Marian Hossa is revered in hockey circles for his strength with the puck and dominant two way play. He is one of the very best balanced forwards in the NHL even with his advanced age. There is a reason Chicago Blackhawks fans affectionately call him things like the "Demi-god".
However even with someone like Hossa, who it seems like will play forever like Jaromir Jagr, the signs of decline have been gradual and obvious over the years. Hossa is after all a player who translated his career play from a 40 goal type scorer to the balanced play on both ends he displays in Chicago. It's easy to maintain that transition was made because that scoring role is needed less with a team like the Blackhawks and because it was necessary for Hossa to maintain his longevity.
This season though, it feels like another bigger step has been taken along that gradual decline, and while age and injuries are easy factors to point to, those are reasons that have always been present. There are advanced ideas to consider as well.
While the Blackhawks anxiously await his return on the original two week timetable as suggested by head coach Joel Quenneville, Hossa is on pace for only a projected 14 goals this season and just 25 assists. Both are such numbers that Hossa has not hovered around for a long time. The last few times he's been close to only around 40 points and less than 20 goals, was as a young player with the Ottawa Senators as he needed more seasoning in the respective 1997-1999 seasons, and the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season with Chicago, where he played just 40 games.
Hossa is shooting a comically low 6.1 percent on goal this year, by far a career low, even compared to his younger days. That kind of statistic points to a major correction sometime soon when Hossa returns from the lower body injury. I'm pointing to the fact that many have expected the classic goal and scoring binge we see from him every season as hockey is obviously an inherently very streaky sport. Yet, it hasn't arrived for whatever reason.
Quite frankly we have not seen this an ineffective or rather better said, inconsistent, Hossa for a long time. Consider that lot of this bad luck, isn't under his control.
There is the noted injury concern. Last season, Hossa appeared in all 82 regular season games, a surprising number for a long time veteran that one may think needs more rest. This year, in addition to his current lower body ailment, he has played in just 54 of the possible 62 games, and will likely miss at least the next week of play.
Other than a medial collateral ligament tear in his lone season with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007-2008, shoulder surgery in his first year with Chicago, and back surgery in the summer after winning his second Stanley Cup, Hossa has actually maintained relative great health and movement. He appeared in 72 games and recorded 60 points after said back surgery in the 2013-2014 season, which is remarkable. Injuries after all, take away from the important timing hockey players rely on and should take away athleticism too. It's a testament to the veteran's training regimen and dedication no doubt, but these kinds of little nicks may finally be adding up much more than before.
Lineup issues have also plagued Hossa. While the Blackhawks have enjoyed the addition of Artem Anisimov as a stabilizing 2nd line center, the Brandon Saad trade has inversely affected Hossa and his regular linemate, Jonathan Toews on the top line. A regular rotating cast of characters at the top left wing position that has featured Andrew Shaw and Richard Panik most recently and prominently, has no doubt taken away consistency and stability for the top line companions.
While Saad played into the heavy mix of the cycle and skill game Hossa and Toews often like to play, guys like Shaw, who have performed more than admirably in a role they aren't built for, have to play a different style with less size and ability among things considered. This is a huge detractor for maintaining the puck in the zone as both Hossa and Toews' possession numbers are down considerably from last season's Corsi percentages of 54.94 and 55.04% respectively. Fatigue is an idea to ponder as well for both due to deep playoff runs, but that is likely shortsighted, as it hasn't been a noticeable issue before after long treks in the postseason. This year both are hovering a little under 52 percent possession wise, which is a noticeable drop off that hasn't worked out well for Chicago in more ways than one.
There is a reason the Blackhawks have been rumored among the top suitors for a legitimate first line left wing like Andrew Ladd or even Mikkel Boedker. Your top talents like Hossa need to be maximized and ultimately have the proper support from teammates.
Despite all of this, this insight into an aging player's struggles is a little different from noted hockey statistics guru, Jennifer Lute Costella, and her fantastic analysis of Patrick Sharp last season. What was maintained was that Sharp wasn't generating quality chances at the rate Hossa has this year. Sharp had lost his timing and wasn't the same consistent offensive dynamo.
That isn't the case with Hossa, as he is still a possession magnet even with only one consistent linemate. Limited to Chicago, Hossa is second only to Patrick Kane in shots on goal. With Hossa's lack of scoring, one may assume most of these shots aren't all that threatening. Yet when you take a closer look, Hossa is actually also only second to Andrew Shaw in individual high danger scoring chances, with 53 (Most of Shaw's leading 56 chances have come because of the benefits of Hossa and Toews' dynamic playmaking, not the other way around). High danger scoring chances are qualified as any shots that come from the inside in the slot and otherwise. Watching Hossa's individual play this year displays that fact, as he hasn't slowed down so sharply, he just hasn't had the luck. There is also no discernible stretch of games where he created more or less chances. It has been a consistent and steady plane. No where is it more evident, than the games where he's still able to take over as the best player on the ice even with his age, like February's most recent tilt with the Colorado Avalanche.
As soon as Hossa returns in early March, the mentioned goal binge will come soon enough and the road to 500 goals should finally come to an end. Barring something unexpected at the trade deadline, the Blackhawks may also provide Hossa with a second consistent line-mate to assist in that matter.
While older and less healthy than usual, expect the effective statistical anomalies to correct themselves. The random nature of hockey will allow for it. Ultimately once he returns from injury, expect Marian Hossa to round into playoff form in being the consistent scoring and two-way "Demi-god" the Chicago Blackhawks know and love.
Robert Zeglinski is a staff writer and contributor for Second City Hockey and No Coast Bias. He is currently the sports editor at Aurora University. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.