Marian Hossa, injured last Saturday in the Stadium Series matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins, will be out another two to three weeks with what the Chicago Blackhawks have attributed the typically nebulous term “upper-body injury.” Given that a timetable has been set, it is very unlikely that it is a concussion. This is good news in light of Hossa’s history of head injuries (a loving shout out to Raffi Torres) and reputation as a fairly slow healer.
Still, there are more immediate concerns. The Blackhawks are locked in a tight intra-division seeding battle with the St. Louis Blues and the surging Colorado Avalanche. It has become possible that Chicago will not have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs — likely, even. This, of course, is why Hossa’s injury is more troubling than simply losing one great player among many on the roster for a few weeks.
Of course, Hossa is not just any “great player;” he is more important to the Blackhawks’ on-ice success than any other winger on the roster, including Patrick Kane. His blend of elite puck control, offensive zone instincts and defensive play make him perhaps the best puck possession winger in the NHL — a nice accolade in its own right, but one that becomes even more important on a team whose game is predicated on possession as Chicago’s is.
Not having Hossa drastically affects Chicago’s effectiveness because his absence directly slashes both the team’s biggest strength and its biggest priority. Further, the hole on the first line opened up by his injury has to be filled by somebody (Brandon Saad so far), which then has a negative trickle-down effect on the rest of the forward group.
Sans the semi-outburst against Pittsburgh at Soldier Field, the Blackhawks haven’t been generating much quality offense recently. Joel Quenneville and company must make some significant adjustments if the team is to keep pace with the Blues and Avalanche while Hossa is out. A good first step would be three-pronged: remove the horrifically ineffective Michal Handzus from the lineup, stop senselessly carrying eight defensemen on the active roster and call up Jeremy Morin (currently tearing up the score-sheet every night with the Rockford IceHogs).
Whatever Chicago chooses to do, Hossa can’t get back soon enough.