Marian Hossa won’t be the first player you think of when you look back at the Chicago Blackhawks teams that have won three of the last six Stanley Cups. That’s about as close to a “modern-day” dynasty as you’ll find in the salary cap era, and the Original Six club has been miraculously consistent despite constant turnover and turmoil.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will always be considered the heart of these teams, while Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will live on as the collective soul. Corey Crawford will go down as one of the more underappreciated — if not unspectacular — goaltenders of his generation and head coach Joel Quenneville will always receive credit for guiding the team through injuries, trades and off-ice issues.
Then there is Hossa, who went to Chicago after failing to win the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings in back-to-back Final appearances. In July of 2009, 12 seasons and a $5.275 cap hit were considered astronomical commitments. There’s no doubt that the term is high, but it’s not unusual for a star player of Hossa’s stature.
Hindsight is 20/20 and all that.
A Pens player on Hossa-to-Hawks: "Come on! What happened to Chicago's cap problems?"
— Rob Rossi (@Real_RobRossi) July 1, 2009
We know a lot more about how the salary cap should be handled now, and the ‘Hawks were a hair ahead of their time by spreading out the $63.3 million over the 12 years to drive the cap hit down. They front-loaded the contract so that the first $53 million of the deal would be paid out between years one and seven, with the remaining five years paying Hossa less than $9 million total.
2015-16 will be the last season that the veteran forward will make $7.9 million in salary.
Next year the Blackhawks will pay Hossa $4 million before dishing out $1 million per over the final four seasons of the contract. He’ll still carry the same cap hit, but the organization will no longer be on the hook for nearly $8 million per season for Hossa. That means the team is still receiving plenty of value from the 36-year-old wing, even as his output predictably declines.
It’s easy to look at Hossa’s early play this season and believe that he is no longer carrying his weight. In 28 games, he has scored five times and assisted on eight other goals. According to ESPN.com, he is on pace for 37 points, which would be the lowest total since his rookie season (3o points) in 1999.
This has led pundits such as Devin Slawson of TheHockeyWriters.com to declare that Hossa is running out of gas. Slawson correctly reasons that Hossa’s offensive output has slowed in 2105-16, and concludes that this could lead Chicago to consider a buyout. That wouldn’t make sense for the Blackhawks though, since the Stara Lubovna, Czechoslovakia native has always brought more to the ice than just goal horns.
Hossa isn’t a special player — and likely Hall of Famer — just because of his goal scoring ability or elite vision. You’re going to have a difficult time digging up a better neutral zone winger, and Hossa still has plenty of zip left in his step.
An observant reader would notice that it’s Dustin Byfuglien that Hossa is outskating, but it’s important to note that no one wearing either red or white was able to catch up with this rush. It’s little plays like this that makes the former first-round draft pick so vital to the Blackhawks in all three zones.
Toews gets a ton of credit as one of the top two-way centers in the game, but Hossa is every bit as responsible as the team’s captain. He is an elite backchecker (arguably one of the best in the game) and never gives up on plays. If he’s running out of gas, it’s only on the score sheet. Different players have different expectations, so if this was Kane coasting toward 40 points while making north of $10 million, it’d be bad news for Chicago. Successful teams can’t have $10 million paper weights.
What constitutes a successful season for Hossa is different because the dollars and expectations are different. This isn’t a get-out-of-jail free card, but consider that the forward is scoring on just 5.7 percent of his shots this season. He’s on pace for 245 shots — which is right on track with what he’s done since 2011-12 — but just hasn’t been finding the back of the net despite a career shooting percentage of 12.4 percent.
It’s true that all shots aren’t created equal. If Hossa is taking shots from bad angles or center ice, then he’s not creating dangerous opportunities for the Blackhawks. Especially since this is a player who scores a majority of his goals from the goalmouth. According to SportingCharts.com, Hossa is actually taking more shots from high-danger areas than he has over the last two seasons.
On average, Hossa is taking shots from 23.83 feet away this year. In 2014-15 that number was 27.81 feet and the year before that it was 26.56 feet. If scoring goals in the NHL is about getting to the Royal Road, then Hossa has been doing what is necessary to score this season. His shots just haven’t been going in, which is bound to happen occasionally across a 1,200-game career.
What an incredible career thus far. Congrats to Marian Hossa on a huge milestone. pic.twitter.com/e2fSpAsWSh
— NHL (@NHL) December 14, 2015
It’s reasonable to expect the goals to start coming for Hossa. He may not be a 30-goal option anymore, but the NHL only had 15 players score more than that last season. With scoring down, we aren’t likely to see more than a handful of players notch that many goals again this year. That’s why it’s a good thing that Hossa brings so much more to the ice than lit lamps and dazzling passes.
One dimensional top-six forwards who hit the cap for north of $5 million can hold a team back financially, but Hossa is anything but one dimensional and will continue to provide value in Chicago until he decides to retire.