There's no doubt that Team Europe general manager Miroslav Satan got dealt a challenging hand when tasked with assembling a team from the players of several European countries, many of whom never played together before. This team would need to be capable of taking on the likes of Canada, Finland, Russia, etc., without the continuity those teams boast. So there were always going to be hard choices, and there were always going be ways to second-guess Satan's decisions.
One of them -- at least from the Blackhawks' perspective -- might be asking a 37-year-old Marian Hossa, who has played countless international tournaments and NHL postseasons over the past decade, to play in another tourney just before the beginning of his 19th NHL season.
As his employer on a unique contract that penalizes the team if he retires, Chicago wants to do whatever it can to prolong his career. We've seen that through the regular rest days Hossa receives throughout the season. He's also playing fewer minutes per game than he did when he first joined the Hawks in his early 30s.
And yet, despite the team's best efforts to keep him fresh, Hossa didn't exactly look spry at times during the 2015-16 season. His signs of life against the Blues in the postseason's opening round only came after an inconsistent regular season full of uncharacteristic scoring droughts. This is a player who looked very, very much like he could use the extra rest afforded by an early playoff exit.
But Hossa was going to be on Team Europe either way, as he was part of the preliminary roster announced in the spring. It's remarkable for a player who has added hundreds of games to his career total through the NHL playoffs and representing Slovakia. It also begs the question of what's motivating Hossa to push the odometer a little further when he's not even suiting up for his own country.
The answer, though, might be simple: the chance to do something different and finally add an international medal to his hardware collection. Hossa has never won a medal at either the Olympics or World Championships. In 2004, Slovakia finished fourth at the Worlds, and in 2010, they finished fourth again at the Olympics in Vancouver. That team doesn't stand a good chance of earning a medal at a major tourney before Hossa retires, so maybe he views this as his last grand swing at doing something truly significant in international hockey.
And considering he's Marian freaking Hossa, he's earned that right.
Still, for one of the Hawks' oldest players -- and someone still on the books for years -- it feels like another variable that could nudge things in the wrong direction. Hossa, arguably more than anyone on the team, needs a proper, complete offseason to recover. Chicago, meanwhile, needs this dude to be effective until he's like 43. And yet he'll be spending half of September playing arguably meaningless games in which he risks injury that could drag well into the NHL season. Why not give younger players a shot? Surely there are some younger Europeans who would've been thrilled to be selected.
But Hossa has never earned a medal, and maybe that's what's motivating him to take the gamble beyond the usual competitiveness that defines great athletes. It's not like saying no wasn't an option considering Jagr did it. So let's just hope Hossa gets his hardware and doesn't look winded come next spring because otherwise, it'll be hard not to wonder whether a nice, relaxing training camp would've been the trick.