On the 54th day of the 2009-10 National Hockey League season, the hockey gods gave the Chicago Blackhawks Marian Hossa(notes). Almost five months after he signed a 12-year, $62.8 million contract, Hossa will finally suit up tonight for the Blackhawks as they visit the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion in a battle of the top two teams in the Western Conference. (Watch the game live on Y! Sports at 10:30 p.m. EST)
The return of "The Redeemer" will be noticed immediately as Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville will put Hossa with Jonathan Toews(notes) and Patrick Kane(notes), giving the Blackhawks one of the best lines in the NHL. Playing alongside the young duo should help Hossa quickly open his scoring account. With three more games on the west coast before returning home Tuesday against Columbus, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Hossa will have Blackhawks fans already forgetting about Martin Havlat(notes) (two goals in 19 games for Minnesota) by next week, as the Daily Herald's Tim Sassone wrote yesterday.
While he'll be on a line with Chicago's two best offensive players should help, Hossa is coming off rotator cuff surgery and wasn't on the ice during training camp. As one of the four "Hossa Rules" for Blackhawk's fans, The Fifth Feather points out that Hossa's first few games will be considered his pre-season:
-Marian Hossa did not participate in the pre-season; this is his pre-season. Therefore, it will probably take more than a couple games for him to get his sea legs back. Even if he plays out of his Slovakian mind on Wednesday, he’s probably going to look a little sluggish for the first couple weeks. No need to panic if things don’t start off exactly as you planned. The Hawks didn’t sign Sergei Berezin to a 12-year deal.
-Marian Hossa’s presence will NOT affect the team’s precious chemistry. I have a feeling this will become a huge outcry. With the Hawks in the midst of a 7-game winning streak and everything seeming to go their way, it’s only a matter of time before they lose a couple games in a row. Naturally, Hossa will probably end up catching the brunt of the blame from ill-informed meatballs. If the Hawks end up dropping a couple games upon Hossa’s return, it’s not because he doesn’t enjoy reveling in the Blackhawks post-game shenanigans like snapping towels at Patrick Kane in the shower; it’s simply the law of averages.
-It won’t always be Marian Hossa’s fault. Thanks to his sub-par showing in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals, Hossa has become a popular target for fans to blame all their team’s shortcomings on. Just like Jay Cutler, Hossa will have an enormous bullseye on his back. Even when he’s not to blame, people will still search for reasons why it will be his fault. Please don’t fall into this trap.
-The Hawks will not automatically win the Western Conference simply because of Hossa. It’s going to be very easy for some to simply point to Hossa’s return, the current state of the Hawks, and say, “This is it. They’re going all the way now.” While it certainly puts them among the front-runners of the conference, there is way too much season left to proclaim the Hawks are, for certain, guaranteed to win the conference.
Aside from the welcomed offensive addition, Chicago has received stellar goaltending from Cristobal Huet(notes) and Antti Niemi(notes), something that if they are challenge for the Western Conference title and beyond, they'll need on a consistent basis. Huet's 11-4-1 record has been bolstered after winning his last six starts and Niemi had provided a solid backup presence with a 4-1-1 in his six appearances.
Good goaltending mixed with an offensively-skilled team adding a seven time 30-goal scorer is a recipe for success. Are the stars now aligned for Chicago? Is this Blackhawks team that learned how to lose last spring now ready to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup? Time will tell how much of an impact Hossa's presence in the Chicago lineup makes and if Huet and Niemi can continue to quell any worries about the team's goaltending situation.
We witnessed the quick turnaround by the Pittsburgh Penguins after the lockout ended and we're currently watching the Blackhawks do the same. The only question left is if the turnaround will be completed with a Stanley Cup ring.