backend. He'll make $750,000 in the final year of his deal with the Chicago Blackhawks; that's $250,000 less than the whopping salaries of Johan Franzen(notes) and Henrik Zetterberg(notes) in their final years in Sweden with the Detroit Red Wings. All of these contracts were approved by the NHL, even though all of them are constructed the same way.

According to an email Bill Daly wrote to Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, the difference here apparently is that Marian Hossa(notes) will be "past the age 40" at the end of his contract, while Zetterberg and Franzen will simply be 40 years old when theirs end. Whippersnappers!

From the Sun:

"We're trying to understand how it was negotiated and whether the intent and effect is to circumvent the cap," wrote Daly. "This was the first of the long-term contracts that took a player out past the age 40 and the value of the contract in its ‘out years' was dramatically lower than its early years.

"We want to know if the possibility of player retirement was ever discussed or even contemplated."

"The NHL is looking to put a damper on these 10-plus-year contracts with throwaway years tacked on at the end," a league executive said last night. "They are building a strong case against Chicago to make an example of them. This issue won't just go away. Lots of other GMs are supporting the league here."

There's no question about that. The GMs that have dabbled in the dark arts of cap circumvention through front-loaded, long-term deals are clearly in the minority; the rest of the League will likely work to close the loophole (even if, in the end, it's a constructive one with regards to keeping the NHL popular and marketable).

But with the CBA negotiation a few off-seasons away, this Hossa thing could be a handy scare tactic; something to remind the rest of the League that the NHL's on the scent of these odorous cap-hit-avoiding contracts.

Or there could be some sort of fire behind the smoke. The Blackhawks' front office upheaval has, no question, strained a few relationships. Pure speculation, but is there something tangible about the way the Hossa contract was negotiated that put this on the NHL's radar? Do they have a smoking gun?

The Sun reports that Chicago "could be facing a maximum fine of $5 million and the loss of draft picks" if it's proven that the Blackhawks discussed an early retirement plan with Hossa.

Which would be rather stunning, actually. If any team was going to get nailed for being sloppy on a cap-circumventing lifetime contract, wouldn't you have thought it would have been the Lightning and Vinny "$1 million salary in 2020" Lecavalier?