Introducing The Hockey Writers’ Countdown to Puck Drop series. From now until the puck drops on the 2019-20 NHL’s regular season on Oct. 2 when the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Ottawa Senators, we’ll be producing content that’s connected to the number of days remaining on that particular day. Some posts may be associated with a player’s number, while others will be connected to a year or length of time. We’re really excited about this series as we take you through the remainder of summer in anticipation of the return of NHL hockey.
July 12 marked exactly one year since the Chicago Blackhawks announced Marian Hossa had been traded to the Arizona Coyotes. Hossa would never play as a Coyote, and the move was primarily to clear cap space for the Blackhawks. Yet it seemed almost unthinkable at the time that Hossa would not officially finish out his career with the Blackhawks. Since he joined the team, Hossa had claimed three championship titles, and in the eyes of fans, he had become a Blackhawk through and through.
Hossa’s status as a Blackhawks legend hadn’t always been so certain. With 81 days left until the start of the 2019-20 NHL season today, let’s consider number 81’s journey from an unlucky new asset to becoming a Blackhawks core forward in their decade of Stanley Cups.
The Blackhawks’ Build-Up
With the benefit of hindsight, it may seem inevitable that Hossa’s first season with the Blackhawks would also be the year of the team’s first Stanley Cup victory since 1961. The transition between Hossa’s first time donning the red sweater and that Game 6 victory in Philadelphia didn’t happen overnight, though.
To start, the Blackhawks had been forming the core of their championship team for years. Eight years before the 2010 victory, Mike Smith created one of the most iconic defense duos in recent NHL history, drafting Duncan Keith in 2002 and Brent Seabrook in 2003. Dale Tallon acquired Patrick Sharp in 2005. The organization chose captain Jonathan Toews in the 2006 draft. Then, in 2007, the Blackhawks drafted Patrick Kane at first overall.
As the team began to build, so did the expectations. The feeling of anticipation surrounding the franchise during those years was real; we haven’t simply imposed it on the past because we know what came next. Scott Burnside wrote for ESPN in Sept. 2007:
“Kane has never taken an NHL shift and he’s already thrown out the first pitch at a Cubs game. Toews has never played an NHL shift, yet he’s already won a World Championship and people are talking captaincy.”
Thankfully, once Toews and Kane joined the team, the organization’s vision did start to take shape on ice. In the 2008-09 season, the Blackhawks ended their playoff drought. Another piece of the puzzle was still missing before the dream could be fully realized.
The Hossa Curse
When the Blackhawks signed Hossa in 2009, many Blackhawks fans wondered whether the team had just taken on ‘‘The Curse.’ Hossa was certainly an experienced and accomplished forward. He had already achieved a 100-point season with the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2006-07 season, and he had played in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in the two seasons before he joined the Blackhawks. The story behind those two Cup runs were the cause for concern.
At the 2008 NHL Trade Deadline, Hossa had joined the Pittsburgh Penguins, only for the Penguins to lose to the Detroit Red Wings in that season’s Final. Set on joining a winning team, Hossa crossed enemy blue lines and signed with the Red Wings within a month of the loss. Despite his best efforts, Hossa finished on the second-place team once again when the Penguins triumphed over the Red Wings in Game 7 of the 2009 Final.
After those two unfortunate seasons, Hossa made another dramatic move and signed with the Red Wings’ long-standing rival: the Blackhawks. While Hossa brought offensive power, would his seemingly unlucky presence only lengthen the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup drought?
The Road to the Finals
Hossa’s first regular season with the Blackhawks wasn’t without its challenges, as a shoulder injury took him out of 25 games. With this injury as an obstacle on the season, Hossa still managed to score 51 points in 57 games. When the team made the playoffs for the second consecutive year, he was ready, scoring 15 points that post-season.
His points included a dramatic, game-winning goal in the first round against the Nashville Predators. The Blackhawks were down 4-3 when Hossa received a five-minute penalty for boarding. Without Kane’s tying goal while short-handed in the final minute of the game, Hossa’s legacy with the Blackhawks may have ended differently. That goal, however, pushed the game into overtime and allowed Hossa a chance to redeem himself—if only in this game for now. Out of the penalty box, Hossa quickly placed himself in the front of the Predator’s net and clinched the game for the Blackhawks.
While memorable, that goal alone may not have solidified Hossa in Blackhawks’ mythology without the following events. The Blackhawks went on to defeat Nashville in Game 6, moving on to defeat the Vancouver Canucks and sweep the San Jose Sharks to advance to the Stanley Cup Final (from ‘Blackhawks First Stanley Cup in 41 Years,’ The New York Times, 6/9/2010).
Then, any superstitious jokes the media or fans had made were shut down by Hossa hoisting the Cup with the rest of the Blackhawks. This was the first Cup for Hossa and the first for the franchise in almost 50 years
Hossa would go on to win two more championships with the team and become known as one of the core players who truly brought hockey alive in Chicago once more. Looking back, the Blackhawks’ championship arc may appear to start in 2010. In considering the team’s story over the last decade, let’s not forget what a triumph even the first victory was for the franchise and for players like Hossa.