Blackhawks fans began to panic just after 7 p.m. Chicago time on Monday night.
Slowly tweets started coming in that Marian Hossa was a late scratch for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. Whether you were at home on a computer or standing in a bar reading your cellphone, the surprising news began to sink in. If you weren’t around technology the announcers on NBC Sports Network let 4 million know Hossa’s status. NBC analyst Mike Milbury probably thought in his head that Hossa is a disinterested Slovakian like the rest of his European counterparts.
With Hossa’s absence, word broke that Ben Smith was going to fill in. This is probably what most Blackhawks fans thought when they heard Smith was in the lineup (not exaggerating at all):
Ben Smith? Ben Smith… Oh yeah, the guy who scored the game winner against Luongo and the Canucks in Game 6 of the 2011 first round! He’s going to be a hero again.
Then those same fans remembered it is June 2013 and Smith’s heroics were over two years ago. Then they began to think hard and try to remember if Smith did anything of note since he left Roberto Luongo flailing on his stomach. If you were so bored that you tuned into the 2011 preseason, then you might remember when Smith was elbowed by Detroit’s Brendan Smith, who Blackhawks fans got to know this playoffs as the worst defensemen on the Red Wings by far. Other than that Ben Smith has spent most of his time in the minors. By the way, the reason Smith scored against Vancouver was because of a remarkable individual effort by Hossa.
With Smith in and Hossa out, the next thing we were going to learn were the line combinations. Let’s just say Joel Quenneville brought out the blender and set it on “liquify” for the entire game. Hossa’s usual center Jonathan Toews was on a line with Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger. Frolik and Kruger have had strong seasons but they are best used in a checking role and have skated most of the season on the fourth line. Putting those two with Toews limited the captain offensively. Then I think at one point Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg played with Toews, but Quenneville kept mixing up the lines so it was hard to keep track. The Blackhawks seemed out of sync all game and were shutout by the Bruins. Who would’ve thought that missing one player could effect the forwards that much?
Then there was the power play. Not only could the Blackhawks not score on the man advantage, but they had trouble generating a shot. Hossa is a key part of the power play, and they probably wouldn’t score with Hossa playing but they may have had a scoring chance and not give the momentum to the Bruins.
No one can confirm where Hossa is injured but it sounds like he will play in Game 4, basically a must-win game for the Blackhawks.
Looking long-term, some have said Hossa would be a compliance buyout/amnesty candidate when the season was over. The compliance buyout is part of the new CBA and each team has two they could use this summer or the summer of 2014. Hossa is 34 and has eight years left on his contract at the cap hit of almost $5.3 million. There’s has been casual talk by hockey writers that Hossa will be bought out without costing the Blackhawks against the cap, and only Rocky Wirtz’s checkbook. I don’t see it happening especially after last night. Hossa still has several more elite years in the tank and it would be wise to keep him and hope the cap increases in the future.