The Decision 2009

Whether Martin Havlat or Marian Hossa will ever want to admit it, the two will forever be linked in Blackhawk lore.  Each can thank Stan Bowman, Scotty Bowman, Dale Tallon, John McDonough, or whoever else was in charge at the time the Hawks ditched their 2008-2009 MVP for a slightly shinier, albeit older part.  In doing so, the Blackhawks thought they were getting a reliable 70- to 80-point winger they could pencil into the lineup 80 games a year for the next decade.  They ditched an electric player who they thought couldn’t keep himself in the lineup for more than 60 games a campaign and, as such, couldn’t be trusted with a long-term contract.  At the time, most Blackhawk observers were sad to see Havlat go, but hopeful that Hossa could be a better player for the young Hawks.  The Feather was no exception.

Before we delve a little deeper, let’s first debunk the notion that Martin Havlat is the anti-Christ.  You can guarantee that Pat Foley and Ed Olcyzk will go on an extended Havlat rant tonight should Havlat fail to play to their standards.  Much of that is probably based upon the idea that Havlat waged a full-scale internet war on the organization in the weeks that followed what was essentially a star-for-star swap.

While Havlat was undeniably upset that he was not being invited back to the team he helped shape, the thought that he was one step away from setting fire to the United Center is very likely an overreaction that the Hawks haven’t tried to fight in any way.  Here’s a sampling of what Havlat said on his now rarely-used Twitter account leading up to and following his departure from Chicago:

Meeting with Dale Tallon for dinner tonight, leaving to Prague tomorrow. FYI, I am NOT putting my condo up for sale (if you get my drift!). 10:35 AM May 31st, 2009

Everyone should know I am only thinking about signing with Chicago. It’s where I want to be. 1:40 AM Jun 24th, 2009


I just want to say thank u to all my teammates. You guys are awesome…sending me text messages all day wanting to know if it’s done. June 30, 2009 5:37 PM

Thanks to all Hawks fans for your love and support over the last 3 years. Will never forget your generousity and the great playoff run! July 01, 2009 10:01 PM

Hossa is a good friend and I am happy for him.  July 01, 2009 10:04 PM 

There’s something to be said for loyalty and honor. July 01, 2009 10:08 PM 

I guess everyone saw what happened to Dale….yes, the story is starting to come out but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  July 14, 2009 12:30 PM

Lot’s of people are telling me to stay quiet but shouldn’t the fans know the truth? It’s your loyalty, season ticket money and emotions here  July 14, 2009 12:32 PM

Not exactly words that should have launched a thousand ships.  But while Havlat never told the “truth” to the fans as to what happened, it’s obvious he was a little perturbed that he was negotiating his contract with a lame-duck GM.  Nonetheless, it’s hardly a reason to treat him like a war criminal every time he faces the Hawks.

Because of how similar the cap hits are but how different their contracts are structured, as long as Marian Hossa leaves us under-whelmed in a Hawks jersey, the song and dance of Havlat vs. Hossa is bound to continue.  Let’s get one thing straight, though: Marian Hossa is not here to be one of the unsung players as Pierre MacGuire referred to him during Sunday’s broadcast.  Bryan Bickell is an unsung player; Jake Dowell is an unsung player.  Marian Hossa is here to be a difference maker:  a guy who can take over a game when the opposition gives him the slightest opening, not someone who shanks more one-timers than your average rec league player. 

After a year and a half, simply comparing the players, their individual results, and their cost (because isn’t that what it’s all about these days anyway) the arrow has to be tilting in Havlat’s direction.  In two years here thus far, Hossa has never really been at 100%.  (Have we mentioned that his durability was one of the major reasons the Hawks handed him a lifetime deal instead of Havlat?  Funny how that works.) 

Last year after his delayed start to the season, Hossa put together a really nice 22-game stretch where he scored 24 points.  During that stretch, he was held off the score sheet just four times.  He finished the season with 51 points in 57 games scoring 24 goals in the process.

His playoffs were a kind of ‘meh’ experience.  Sure there was his overtime goal in Game 5 against Nashville, but he scored just two more times after that.  His best game was a game after which he probably should have been suspended for a hit on Dan Hamhuis, so take that for what it’s worth.  And, yeah, we had that whole Stanley Cup thing, so it’s difficult to give him a negative grade for the spring.  Though he didn’t score at the levels he had in previous playoffs, he did manage to play responsibly and generally remain a factor – something Havlat struggled to do when he wasn’t producing.  Nonetheless, his ability to be a factor while failing to get himself on the score sheet is admirable, but not quite the reason he’s wearing the Indian Head. 

Hossa has offered the occasional glimpse at the player he was before Chicago.  Take the first seven games of this season, for instance, where he racked up 11 points. Too many times this year, though, people have simply been satisfied with his back-checking and ignored the fact that he disappears offensively for long stretches without any results. 

Meanwhile in Minnesota, following a 54-point season in 73 games last year, Havlat has recaptured his Jesus routine of two years ago.  His season last year left quite a bit to be desired, though.  He was injured a quarter of the way into the season and it apparently took a long while to get adjusted to his new team.  It wasn’t until the Wild acquired Guillame Latendresse from the Canadiens in late-November that Havlat started producing like he was expected to.  The two immediately clicked with Havlat scoring 46 of his 54 points in his final 52 games.      

This season, he has almost single-handedly dragged the Wild back into the playoff picture with 43 points in 48 games – all without Latendresse, who has seen action in only eight games this season.  His point total paces the Wild; Mikko Koivu has 42 points in just as many games.  Havlat also has five points in his last four games, which included a three-point night in Calgary. 

So who was the right player to sign long-term?  How about you check with us the next time the Wild are in town.  Until then, the playoffs have started in Chicago a couple months early, and the Hawks could use a big time scorer.  Let us know if you’ve seen any former 40-goal scorers around.

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11 Responses to The Decision 2009

  1. AC says:

    Wow, I can’t believe this is even a question. Hossa is still way better than Havlat. Havlat can’t come close to holding Hossa’s jock on defense, especially the backcheck. I know that everyone praises Bolland in the playoffs, but the thing that stood out to me in the Vancouver series last year was the Canuck players, especially the Sedins, always looking where Hossa was in the neutral zone, and trying their best to be as far from him as possible. While the average fan just wants to see Hossa put up 50 goals and that’s it, he is a key penalty killer and one of the best backcheckers in all of the NHL from the forward position. His injuries have been a major reason that the Hawks penalty kill has suffered, especially given the pressure that he and Toews put on the opposing PP when healthy.
    Have we seen the best of Hossa offensively? Not really, except for the beginning of this season. Is he better than Havlat? No question, as a team player, leader (Kane credits Hossa for much of his improvement last year) and two way player it is a landslide.

  2. John says:

    Call me weird, but if I’m going to give out a long-term deal to someone, I’d like for them to stay healthy for more than a week or two. Not to mention, if I’m signing someone with a scoring background, I’d like to provide it on a consistent basis.

    Again, the backchecking thing is nice but so greatly overvalued by fans because the majority of people tend to look for are guys who look like they’re skating hard. They’re not looking at if the first backchecker is taking the right assignment or if their overaggressiveness leads to someone being wide open. I’m not taking anything from Hossa but there’s been more than a few times that he’s so focused on the puck carrier that he leaves a trailer wide open. Meanwhile, everyone saw him skating hard so they assumed he did nothing wrong.

    It’s not like Havlat is a piece of crap, either. He plays a good two-way game.

    The decision of Hossa and Havlat is not an open and shut case. This is going to continue as long as Hossa can’t play more than 60 games a season while Havlat stays healthy and produces at a point per game clip.

  3. John says:

    For the record, I like Hossa and don’t really have a problem with the decision of him over Havlat. I, however, strongly disagree that the decision is a landslide in Hossa’s favor. I don’t really get how that is the case.

  4. Patrick says:

    Like any mutual fund prospectus – past results are not a guarantee of future performance, but you use them to hope like hell that you made a good investment. Time will tell, but I’m still on the Hossa train – there are times when he completely takes over games, like no one else.

    With that, how many games has he played in the past four years, and has anyone played more? Unfortunately, I think the Hawks are going to get a bit more time off than they would like this summer (they’ll still make the playoffs), but that’s not totally a bad thing, especially when you look at the potential (and cap sanity) for 2011-2012. Just projecting a bit…

  5. Otter says:

    I don’t know if you can say that this isn’t a question. The Hawks made the Western Finals with Havlat in ’09, and obviously won the Cup in ’10. But I believe that the difference between the ’09 and ’10 Hawks was that the ’10 team was much much better on the blue line. Hossa played a role in the Hawks being a better defensive team last year, but if you switch Hossa for Havlat, I don’t think we can say the Hawks don’t win the Cup.

    I really like Hossa as a player and I think he’s the most talented guy on the team, but he doesn’t always produce like it. I think he should take over and dominate games more than he does.

  6. nick says:

    Bravo, good sirs. Hossa has been nothing short of excellent in his furious backchecking, but he is not above being held accountable for lack of productivity. I’m pretty sure he was signed to be an offensive force, which we’ve seen only occassionally.

  7. AC says:

    Hossa certainly needs to pick up his play offensively and stay healthy, there is no question about that, because he hasn’t made the kind of impact offensively that is expected of him. He has basically played above the level of Havlat, but not much more, and that is not acceptable. While he has brought his PK ability to the table (21 career SHG vs Havlat’s 1), he needs to get healthy and quit trying to bump up Kop’s numbers and start attacking the net. Hopefully we will see a healthier Hossa after the break and a reversion to his true form, like we saw earlier this year. If that happens, this conversation becomes moot (or moo, if you are a Joey Tribbiani fan).

  8. GGM says:

    The Hawks won a Stanley Cup with Hossa. End of story. Regardless of how every other year of the contract ends up, it was the right move.

  9. John says:

    I don’t agree with that sentiment at all. So you’d be happy if Hossa plays 50 games a year for the next decade and the Hawks continue to be at the bottom half of the Western Conference?

    I would venture to bet you’ll be changing your tune by next year if Hossa still isn’t healthy.

    Maybe we didn’t make it obvious enough, but this isn’t a black and white issue like a few people have made it out to be. There’s a lot of gray area here; it’s not as simple as ‘Hossa, end of story’.

  10. rock says:

    I think the bigger issue is why sign a guy getting past his prime (For every Rafalski, Lindstrom, and St. Louis there are throngs of guys who peter out mid 30’s) For one just entering his.

    Hossa is a more complete player. Absolutely positively no doubt about that. However, I would say that Havlat is more of a difference maker. Marty has actually led a team of young, immature players just short of the promised land while Hossa is nothing more than a role player with essentially the same group though that group won.

    Even now, Havlat is having better luck with garbage, while Hossa is struggling with Sharp recently.

    Hindsight it is still a tough call. Personally based on age and relative production I think it was a bad move business wise to sign Hossa to a lifetime deal when they could have signed Havlat for a shorter term and similar cap dollars. Both have strengths and weaknesses but I’d hedge my bets on Marty having the better play over the next 4-5 years.

  11. Paul the Fossil says:

    One issue I have with this analysis is a lack of perspective on Havlat’s durability: 2009 was the only season out of the last five in which he _didn’t_ miss significant time with injuries. In fact heading into this season, his 10th in the NHL, he’d only the one time out of nine tries managed to _not_ miss at least 9 games of a season with injuries. (And has often missed far more games.) So while Havlat hasn’t yet had his annual injury for this season the odds are good that he will, simply because he almost always does.

    Meanwhile as frustrating as it has been to see Hossa get injured this season and last, his track record on that point is far more promising. I’ll happily wager on Hossa to miss fewer games with injuries than Havlat from today through say 2015 if anyone would like to take the bet. Four tickets to a 2015 playoff game, say?

    Of course I do realize that Hossa is signed for even longer than that, but it’s not like the Wild didn’t end up investing a big chunk of their own cap space in Havlat for six years guaranteed. That’s an investment which they will come to regret as they watch him spend a large fraction of that six years sitting in the press box resting his aching and fragile bones. I like the Hawks’ chances with Hossa much better.

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