With the 2017 NHL preseason finally concluded and the Chicago Blackhawks’ regular season days away, the reality of Marian Hossa’s full-timeabsence from the lineup for the first time in some eight years is really hitting home for me. Hossa’s two-way game, often taken for granted, will not be easily replaced.
Flash back to June 2009. The Chicago Blackhawks fall to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference finals, catapulting the defending champions back to the Stanley Cup Final. A loss at the hands of arch-rival Detroit is always a bitter pill to swallow for the Blackhawks faithful.
As downtrodden as I was in that defeat, I found myself in awe of one particular opposition player. Marian Hossa had potted 40 goals for Wings that season, but it wasn’t necessarily his offensive prowess that had caught my attention.
The frustrated Blackhawks could not contain the burly winger, and he was a takeaway machine on the backcheck. Evidently, I wasn’t the only one impressed. The 30-year-old Slovak would be in a Blackhawk uniform within a few short months.
Hossa’s journey to the NHL, Chicago
Chosen 12th overall in the 1997 NHL Draft, Hossa began his NHL career with the Ottawa Senators. In the five years prior to being traded to the Atlanta Thrashers for Dany Heatley, he had averaged 35 goals in the Canadian capital. Hossa continued his stellar play for his new team, but a Stanley Cup wasn’t part of the vocabulary of the Georgian city.
With his third season in Atlanta winding down, the Slovak seemed to get closer to that elusive goal when he was dealt to the potent Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline. Hossa and the Pens went to the Stanley Cup Final that year, in 2008, but fell short when defeated by the Detroit Red Wings.
The following season, rather than accept a lucrative long-term deal in the steel town, he signed a one-year deal with Detroit. Hossa felt that joining the Motor City team was his best chance to finally raise that Stanley Cup. Ironically, the Pens defeated Red Wings in the 2009 Final. The championship futility continued for Big Hoss.
Da Windy City
Was Hossa cursed, as suggested by some media types? Was it a bad omen for Blackhawks and their fans when Hossa was inked to a contract in the Windy City in June of 2009? Au contraire, mon ami!
The 12-year contract Hossa signed with the Blackhawks meant he was set for life financially, but it was not without controversy. Eyebrows were raised at the news of the front end-loaded deal that was perfectly legal at the time, but was seen as a circumvention of the salary cap rules.
Hossa would be 42 at the conclusion of the contract. Many wondered, some out loud, if the gritty Slovak would come anywhere close to lasting that long in a league whose players seemed to get younger each year.
Now, with three Stanley Cup wins under his belt in Chicago and being one of only 45 NHL players to score 500 goals, Hossa’s career is indeed in jeopardy. The stunning announcement that the winger will be out of action for this season marked a return to that cynicism we heard at the time of Hossa’s signing. The criticism is to be expected. The fact remains that Hossa has already earned $59.3 million of the total contract of $63.3 million.
To the cynics, I say this: In 2016, Hossa was once again a valuable contributor to the Chicago team. Though in the twilight of his career, the 38-year-old potted 26 goals in 72 games, and was unquestionably the best 200-foot player on the roster. The Blackhawks are a better team with Hossa than without.
Marian Hossa has a skin disorder that progressively worsens, and one that has baffled doctors for decades. Known as “The Gunk,” the affliction has retired other NHL players in the past, including Tom Reid. He had this to say:
"“I don’t know if it’s similar or not,” Reid said when he joined Sportsnet 590 Hockey Central last June. “All I know is it’s a condition that’s progressively getting worse for Marian, and that’s what it was for me also. It got to the point that finally the doctors said, you know, we can’t do this anymore because we’re giving you steroids, we’re giving you cortisone shots. You’ll be dead by the time you’re 40.”"
It became a no-brainer for Reid who, in 1978, retired from the game he loved. Reid’s story paints a grim picture indeed for Hossa and his hockey future.
The NHL did not say much on this subject until this week, with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly stating Monday that a clarification would be forthcoming. Sure enough, that decision was made Tuesday when the NHL decided Hossa was able to go on LTIR. Chicago will eventually have a whopping $5.3 million in cap relief as a result, which won’t sit well with the critics.
The prospect that Hossa’s NHL career may be over is real and something ’Hawks fans must face, but not quite yet. I think I speak for all Blackhawks fans when I say that I hope and pray that Hossa has not played his last NHL game, and more importantly that going forward he can lead a normal life.
My fingers are crossed. Get well soon, Marian!