Welcome to NHL99The Athletic’s countdown of the best 100 players in modern NHL history. We’re rating 100 gamers however calling it 99 as a result of everyone knows who’s No. 1 — it’s the 99 spots behind No. 99 we’ve to determine. Every Monday by way of Saturday till February we’ll unveil new members of the checklist.


It took simply seconds from the primary time Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews lifted the Stanley Cup for him to start on the lookout for the place at hand it subsequent. Amid a crowing of “woos” from his Blackhawks teammates that night time in Philadelphia in June 2010, NBC microphones picked up a query being exclaimed on the ice.

“Where’s Hoss?!”

Marián Hossa was, in reality, standing proper subsequent to the captain. And the Cup was lastly about to be his.

Other Blackhawks had definitely waited and wished for the Stanley Cup, even on a typically younger crew. But nobody’s wait had been fairly like Hossa’s. Two seasons prior, he had been traded on the deadline to the up-and-coming Penguins, for whom he turned in an electrifying playoff run that got here up two wins quick in opposition to the Red Wings. He had adopted that up by becoming a member of the champion Red Wings that following season, serving to them to a different journey to the Cup last solely to lose in seven to the Penguins crew he had simply left.

Going into his third straight last in 2010, then, one can solely think about what was going by way of Hossa’s head.

“Lots of what ifs,” he not too long ago advised The Athletic.

But when Toews turned and handed him the Cup, there was no extra ready or questioning. Hossa was a champion. And he wasn’t accomplished.

Hossa and people early-2010s Blackhawks groups quenched their championship thirsts with a firehose, profitable the Cup twice extra, in 2013 and 2015.

“Every one was special,” he mentioned. “But the first one was the toughest one.”

This is the Hossa lore — the climax of his storied profession. He would have gone down as one of many greats of his period no matter whether or not that Cup had ever discovered him, however having his title enshrined on it nonetheless cemented his legacy.

The No. 12 decide within the 1997 NHL Draft, Hossa was an enormous, quick winger with dynamic scoring capacity — a bundle uncommon sufficient that he might by no means have wanted to be the rest within the NHL.

“To me, one of the most beautiful, powerful skaters that the game had,” former Detroit teammate Kris Draper mentioned. “Those first couple strides — unreal, the way he could create separation.”

“He was big, and I remember him using (it) and protecting the puck while using his body,” mentioned Todd McLellan, who coached in opposition to Hossa all through his prime. “(He had) those skills, and then he had vision and the shot and everything else that went with it.”

In 1,309 NHL video games, spanning 19 seasons, Hossa scored 525 objectives and 1,134 factors. Those numbers alone might properly have gotten him into the Hockey Hall of Fame. But that wasn’t sufficient for him. He additionally turned a premier defensive winger, ending within the prime 20 of Selke Trophy voting 10 instances.

“Sometimes we all think like, ‘OK, I’m working as hard as I can work,’” mentioned Mike Yeo, who coached Hossa in Pittsburgh. “But Player A and Player B, they quite often have a different definition of what working hard is. And he’s that guy, I think, that he just showed everybody else that there’s another level of work to your game.”

That marriage of uncommon bodily instruments, and equally unusual drive, in the end led to Hossa’s placement at No. 83 on The Athletic’s checklist of the NHL’s 100 best gamers of the post-expansion period. But it doesn’t reply the inconceivable query of what pushed somebody who already might accomplish that a lot, to maintain driving tougher — particularly on the decidedly unglamorous defensive aspect of the puck.

“It’s just in him,” hypothesized former Pittsburgh teammate Ryan Malone.



(Bill Smith / NHLI by way of Getty Images)

When the information reached the Penguins in late February 2008 that the crew had traded for Hossa, it despatched a loud message inside a corporation that had gained just one playoff recreation since 2001.

“It was like, ‘Oh man, we’re going for it,’” Malone mentioned. “That’s when, like, it hit me: ‘We’re going for a Stanley Cup.’”

Hossa was coming off a 43-goal, 100-point season the yr earlier than in Atlanta, and 4 straight seasons at or above 80 factors. He was one of many recreation’s elite.

“His speed was amazing,” Sergei Gonchar mentioned. “If you think about it, he was so powerful and strong on his skates, he was like a horse. So hard to knock him (off) the puck. One of those guys that you’re going to have to be really in the perfect position to make sure he’s not taking advantage of you. Otherwise (he’s) either going to skate by you or use his body to protect the puck, and you’re not going to get anything.”

Early on in his profession, taking part in for Jacques Martin with the Senators, Hossa mentioned he “learned right away, pretty much, to play defense.”

Certainly, his velocity and measurement gave him the attributes for it. But an enormous a part of defending is dedication, and never each offensive star — irrespective of how tooled-up — needs to commit their efforts to that aspect of the puck.

The Penguins, although, noticed it rapidly with Hossa. Gonchar remembers watching video by which Hossa wouldn’t be within the image as the opposite crew carried the puck up the ice. If he was out of the body, it stood to purpose, he wasn’t going to catch as much as the play.

“And next thing you know, Hossa’s coming back and he’s lifting the stick and grabbing the puck and going (the other) direction,” Gonchar mentioned. “It’s how fast he was, but also how dedicated he was to (doing) the back checks and help people on the defensive side.”

“Man, he backchecked like a dog,” Malone mentioned. “Like he was hounding it just as hard — if not harder, I felt like almost — backchecking. That was the one thing that stood out right away.”

“He was the kind of guy that’s just sort of a coach’s dream,” Yeo mentioned.

That popularity was evident within the reality Hossa had appeared on no less than some ballots for the Selke Trophy, awarded to the league’s prime defensive ahead, in three of the 4 seasons earlier than the Pittsburgh commerce.

And his arrival certainly had the meant increase: The Penguins stormed by way of the primary three rounds of the playoffs, going 12-2 on a blistering run to the ultimate.

Which makes it all of the extra shocking to listen to Hossa say he felt the largest turning level in his 200-foot recreation didn’t come till a season later, when he arrived in Detroit.

“When I started playing with Pavel Datsyuk,” Hossa mentioned.

Hossa thought of Datsyuk one of the best 200-foot participant within the league on the time, and whereas there’s ample proof that Hossa was already climbing these ranks himself, taking part in on a line with Datsyuk created a possibility for Hossa to take his personal recreation to a good larger degree.

The two would play a easy recreation of keep-away after practices. Inside a circle, every participant would have one puck. The object of the sport was to guard your puck, with management contained in the circle, whereas stealing the opponent’s puck.

“No one’s better than Pavel Datsyuk at that,” former Detroit teammate Dan Cleary mentioned. “I’ve done it with Pavel many times. It’s exhausting. You have no idea. Like I’d be just dying, and Pav wouldn’t even be breaking a sweat. But Hoss would go over and play, and those guys, I mean — their strength on their stick is just unbelievable.”

“I didn’t get invited into that game,” Draper joked. “But it was unreal.”

Hossa mentioned he picked up little methods from Datsyuk and began “loving it, to (steal) the pucks from behind.” In that means, maybe Detroit could be seen as a form of graduate college for a participant who was already among the many sport’s greatest however who hadn’t discovered his technique to that elusive Cup.

By taking part in with gamers similar to Draper and Nicklas Lidstrom, in addition to Datsyuk and fellow 200-foot pressure Henrik Zetterberg, Hossa was getting an intimate have a look at how the game’s different greats discovered that further edge. He took delight within the form he bought himself into with the intention to play the total ice at his excessive degree.

“I learned it from them: It’s not enough,” Hossa mentioned. “You still have to work even harder. In that case, I was able to skate back and forth as hard as possible, so I was in great shape to backcheck as hard, stealing the pucks and get new chances to (play) offense. And Pavel showed me how to do it. I learned quite a bit from them. I already had some touch before, but that year really helped me, and that year (gave) me so much to bring to the young Chicago team.”


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(Jerome Miron / USA Today)

Chicago is the place Hossa actually started to cement his legacy as one of many recreation’s greatest two-way forwards, creating offense from his defensive instincts and impacting protection together with his world-class offense.

“He played the game with such a great conscience on the defensive side of things that it led to so many opportunities for him offensively,” Yeo mentioned. “And then his skill would just take over from there.”

It’s a give-and-take relationship with and with out the puck that few wingers commanded greater than Hossa, exemplified completely at a time when “puck-possession hockey” was on the forefront of the sport’s lexicon. That actually started with Datsyuk’s Red Wings, and Hossa introduced that data over to a soon-to-be dynastic Blackhawks crew.

There’s an excellent purpose why Hossa was fast to credit score Datsyuk and firm for molding his defensive recreation, and it bears out within the numbers.

One of Datsyuk’s most coveted expertise was his capacity to take pucks away from opponents, seemingly at will. Big or small, quick or sturdy — it didn’t matter. After Hossa left the Wings in 2009, Datsyuk led all gamers with 4.4 takeaways per 60 minutes (at five-on-five) over the rest of his profession, practically one full takeaway higher than the next-best participant. Only eight different gamers averaged three takeaways per 60; Hossa was one in all them at 3.1 per 60, rating seventh within the league and tied for first amongst wingers with Jamie Benn. In the 2 seasons earlier than that, Hossa was at 2.2 per 60, rating 71st.

That manifested into tangible on-ice outcomes.

Year after yr, the Blackhawks restricted probabilities with Hossa on the ice, and so they have been even higher at ensuring these pucks didn’t find yourself behind the online. In Hossa’s eight seasons in Chicago, the crew averaged roughly 58 % of the objectives and 55 % of the anticipated objectives, with the distinction coming defensively. During his tenure, opponents mustered only one.89 objectives per 60 with Hossa on the ice, the eighth-best mark over that timespan.

Along with Datsyuk, Hossa was a part of an elite group of forwards who have been on the ice for fewer than two objectives in opposition to per 60, becoming a member of 18 different forwards that included elite contemporaries similar to Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Joe Pavelski. Generally talking, it’s extremely unlikely that any winger might affect objectives in opposition to, however Hossa may be the exception to the rule for his period.

For eight straight seasons, the Blackhawks allowed fewer objectives in opposition to with Hossa on the ice, even when the anticipated objectives in opposition to didn’t fairly line up. Overall, Chicago shaved 0.25 objectives in opposition to per 60 with Hossa on the ice, the Tenth-best mark within the league, though not one of the 9 gamers above him performed powerful minutes like Hossa did.

Hossa had that expertise in him however his Chicago years unleashed his full potential.

“Just great two-way player,” Patrick Kane mentioned. “Created a lot of momentum just from — maybe sometimes he would backcheck, strip a guy and then it was like, ‘OK, Hossa’s really going to go tonight, he’s flying again.’ But he did that all the time, and it was special to watch.”

All of that was whereas including unbelievable offense with 415 factors over 534 video games as a member of the Blackhawks. Chicago made the playoffs each season with Hossa and has made it again solely as soon as since his retirement (the bubble yr, when the league let 24 groups into an expanded postseason whereas Chicago was really in final place within the Central Division).

“I think it shows how important he was, just the success we had with him, and kind of what’s transpired without him over the last little while,” Kane mentioned.

It’s no coincidence that Chicago’s defensive numbers particularly have been a root explanation for the crew’s downfall, declining aggressively within the years since Hossa’s retirement. In 2016-17, his last season, the Blackhawks allowed 1.99 objectives in opposition to per 60 at five-on-five and a pair of.36 anticipated objectives in opposition to per 60. The following season, these numbers jumped to 2.63 and a pair of.62 respectively, each of which have been proper across the league’s backside 5. The crew’s tumultuous defensive efficiency has solely turn into worse since.

Chicago’s defensive downward spiral shouldn’t be all due to Hossa — there have been different huge modifications made that summer time — however his absence has been felt the most important relative to the crew’s contending window.

His affect on the crew, at each ends of the ice, was huge.

That’s why, along with developing simply quick in earlier years, Hossa was the right selection for Toews to cross the Cup to first in 2010. And it’s an enormous purpose Hossa and the Blackhawks saved on profitable it within the years that adopted.

“He’s all-world,” Cleary mentioned. “Just all-world person. Just blessed with talent, and he worked his a– off.”

— The Athletic’s Scott Powers contributed to this story.

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(Top picture: Philip MacCallum / Getty Images)



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