Marian Hossa is the best free agent signing in Chicago sports history, and it’s not close

How was this even a discussion?

There’s been a lot of talk coming out of the news that Marian Hossa will sit out the 2017-18 NHL season, from appreciation of his career to questions about how it’ll impact the Blackhawks’ salary cap. There’s also been a discussion going around social media: Is he the greatest free agent signing, from any sport, in the Chicago’s history?

It’s a very fun debate. It’s also a hilariously unnecessary one because the answer is yes. CLEARLY yes. C’mon people. Let us not disrespect the Demi-God.

It’s time to go to bat for Hossa, just like I’ll do when it’s time for him to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Marian Hossa’s incredible NHL career deserves a better ending than this

So you know how free agents tend to be pretty disastrous decisions for teams? The best players almost never hit the open market, and anytime they do, they’re able to command such high prices that the deals almost never work out in the long haul. If you’re signing a free agent to an eight-year deal, you’re basically hoping the first four years are great, the next two years are okay, and the last two years you’re just hanging on for dear life.

That’s just the reality in most sports, where guys don’t hit free agency until well into their careers. You don’t get the big free agent signing from ages 20-27. You’re getting ages 28-35, and you know damn well things change in those years, whether you’re talking hockey or drinking without a hangover.

The Blackhawks got Hossa from ages 31-38, pending his potential retirement. They didn’t get his best years. From 2003-09, he averaged 39 goals and 82 points per season. That he didn’t get significant Selke votes until later in his career is a travesty for someone who was long an impact player defensively as a winger.

And yet, Hossa delivered on every level for the Blackhawks. They needed an elite two-way winger to partner with Jonathan Toews on a line that could anchor their team. They needed a veteran thirsty for a Stanley Cup who could push a young team to its potential. They needed someone whose ego wouldn’t get in the way of the franchise’s real cornerstones.

Hossa did it all. He was the defensive beast the Blackhawks needed. In the regular season, he averaged 29 goals and 64 points per 82 games over his eight years. In four separate postseasons, he had at least 14 points. His first year there, he did this:

Many years later, he’d score his 500th career goal with the team:

The Blackhawks, straight up, do not win three Stanley Cups without Hossa. The price at which they signed him made him an incredible bargain (more on that soon), and allowed them to play a relentless two-way, possession-driving style that countless teams now try to replicate.

And to top it all off, his contract is a hilarious circumvention of the NHL’s silly contract rules, which use average annual value to calculate yearly cap hits instead of annual base salaries. The Blackhawks used that to their advantage to get Hossa at an incredible $5.275 million cap hit, and while the NHL eventually came after them with salary cap recapture rules, they’re gonna try to get out of those, too, by placing him on LTIR.

So not only is Hossa an amazing signing in terms of his performance, but the contract itself is something else, too.

Who compares to that in Chicago history? Seriously, who? Let’s run through the prime candidates.

Julius Peppers

We’re going to compare four seasons of a star who won zero championships to eight seasons of a star who won three? Peppers was great, no doubt, but Hossa beats him on longevity AND title impact. Don’t bring me some talk about Pro Bowls when Hossa pretty much always played at an All-Star level, even if he wasn’t honored that way all the time. One playoff appearance in four years? C’mon.

(Also he signed with the Packers, which, nah.)

Carlton Fisk

Fisk has got the longevity, but zero championships and a bunch of pretty bad years in there. Like, seriously, what happened to this dude in 1986? The year before, he hit 37 home runs and finished 13th in AL MVP voting. In 1986, he had 14 homers and a .261 on-base percentage. Baseball-Reference puts the performance at -1.7 WAR, which is really, really bad. Fisk? More like whisk that suggestion away from me because Hossa wins.

Andre Dawson

Winning an NL MVP award in 1987 was amazing, but his play did little to change the Cubs’ fortunes. Also, it’s probably worth pointing out that Tony Gwynn or Eric Davis, not Dawson, should have won the MVP. Dawson had a .328 on-base percentage. Gwynn had a .447 OBP, 13 triples, and 56 stolen bases. RBIs are a helluva drug.

Moises Alou

Moises Alou was awesome in Chicago. He’s also primarily remembered for getting mad in the direction of Steve Bartman that one time, leading to Bartman having to basically unroot his entire life because sports fans can be jerks. Still, 39 homers and a .361 on-base percentage in 2004, pretty good.

Ron Harper

Harper went from being a high-scoring shooting with bad teams to a low-scoring point guard with the Bulls in order to win titles next to Michael Jordan, and he ended up getting three, which matches Hossa. But he wasn’t remotely as important to those teams as Hossa was to the Blackhawks, and he went chasing rings again with the Lakers a year after MJ left.

Alfonso Soriano

This is what I mean with the whole “signing a guy from ages 31-38 can be a bad idea” thing.