Jim Neveau, Blackhawks Beat Writer
It is amazing to think, but the soap opera that has unfolded on West Madison for the Chicago Blackhawks took yet ANOTHER strange turn on Tuesday night.
As first reported by The Daily Herald, and then confirmed by ESPNChicago.com, Marian Hossa is currently recuperating from a shoulder injury that he suffered during the playoffs with the Red Wings earlier in the year. According to the reports, the Hawks knew about the injury, and chose to sign the forward to a 12-year, $62 million deal anyway.
What has followed in light of the breaking story has been a smattering of angry comments, and even some ill-informed notions that this is proof that the Hawks should have kept Martin Havlat.
Another thought that has been frequently espoused over the past 14 hours is that this is yet another reason why the Blackhawks chose to fire former GM Dale Tallon. The argument is that he signed a guy to a huge long term deal, even though he was playing with an injury that clearly hampered him, and one that could continue to flare up if it is not corrected by surgery.
While both of these comments surely come from hearts bitter over Havlat’s not so subtle departure from the Windy City, the notion that the Hawks shouldn’t have signed Hossa simply because of the shoulder are downright ludicrous. The injury Hossa sustained isn’t anything even remotely resembling career threatening, and to compare it to the lengthy list of injuries that Havlat subjected fans to over the past few seasons is an asinine notion.
In addition, Dale Tallon can be faulted for quite a bit of the bad mojo floating around the Hawks’ financial situation right now, but to fault him for signing a guy who has an injury that was so mild that he played through it is also patently unfair. Hossa is a great talent, and the deal he signed is not foolish because of the injury.
So where exactly does Hossa’s injury leave the Blackhawks? If he is out for an extended period of time (and if reports hold true, he could be out until mid-December), then what will the issues be facing the Hawks? Here are five thoughts as to what is going to face the team in the coming months.
Thought 1: The Pressure Will Be on the Blackhawks Defense to Step Up
The Hawks’ offense on paper looks like it will be extremely potent. With guys like Kane, Toews, Sharp, Versteeg, and Bolland all in the fold, there is no reason to believe that this team is going to have any sort of difficulty in putting the puck in the net. Add in Hossa, and you have a dynamic scoring machine that is going to present headaches to every defense in the NHL. Without Hossa, however, it is going to be a bit more of a challenge to rely on goals from the third and fourth lines.
Therefore, the pressure will be squarely on the Hawks’ defense to prevent goals, since there are no guarantees that they will be able to function completely as an offensive unit without Hossa in there. That means that players like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Cam Barker will not only have to utilize their abilities to pass well and create offense, but they will also have to take better care of the puck in their zone to prevent teams from capitalizing on puck handling errors and forcing the Hawks to play catch-up.
Needless to say, the best offense will be a good defense for the Blackhawks, especially with Hossa out of the lineup.
Thought 2: Stan Bowman Just Had His Hands Tied by a Man with a Bum Shoulder
A lot of talk has gone on recently about the Blackhawks’ pursuing another presence to add size and defensive capability to their blue line, and the thought was that the team would draw from their deep corps of skilled forwards to make that happen.
The names of Versteeg and Sharp were the ones that came to mind most readily, since not only are they good players but also are locked into contracts for the next few years, and that extra money the Hawks would save could be used to re-sign guys like Toews and Kane after the upcoming season.
With Hossa’s injury, however, the Blackhawks are going to be forced to hold onto those guys for at least the time being. Without Marian, more of the offensive burden from the right wing spot will fall on the youngster Versteeg, and Patrick Sharp will be looked at to provide spark from the left side as well. Granted, the team HAS to get more physical on the blue line if they are serious about winning the Stanley Cup this season, but they cannot do that at the further detriment to their offense at this point with Hossa out.
Thought 3: The Circus Trip Suddenly Looks a Little More Daunting
Ask either Chicago team that plays at the United Center about the mental effects of the Circus Trip during the month of November, and you are likely to get an answer that sounds like this: “it can either make your season or break it”.
When the Barnum and Bailey circus makes its way to town every November, the Bulls and Blackhawks are forced to abandon the comforts of their home arena for a long stretch of time. This year, a six game road trip awaits the Hawks on the dreaded circus trip, with games in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, San Jose, Anaheim, and Los Angeles on the agenda. Nearly every one of these games will be a slugfest, judging by last year’s games, and it will be a chance for the Hawks to either prove they are for real, or to be revealed as a pretender in need of some significant tweaks.
Without Hossa to help provide some veteran leadership if things go sour during the first portion of the trip, the Hawks could be in for a long slog on the West Coast.
Thought 4: Will the Hawks Bring in a Prospect to Replace Hossa in the Short-Term?
A careful examination of the Hawks’ roster reveals that the most likely option the Hawks could employ would be to play Adam Burish in Hossa’s place during his absence, but another thought that the team will likely have will be to replace Hossa with someone who is more of a scorer than a defensive presence, and two players immediately jump to mind.
The first is Akim Aliu, who was drafted in the 2nd round by Chicago in 2007. He fits the role of scoring winger very well, having notched 44 points (18 G, 26 A) in only 45 games in the OHL last season with London and Sudbury. He had a very solid prospect camp in Chicago earlier in the month, and he would be an ideal fit on a line with Tomas Kopecky and Patrick Sharp.
If the Hawks wanted to get a little more creative, they could feasibly move Patrick Sharp to right wing and bring up 1st round pick Kyle Beach. Taken 11th overall by the Hawks in 2008, Beach showed quite a bit of potential with Everett and Lethbridge (WHL) last season, scoring 24 goals, 39 assists, and adding 165 PIM in 54 games between the two squads. He is a big, physical presence on the ice, but adds the element of a deft scoring touch to the mix.
Thought 5: After a Hectic Off-season, Hawks Fans Need to Keep Cool Heads
With everything that has been going on, there has been plenty for Hawks fans to worry about. The Hossa injury “saga”, however, should not be something that fans should worry themselves sick over.
Granted, Hossa is a premier offensive player who has the capability to single-handedly carry teams on his back for stretches, but losing him for the first month and a half to two months of the season isn’t going to kill a team as talented as the Blackhawks are. They will rebound from this loss and play to the best of their ability, which should land them somewhere near the top of the conference heap anyway.
All the worrying about Hossa is doing is spiking the sale of Rolaids and Canadian Club whiskey in this city, and fans would be a lot better off cooling the jets of passion on this one.
Injuries are a common occurrence in the NHL, and for those of you keeping notes, Hossa routinely plays nearly every game each season, so he certainly has a track record of health that cannot be ignored. This minor bump in the road might cause some slight inconveniences to the team on the ice, but it will not derail their title aspirations as some folks would have you believe.
The key here is to be patient, and when Hossa hits the ice after recovering from his injury, things will still be just fine.