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2013 NHL Playoffs: Blackhawks Face Near-Impossible Task Without Marian Hossa

Marian Hossa
Marian Hossa

Jun 12, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa (81) during the first period in game one of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins at the United Center. Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

My love of Marian Hossa knows no bounds.

Ok, maybe that’s a little excessive, but something that eludes even habitual NHL observers is the greatness of Marian Hossa. Yes, I do mean greatness.

I was as shocked as everyone else prior to Game Three of the Stanley Cup Finals when it was announced about five minutes before puck drop that Hossa would miss the game, after taking warm-up, with an undisclosed injury.

This led to a mess for the Chicago Blackhawks. It wasn’t a complete surprise, but Hossa did take part in practice and warm-ups. The forward for the Blackhawks who did take part in the pre-game skate, Jamal Mayers, wound up not even dressing for the game in lieu of Ben Smith, who did not take warm-ups. Lines were shuffled all game long; Jonathan Toews was inexplicably put on a line for most of the game with Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger. They are good role players, but hardly bastions of offensive talent.

Boston rolled to a 2-0 victory in a game filled with both questionable lineup decisions and questionable line-matching situations. Oddly enough, I won’t remember the game for that, which is typically my raison d’être. I’ll remember Game Three for two reasons; one of the best passes you’ll ever see in a Stanley Cup Finals and the absence of Marian Hossa.

His Career

Marian Hossa has been exceptional for quite some time now. From his days in Ottawa where he put up four straight seasons of at least 30 goals, to his only two 90+ point seasons which both happened to occur in Atlanta and now with Chicago, Hossa has been an elite player in the NHL for over a decade now.

Just how elite has he been? Since the start of the 2000-2001 season, there have been 140 instances where a player in the NHL has managed 25 goals, 200 shots and a +15 rating; Hossa has done it five times. No other player over that span has achieved this five times. Not Sidney Crosby, not Alex Ovechkin, not Ilya Kovalchuk. There are a handful of players who have done it four times; Daniel Sedin, Patrik Elias, Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Alfredsson. I know plus/minus is an out-dated statistic, but I just wanted to show just how proficient he has been over the course of his career using traditional parameters.

Hossa: The Puck Possessor

Most advanced stats have only been kept for the last several years, beginning with the 2007-2008 season. Since then, Hossa has been a regular season plus-possession player for whichever team he’s played on with the exception of ’07-’08, when he played 60 games for an Atlanta Thrashers team that finished second-worst in the Eastern Conference and third-worst in the NHL. This is how he’s done since that season:

Hossa has been an elite puck possession player for years and the impact of his absence from the lineup of one of the best puck possession teams in the NHL cannot be overstated.

Read More: An Explanation of Advanced Hockey Stats

Hossa: The Defender

The part of the game that often gets overlooked when discussing the “greatness” of a player is the defensive aspect of things. For one, it’s tough to measure. We can tally the goals and shots, but how many goals a player prevented or scoring chances a player interrupted is a trickier matter.

Part of defending is puck possession (the best defense is a good offense, or something like that). However, we can also take a look at two events that are measurable to a degree: penalty killing and takeaways.

Penalty Killing

Hossa is a player who plays in all three facets (even-strength, power-play and penalty kill) as well as all three zones (offense, neutral zone, defense).

This has been the case for quite some time; Hossa was a penalty killer for Ottawa back in the 2003-2004 season, playing 1:24 per game on the kill and still managing 36 goals.

Once Hossa landed in Atlanta, his time on ice on the penalty kill took quite the jump; in 2005-2006, Hossa was on the ice for 2:36 per game penalty killing and followed up with 2:07 in the 2006-2007 season. Over those two seasons in Atlanta, he managed 82 goals.

In his four campaigns so far with the Blackhawks, Hossa has been among their top five penalty killers in time on ice/60 minutes in each season. There’s not a whole lot we can discover beyond that, there are simply too many variables on a penalty kill like score effects, oppositional efficiency and line-mates. The point of this was to show the versatility of Hossa and how he maintained elite scoring numbers despite this – Hossa’s goal/game average with Chicago is 0.391 versus 0.437 for his career.

Takeaways

This is one aspect (along with giveaways) that often gets overlooked, in my opinion. Hockey is all about puck possession and if you can create more possessions while minimizing how many you give your opponents, you are putting yourself and your team in a position to succeed.*

We don’t have real-time stats like hits, blocked shots, giveaways and takeaways for before the last lockout in 2004-2005. However, in the first season after the lockout, Hossa’s first season with Atlanta, he led the team in takeaways by a wide margin with 75, next closest on the Thrashers had 57.

In 2011-2012, his one full season with Chicago (he’s missed good chunks of the other seasons with injuries), Hossa again led his team in takeaways with 94, surpassing Jonathan Toews by 12. Even this year, having missed 17% of the season, Hossa finished second on the Hawks with 48 takeaways in 40 games, behind (you guessed it) Toews with 56.

*Someone I follow is starting to quantify this in terms of possessions taken/given away and giving teams possession efficiency ratings. You can take a look at his work here

Hossa: The Best

Ok, he’s not literally the best, but he’s a lot closer to being one of the best on the planet than most would give him credit for. This kind of player, a dynamic player who can turn the game around with a flick of his wrists, an excellent penalty kill in a high-leverage situation or by frustrating the opposition’s best players, is invaluable to a team. While not quite on Pavel Datsyuk’s level (at least in terms of pure skill), the comparisons are there: Both have been elite for a while, both are underappreciated for their overall contributions to their team but both are on the decline of their career – Hossa turned 34 earlier this year, Datsyuk turns 35 this summer.

There’s no way Chicago can possibly replace Hossa if this injury keeps him out of the lineup again. Of the two forwards the Blackhawks can ill-afford to lose for any length of time – Toews being the other – Hossa will be missed. If Boston seems to be gaining confidence game by game, wait until they play a few games against a Hossa-less Chicago team. You hate to see a series decided due in part to injury, but the uphill battle facing the Blackhawks gets even steeper every game he misses.

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