Well-rested Hossa hoping for healthy season
CHICAGO -- It might sound a little odd, but goals and assists aren't the primary concern for Marian Hossa this season.
Those surely will pile up for the Blackhawks forward if he can achieve his primary goal: Staying healthy.
Sounds easy enough, but staying healthy for a full season is something the 32-year-old Hossa hasn't done since playing all 82 games with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2006-07. In each of the four seasons since, while playing on four teams, Hossa has battled multiple injuries.
That includes both seasons the Slovakian star spent with the Hawks after signing a 12-year contract in July 2009.
"I would like to play 82 games," said Hossa, who got his first extended offseason to rest since making three straight trips to the Cup Final with three different teams. "That would be my goal. I hope it helps that I had a long summer, long recovery and a longer summer program."
If anyone needed the rest, it was Hossa, who had had three straight short summers before the Blackhawks lost in the first round of last season's playoffs to the Vancouver Canucks. Hossa's first season in Chicago began with him out of action while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but last season was the most frustrating for both he and the team.
He missed 17 games with four separate ailments -- including two extended absences -- and each one seemed to thwart his effort to regain top form. After totaling 7 goals and 11 points in his first seven games, Hossa scored just 1 goal and 9 points the rest of the calendar year while getting hurt twice – the first a shoulder injury in late October and the second a knee sprain in late November after a collision in practice with defenseman Nick Boynton.
"Last year, he seemed to be on that track where he was on top of his game and all of a sudden (he'd get) hurt again," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "That was something that came up at least three times, but early in the year he was as good of a player as there is in the game."
The trick now is finding a way to stay on the ice, since good things usually happen when he does. He's played at least 80 games six times, and in each of them he's scored at least 30 goals, and twice has 40. He's also scored at least 75 points in five of the six seasons. In 2006-07, the only season he played all 82 games, he set career-highs in goals (43), assists (57) and points (100).
Hossa believes the extended offseason he had this summer could be the answer -- or at least a good starting point.
"(It was) definitely nice," Hossa said. "Mentally and physically, both things, it was really important. After three short summers it was a nice break. Hopefully it's going to help me."
Hossa also will have added motivation from a personal standpoint after one of his closest friends, former NHL star Pavol Demitra, was killed in the Sept. 7 plane crash in Russia that wiped out the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv KHL team. Hossa has Demitra's number on his skates and might keep it there for the start of the regular season -- a season he's been looking forward to all summer.
Now all he has to do is stay healthy for an entire season, and see if he and the Blackhawks can reap the benefits if his past trends hold up.
It won't hurt that he will man the right wing on a talented second line that might be centered by Patrick Kane, with veteran Andrew Brunette on the left side. Kane has played right wing almost exclusively since breaking into the NHL in 2008, but if he adapts to the center role, it could mean some high point totals for all three of them.
Kane is considered the Hawks' best passer, while Hossa is one of its best shooters. Add Brunette's slick hands around the net on the other side and the potential is there to have one overwhelmingly good line -- at least in the offensive zone.
"With Hossa being a left-handed shot, getting the puck in his hands a little more would be friendlier for everybody," Quenneville said. "(Kane) sees plays and makes plays and (Brunette's) kind of comparable … they can all see plays and make plays, and it's going to end up on somebody's stick eventually in that dangerous area."
That's exactly how it worked the first time the line was put into action, as Hossa and Kane were all over the score sheet Wednesday against the Detroit Red Wings. Kane had a goal and an assist, while Hossa scored the game-winner during a 5-on-3 power play in the third period.
While he didn't initially seem thrilled to play center, the notion of playing with Hossa more often has to be enticing for Kane.
"You look at his career and he's pretty much scored 40 goals every year (he's been healthy)," Kane said. "He's probably glad that he had the long summer and happy that he's healthy. He looks good to start. He's fresh and looks excited. If I'm playing with him, that's great. I'm happy to play with him and try to feed him the puck and get him good scoring opportunities because you know he can bury it."
However, it's not just the things that show up on a score sheet that makes Hossa such an important piece to the Hawks' puzzle.
"He's one of the elite players in the game and can be one of the top guys," Quenneville said. "You can always measure certain players by their production, but … he does so many things well. Sometimes he's playing good hockey and doesn't have anything to show for it (offensively), but we feel his contribution to our team game is immense."
And that's the biggest reason the Hawks must find a way to keep him healthy.