Welcome to LWOS Hockey’s summer series. After the historic 2016 NHL Free Agency period, it’s a good time to look at the best free agent signing in the history of all 30 NHL franchises. Up next: The all-time best Chicago Blackhawks free agent signing.
The All-Time Best Chicago Blackhawks Free Agent Signing
2009 – Marian Hossa: Twelve years, $62.8 million
Marian Hossa is undoubtedly one of the most effective two-way players of his generation and signs of that fact were evident throughout the early points of his NHL career. But before he skated on North American soil, he had already made his mark in Slovakia.
While playing for Dukla Trenčín Jr., Hossa tallied 91 points in 43 games as a 16-year-old. The next year, he spent time with Dukla Trenčín of the Slovak Extraliga (the top professional league in the country), where he scored 25 goals in 46 games.
Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Gauthier selected Hossa with the 12th overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, but he was sent to juniors after the first seven games of the regular season. The Portland Winterhawks had chosen the Slovakian forward with the 5th pick in the CHL Entry Draft just in case this scenario came to fruition. In 53 games with Portland, Hossa amassed 45 goals and 40 assists and won a President’s Cup with the team in the same year. In his rookie season with the Senators, he was beat out by Colorado Avalanche forward Chris Drury for the Calder Trophy. Hossa appeared in 60 games (15G, 30P) despite recovering from a knee injury that he suffered in Portland.
His impeccable scoring ability transferred into the National Hockey League as he would produce 390 points in 467 games with the Senators in seven seasons.
After the 2004-05 lockout, Hossa was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers with Greg de Vries for Dany Heatley on the same day he re-signed with Ottawa for three years. The move transitioned him into elite company when he was paired on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk. Hossa potted 39 goals and 53 assists in his first season with Atlanta and topped the 92-point total with 100 points (43G, 57A) the following campaign. It was the first time in franchise history that a player had reached such a feat and still stands as the most points scored in a single season in a Thrashers uniform.
Midway through the 2007-08 season with Atlanta situated at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the Thrashers decided to deal Hossa to the hot-shot Pittsburgh Penguins (instead of extending him the following offseason as he was in the last year of his contract) along with Pascal Dupuis at the trade deadline. Dupuis, Hossa and captain Sidney Crosby formed a dynamic top offensive line that ran rampant in the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Pittsburgh’s quest to capture their first title since the 1991-92 season came up short in against the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final.
In the closing seconds of Game 6, Hossa had a chance to tie the game after Crosby backhanded a puck on net that deflected off of Chris Osgood through the crease. A last-ditch effort by #18 with one hand on his stick was stifled just enough by the goaltender as the puck slid back across the blue paint as the clock hit zeroes.
Despite scoring 26 points (12G, 14A) in 20 playoff games, Hossa was unable to claim hockey’s greatest prize.
Under a month later on July 1st, 2008, Hossa joined the dark side and finalized a one-year, $7.45 million deal with the Red Wings. Instead of signing long-term with the Penguins, he decided to go short-term in hopes of winning a championship in Detroit. It was in the Motor City where Hossa switched his sweater number to 81 due to Kirk Maltby possessing Hossa’s usual #18.
Another stellar season ensued for the then 30-year-old, hitting the 40-goal mark with 71 points to boot. Detroit and Pittsburgh would once again meet in the Stanley Cup Final in June 2009. Hossa was faced off against his former team and the fanbase that booed him heavily months before. The Penguins would escape the seven-game series in the final contest by a 2-1 score and hoist the Stanley Cup as visitors in the Joe Louis Arena. Call it irony, karma or whatever you’d like; Hossa was 0-for-2 in his attempt for a ring in consecutive seasons.
He was now a free agent.
The Chicago Blackhawks were in the middle of a total franchise rebuild before the 2008-09 season began. Rocky Wirtz, successor to the team after his father Bill passed away from cancer in 2007, was doing his best to reinvent the organization in multiple ways during the offseason. Chicago hosted their first ever offseason fan convention, won the bid to host the second Winter Classic at Wrigley Field on New Year’s Day in 2009 and brought back longtime play-by-play man Pat Foley after a brief departure from the team. When free agency rolled around, GM Dale Tallon signed goaltender Cristobal Huet and defenseman Brian Campbell to add a veteran presence to a relatively young roster.
On July 18th, 20-year-old Jonathan Toews was named the 34th captain in Blackhawks history. After only four games (1-1-2), Denis Savard was relieved of his duties as head coach. Savard had coached the Blackhawks to a 64-64-15 record over the previous two seasons. He was replaced by Joel Quenneville, who Chicago brought on as a scout months prior.
“Coach Q” would lead the Blackhawks to second place in the Central Division and fourth place in the Western Conference with 104 points. This marked their first appearance in the postseason since the 2001-02 season. Led by the duo of Toews and Patrick Kane, Chicago advanced to the Western Conference Final after disposing of the Calgary Flames (five games) and Vancouver Canucks (six games). They met their match against an experienced club who had recently won the Stanley Cup, Hossa’s Red Wings. Detroit bested the Hawks in five games, but the playoff run was a key moment of maturity for several of Chicago’s leaders who had not yet tasted playoff success.
Martin Havlat, the Blackhawks leading scorer in 2008-09, was unable to strike a deal with Chicago and pursued free agency before the 2009-10 season. This left the team with cap space to work with. Their attention shifted to the UFA pool, where they decided to pull the trigger on Hossa. The Hawks signed him to a massive 12-year, $62.8 million contract, the most profitable deal in franchise history at the time. Tallon had this to say about the deal when it was official:
“The most-important thing for Marian is that he wants to win and he feels we’re headed in the right direction and that he can be as a 30-year-old one of our elderly statesmen on our team and help lead this young team.”
Hossa echoed Tallon’s comments about his age:
“I will be one of the oldest guys, which will be strange for me, a little different, but I’m looking forward to playing with a young team.”
(both quotes courtesy of ESPN)
The dollar figure was justified by Hossa’s offensive prowess combined with the reputation of a hard worker, but the length of the deal was debated by various figures across the league. Chicago also signed Hossa’s teammate in Detroit and fellow Slovak Tomas Kopecky as well as grizzled vet John Madden.
In his Blackhawks debut on November 25th (he missed the start of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery) Hossa scored twice in a 7-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.
He skated in 57 games in his first season wearing the red and black sweater and racked up 51 points (24G, 27A). The Blackhawks (and Hossa) were headed back to the playoffs. In Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Nashville Predators, Hossa hit Dan Hamhuis from behind and was assessed a five-minute major with 1:03 to go in the third period. The Blackhawks were down 4-3 in the game and to make matters worse, they were now shorthanded with one of their top forwards in the box.
That didn’t stop Kane from tying the game on a shorthanded tally with 13.6 seconds to go. Hossa celebrated in the penalty box and would remain there for the next 4:10 as the game headed to sudden death overtime. Luckily for him, Chicago killed off the penalty and possessed the puck in the Predators zone when Hossa stepped back onto the ice.
If the Blackhawks lose that game, they’re down 3-2 going back to Nashville in an elimination game. But they didn’t, thanks to the man they call Hoss. They would win Game 6 and advance to the second round. Then the third. Then the fourth.
Only the Philadelphia Flyers stood in front of the Blackhawks objective of ending a 49-year-long Stanley Cup drought. Hossa had qualified for the Stanley Cup Final in three consecutive years, which was the spotlight of the series. Kane’s famed OT goal in Game 6 secured the championship for the city of Chicago. Toews accepted the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, but there was little doubt as to who he would pass the trophy off to next.
“Where’s Hoss? Where’s Hoss?”
You know what they say, the third time’s the charm. Hossa registered three goals and 12 assists in 22 playoff games en route to his first Stanley Cup (he scored a goal and three assists during the Final).
The hex was broken.
He would get another shot at a ring in the lockout-shortened season of 2013, despite suffering a devastating concussion in 2012 and nagging knee ailments. It was his fourth Stanley Cup Final in six seasons as the Boston Bruins clashed with Chicago. Hossa only picked up a pair of assists in the six-game series, but excelled in a more defensive role against top Bruins forwards like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. He rounded out the 2013 postseason with seven goals, nine assists and a second Stanley Cup.
A 30-goal season in 2013-14 and fourteen-point performance in 19 playoff games followed for Hossa at 35-years-old, but the Hawks were eliminated in overtime in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final.
In 2014-15, Chicago hoped to cement their legacy as a modern-day dynasty. When Kane broke his collarbone in February, the Hawks turned to their veterans to get through the adversity presented by their MVP being sidelined for two months. Hossa scored 61 points in the regular season and didn’t miss a single game; it was only the second time in his career that he had played in all 82 contests.
When Kane returned in the postseason, the Hawks hit their stride and found themselves in a prime spot to go deep. An injury-depleted Nashville team was outlasted, the Minnesota Wild met the broomsticks and the Anaheim Ducks couldn’t withstand the pressure. A Tampa Bay Lightning group who resembled the 2009 Hawks squad exuded youth and speed and was hungry for hockey royalty. But, it wasn’t enough to take down the masters of clutch in the Windy City. Hossa failed to score a goal in the series but put up four assists in his fifth Stanley Cup Final berth in seven seasons.
Hossa’s production slipped in 2016, but still managed to attain a 0.51 points/game ratio (33 points in 64 games) despite injuring his knee again. Five points in seven games in the postseason against the St. Louis Blues at age 37? Not too shabby. A total of 160 goals and 210 assists (370 points) in 461 games as a member of the Blackhawks? Kudos, Dale Tallon.
The signing of Marian Hossa in 2009 solidified a historic core along with Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Kane and Toews. Go pound-for-pound with these guys and try to survive. It signified a changing of the guard in the National Hockey League; the Chicago Blackhawks were for real.
An organization that was irrelevant eight years ago, as Wirtz said in 2015, had now accomplished so much.