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Marian Hossa’s case to be first-ballot Hockey Hall of Famer

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The former Blackhawks forward should make it in at some point, but is he worthy of being a first-ballot hall of famer?

Nasvhille Predators v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Two
Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks looks down the ice in the first period against Nashville in the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs
Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

Marian Hossa is up for the Hockey Hall of Fame for the first time this year. The 2020 class, which will be announced Wednesday, will likely include Jarome Iginla as a first-ballot hall of famer. Besides Iginla, though, there are no locks.

Hossa — who won three Stanley Cup championships during his eight seasons with the Blackhawks — making it into the Hall on his first try would make some sense, as he seems destined for enshrinement. But is he a first-ballot contender? The group of first-ballot hall of famers in the past decade includes Martin Brodeur, Chris Chelios, Peter Forsberg, Niklas Lidstrom, Mike Modano, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Joe Sakic, Teemu Selanne, Martin St. Louis and Mats Sundin.

The list of hall of famers who needed at least two ballots two gain entry is still an impressive group: Ed Belfour, Paul Kariya, Eric Lindros, Joe Nieuwendyk and Brendan Shanahan.

Which group will Hossa be in?

Even if there are no clear locks in a given year, that doesn’t mean the Hall will select those it deems not worthy of a first-ballot entrance. In 2010, for example, the Hall inducted Dino Ciccarelli but made Belfour and Nieuwendyk wait a year.

Here’s the case for Hossa this year, and why he may have to wait and be inducted with Jaromir Jagr and Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

The case for a first-ballot entry for Hossa

Given Hossa’s all-around game, the argument could begin anywhere. If he was inducted, Hossa would have the 30th most goals (525) and 46th most points (1,134) among hall of famers. He’s ahead of notable hall of famers in each category, with Bryan Trottier (524 goals) and Nieuwendyk (1,126 points) in both easier eras for scoring.

Hossa’s goals per game (.401) were tremendous, and Iginla (.402) was only slightly better. Hossa also had a strong number of game-winning goals (85), and his 19-year career saw him dip under 20 goals only three times, and even when he played fewer than 65 games. He scored 17 goals in 40 games in the 2012-13 lockout shortened season, a pace of just under 35 goals in a full 82-game season.

Hossa’s international statistics also give him credence as one of the best Slovakian players of all time, and the debate between him and Zdeno Chara will likely continue with both in the Hall. Hossa had 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 12 World Junior games, 41 points (16 goals, 25 assists) in 52 World Championship games with four seven-point performances (1999, 2004-06) and 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) in 19 Olympic contests.

His best argument, however, might be his defense. Hossa was the best defensive winger of his era as shown by his takeaway-to-giveaway ratio, although the stat only started counting in his ninth season. He had 577 takeaways in the regular season to just 278 giveaways. He was a possession monster throughout his career, and in his best season with the Blackhawks in 2011-12, he scored 77 points (29 goals, 48 assists) and had 94 takeaways — with only 29 giveaways.

Although Hossa never won the Selke trophy as the League’s best defensive forward (he peaked with a fifth-place finish in the vote in 2014), that’s more because of voters’ inability to reward wingers for the same accomplishments of centers than indicative of Hossa’s abilities.

If inducted, Hossa would have the 11th-most shorthanded goals among hall of famers.

The case against a first-ballot entry for Hossa

The case against Hossa, at least as a first-ballot inductee, is also strong. It starts where the argument for him ended with no individual awards. Hossa finished second for the Calder Trophy in his rookie season with Ottawa, the highest finish of his career for an individual award. He was in the top five once for the Lady Byng (2003) and once for the Selke (2014) and finished in the top 10 for the Hart twice (2003, 2007) and Selke once (2015).

His only win was a second-team All Star in 2009 (his one season in Detroit). He wasn’t selected for either All-Star team in his 100-point season in 2006-07 with the Atlanta Thrashers.

Besides his goals-per-game rate (.401), no other per-game rate in Hossa’s career stands out:

Point-per-game rate (.87) — 133rd all time

Playoff point-per-game rate (.727) — 151st

Playoff goal-per-game rate (.254) — 243rd

With those rates, it is unsurprising Hossa only had 149 points (52 goals, 97 assists) in 205 playoff games (tied for 18th all time with Brodeur, three behind Jagr and Wayne Gretzky. But Hossa reached the playoffs 17 times in his 19-year career, including becoming the first player to reach three consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances with three different teams (2008-10).

His playoff performances lacked a clutch factor, as he faded from view in the conference final and Cup Final series. He had 27 points in 33 conference final games and only four goals in 30 Cup Final games. His one truly great performance came in 2008, when he scored nine points (four goals, five assists) in five conference final games and seven points (three goals, four assists) in six games in the Cup Final.

First ballot or later?

The 2020 Hall of Fame class has one clear lock (Iginla). The 2021 class has three (Jagr and the Sedin twins). But Hossa, eligible for the first time in 2020, should likely join the class of player who missed their first ballot but got in their second.

Hossa has more in common with Nieuwendyk and Shanahan than he does with any member of the first-ballot club besides Sundin. His playoff performances left some room to be desired, especially in terms of goal scoring, and his lack of individual awards, while not entirely on him, will likely leave him off his first ballot.