Blackhawks Confidential

Hossa's return centers on what it might mean for Toews, Kane

hossa.jpgMarian Hossa is a shot machine. He took 307 shots last season, more than any of the top right wings in the National Hockey League.

So when Hossa debuts in a Chicago uniform this week, perhaps playing Wednesday night in San Jose if he gets final approval, a Blackhawks team on a 7-game winning streak is expected to pick up more steam with this famous net raker.

But Hossa's arrival brings plenty of questions before he ever answers the bell.

One is what trickle-down effect will Hossa have on a club that has been excelling without him at 15-5-2 and what impact might it have on Patrick Kane? All positives, or might there be unintended negative consequences?

And should he play on a line with fellow right winger Kane with one guy obviously shifting to the left? Or should they stay apart and tend to their own business at even strength?

Another is who centers for Hossa? Here you went and got an expensive, ballyhooed free agent only to have no obvious centering candidate for him with Dave Bolland sidelined for months after back surgery.

Should you split up center Jonathan Toews and Kane and let Hossa have Toews? Or is Kane and Toews working so well together you are playing with fire by messing with that formula?

Kris Versteeg shows no centering ability, so the winger doesn't seem a match for Hossa as a center. As much as I like Versteeg, he will rebel sometimes when it comes to dumping pucks and doing the simple things. He likes to play with a flourish, but he has to learn he can succeed by sticking to the basics as well.

Now let's examine the Hossa-Kane dynamic.

Kane scored 70 points in '08'-'09, 1 fewer than Hossa among right wingers. Pretty even. But he unleashed 254 shots total, far fewer than his new teammate, and played in six more games than Detroit's Hossa.

Kane had 45 assists compared to Hossa's 40 goals last season, which just emphasizes their varied strengths. Kane's passing remains the trademark of his strengths with 13 of his 25 goals scored last season on the power play, while Hossa had 30 even-strength goals.

Kane's noticeable development is evident, however, by the fact that 8 of his 9 goals this year are even-strength scores. That means Kane is just four even-strength goals away from matching his entire goal production last season in that category. Imagine that.

At 21, we are watching him grow into a more refined talent piece by piece. A complete Patrick Kane is going to be pretty awesome, because he's damn exciting now.

To my way of thinking, other than playing Kane and Hossa together on the power play, coach Joel Quenneville has to keep Kane and Hossa seperated on the ice for Kane's benefit.

You don't want to turn Kane into primarily a passer. That would be a tendency if he played at even strength with Hossa. As appealing as that combo seems to some, I wonder about its fallout.

Kane needs to continue to mature as a shooter and scorer. He can do that by making his own way on his personal journey and not slip into the role of riding shotgun for the prolific Hossa.

While some will argue that matching Kane's passing and Hossa's shooting is a no-brainer, I don't want to stunt Kane's growth.

Kane currently ranks 6th among league right wings with 23 points. I don't want Hossa's return to have any impact on his forward momentum.

Kane has made other strides from last season. His plus-8 is a welcome change from Kane's minus-2 finish last season. Hossa was a plus-27 when last season ended, so Kane has that mountain to climb as well to stand head-and-shoulders as Hossa's equal.

Kane's puck possession is amazing to watch. He has an obvious stronger core that can fend off defenders trying to strip him of the puck. That work ethic bodes well for his future.

The best athletes in general try to feed off one another. Sometimes it's friendly competition, as long as the teammates like each other. Sometimes it's driven by jealousy, hating the idea the other guy is going to be considered better than you.

Hossa should be good for Kane. He will finally see first-hand how Hossa goes about racking up lots of shots and lots of goals, and the best athletes also steal from each other. Kane should have learned some new tricks from Hossa before season's end about how to score.

I like the idea, though, of playing winger Patrick Sharp with Hossa.

Sharp can be a streaky player. He will have to pay more attention on a Hossa line and that should draw more consistent play out of him. Or at least that's what I would hope. Versteeg will have to knuckle down and be more disciplined if he sees time with Hossa.

With 6 goals, 13 assists, Sharp presently ranks among the top 14 left wings in production. But with only one power play goal, he needs to concentrate on doing more when his team has the man advantage.

While I may be in the minority, I thoroughly enjoyed Sunday night's 1-0 win in Vancouver. I know it wasn't the Blackhawks at their best, but sometimes you can tell more about a team when it's playing exhausted and trying to hang on tenaciously.

It was a struggle to the finish and yet the Hawks looked good to me fighting for every inch of ice. Even the Dustin Byfuglien haters had to take a night off. It was his kind of clawing game and Byfuglien didn't disappoint, throwing his body into the fray.

And while I have been hard on Brian Campbell, outside of Andy Niemi, he may have been the best player out there. He made good decisions and was an asset from start to finish.

Time for the Hossa era to begin. But it wouldn't be surprising to me if he starts slowly, because who's his center?

Hockey is a team game. Hossa can't excel by himself. He needs linemates to make him play like the star he is. Let's hope somebody is ready to step into the job.

Until it happens, the job is wide-open.

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14 Comments

Dave Morris said:

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Right on the money, Mike.

Like you, I found last night's game a real thriller. When two teams so well prepared to meet one another match skill, wits and physique the way the Blackhawks and Canucks did, the result is a game that is as rewarding as it is exciting.

It took guts, hard work and smarts for the Hawks to win this one.

Hossa's not only a more skilled player than Havlat, he's tougher and smarter. With Sharp, that Pat just gets...sharper.

Cheers.

Alligator Derski said:

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I'm sure Q will find the right linemates for Hossa, and I like your points about letting Kane develop all parts of his game. The argument an also be made that putting Kaner and Hossa together will allow for more scoring opportunities for the kid.

Teams can't ignore either player, and I think Kane is developed enough at this point to take what is given to him, i.e. if he can't get the puck to Hossa, he'll put it on net himself. D men won't know what hit 'em.

Hossa will only make those around him better, and by mixing it up, Q will let the kids see for themselves that they need to produce no matter who they're playing with.

The power play is only going to get better with MH on the ice and with the goaltending we have been getting lately (which seems more like the rule rather than the exception at this point) the Hawks are putting themselves in good position to make a real run at the Cup.

iplagitr said:

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Mike, well thought-out points on the future impact of putting Kane and Hossa together. Kane has way too much talent to just be the set-up man for the big gun, and you're right that he may settle into that role and lose some edge on how to put the puck in on his own. However, maybe down the line they could develop into more of a Gretzky-Kurri duo where Kane could excel in both scoring and assisting a great shooter. I know, it's not fair to compare players to the Great One.... but Kane is developing Gretz-like vision and touch as a passer.

I like the sound of pairing Hossa with Sharp while keeping Toews and Kane together. Spread the attack out. Whatever happens, it will be fun to watch Q experiment in the next few games!

Forklift said:

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I like the idea of Kane/Toews/Hossa as your #1 PP unit, but that's about it.

I'd like to see Hossa get on Toews' wing to start out and let him get his game legs back with the #1 center, before sliding back into the #2 spot, and Kane moving up to #1.

Of course, if our friend Mr. Sassone is correct, Cullen might come from Carolina to center for Hossa.

Mike Kiley said:

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Waiting for Stan to make a trade is like waiting for me to get a raise. It's possible. It could be, it might be, it...well, don't hold your breath.

theTruth said:

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i agree with much of whats said in the article, but no Hossa with Kane for fear of Kane not developing into a complete player? how did playing with a sniper like Kurri affect Gretzky's ability to score? great players help and feed off of each other, and last i checked, Hossa wasnt allergic to passing and setting up teammates for easy goals.

Mike Kiley said:

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You make the same argument my son does. When I told him what I was going to write, opposite of what he said on this blog a while back about Hossa and Kane needing to be together, I got a big fat "muh!" But if you admit to agreeing with much of what I say that'll still put you in a rather tiny minority. Thanks for reading.

mikeyo said:

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Great article (and recent coverage) of a great team winning streak. Isn't this just an incredible hockey situation to watch developing? The team is already starting to hit a stride that other teams have to really focus to keep up. People are no longer fully panicking about the goalie situation, and I frankly would like to see a little more platooning of the two of them.
Now, all the strategists get to speculate the line changes, and for all we know, it will take Coach Q more than a couple shuffles to find the magic combo. Maybe mix it up from game to game? That would put a lot of pressure on opposing Defences.
I also will really enjoy not seeing so many photos of Hossa in a, um, (redwings) sweater.

Mike Kiley said:

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I figured that Red Wings sweater would rankle some feathers. I don't want anyone getting soft during the winning streak. Happy Holiday Hate. It's hockey.

mikeyo said:

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Should say "focus to keep up _with_ . In above post.

Jerry Kayne said:

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Hossa-Sharp-Eager or Ladd. In the short term we need someone flying around finishing checks as a distraction while Hossa and Sharp do some scoring damage. Sharp did a fine job centering last year. Sharps' our Mark DeRosa. Except let's wrap him up as a core player again.

Jerry Kayne said:

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PS. No trades necessary, we'll only be strengthening other teams with Talon's development & scouting.

FearlessFreep said:

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Mike, this is not related to this particular story, but I found this nugget from Ken Campbell on The Hockey News regarding his take on the potential cap crisis for the Hawks. What's your opinion on this?

http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/29535-Campbells-Cuts-Prongers-historic-Norris-bid-and-Niemi-vs-Huet.html

Mike Kiley said:

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Freep, not a freeping chance. Campbell opines that the Hawks might have to demote Huet to the minors to free cap space and make Niemi No. 1. Since he admits he wrote it Monday afternoon, I expect Campbell began drinking anywhere between 9:30-10 a. m.

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