Season Preview: Marian Hossa – Juggling dominance, injury and aging

By Jon Fromi

In the two seasons Marian Hossa has played in Chicago since signing what is virtually a lifetime contract, he has played in 122 of the Blackhawks’ 164 regular-season contests. Throughout his tenure in the Indian head sweater, Hossa has flashed brilliance to the Blackhawks faithful. In turn, injuries have nagged at the veteran forward from the day he hit town.

Hossa’s success depends on his 32-year-old body’s ability to keep its end of the bargain. Unlike his contract with the Blackhawks, Hossa’s pact with his body has been a shaky one thus far.

Welcome to your thirties, Mr. Hossa. Here’s your pass to the trainer’s room.

Hossa’s health and his ability to make good on the huge financial commitment made by the team is always going to be at the forefront of conversation. Not to be lost is the fact that Chicago still has a hell of a player in Hossa.

Hossa has not played an 82-game season since 2006-07 for the franchise formerly known as the Atlanta Thrashers. That’s two full seasons before the ‘Hawks rolled the dice on his future durability.

Take away an unfortunate practice collision with Nick Boynton and Hossa probably skates in as many games as he did with Detroit the season before he came to Chicago. Is it likely that Hossa plays in a full slate of games in 2011-12?  Probably not, but if he can make the same eight-game improvement this season that he made from his inaugural campaign with the ‘Hawks, it would be a good sign.

Hossa was a point-a-game player with Atlanta and Ottawa and sure looked like he could be that player again as the season started. Hossa began the 2010-11 season in dominating fashion, potting seven goals in his first seven games to go with 11 points. He also tallied ten points in the final eleven regular season games.

In between, there were two injury stints.

Hossa missed five games with an upper-body injury following four scoreless games. After looking out of sorts in his next ten games, the collision with Boynton resulted in a knee injury that sidelined Hossa for almost a month.

Hossa also missed the January 25th meeting with Minnesota due to a bout with the flu. This is worth mentioning in light of Hossa reportedly experiencing symptoms of vertigo. The All-Star break kept him from possibly missing additional games, and he was back with a goal and assist against Columbus when the season resumed.

Vertigo is more than two hours of suspense with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak. It’s a debilitating condition if it lingers. Ask Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller, who is hoping to pick up his career after missing the second half last season with vertigo, how fun the condition can be.

Fortunately, Hossa has had no further problems in this regard. For a player who has had to combat shoulder and knee problems since signing with the Blackhawks in 2009, piling on to his recent medical history is the last thing he wants.

Hossa was a very solid player in the second half of the season, just not the dominating one we wanted following his hot start. He had a nine-goal, 18 point performance in 16 games in February and March along with the aforementioned last ten games prior to the playoffs. He went on to put up five points in Chicago’s three wins in the Vancouver series.

He finished the regular season with 25 goals and 32 assists for 57 points, but wasn’t able to pick up the prodigious pace he set in the first two weeks of the season.

Hossa is done a bit of an injustice in not having a big playmaker at center. He has had some success playing with Jonathan Toews since coming to Chicago. His early tear in the spring came with Dave Bolland as his center, but Hossa might put up more points with Toews or another distributor in the middle of his line.

Expecting Hossa to score with the same regularity he did five years ago may leave fans frustrated, injured or not. However, the man brings much more to the ice than the ability to put the puck in the net.

Hossa is a two-way force who is capable of dominating on both ends of the ice. Rivaling his scoring in excitement are those moments where he resembles a grown man playing keep-away with a bunch of eight-year-olds.

The clinic he put on in Chicago’s Game 6 overtime was classic Hossa. Shaking off attempts to stop him along the boards as he waited for a play to develop, he helped set up Ben Smith’s game-winner by finding Niklas Hjalmarsson at the blue line.

It is this Hossa that stirs the crowd at the United Center. At the same time, age may be sapping his ability to be that player on every shift.

Injuries have prevented these dominating stretches to be less frequent. Later in the season, it seemed that Hossa was incorporating a lot of slap shots into his arsenal. This prompted observers to wonder if he was having difficulty elevating the puck due to more nagging upper body issues. On the other hand, Hossa felt good enough to play in the World Championships with his native Slovakian team following the ‘Hawks exit from the playoffs.

Yes, Hossa’s point totals have been down, but his per game average wasn’t much under his 0.92 lifetime mark. If he can stay clear of the trainer’s table for the bulk of 2011-12, it’s not unfeasible to forecast a 75-80 point effort.  That all depends on what kind of deal Hossa can strike with his body this season.

Jon Fromi

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