When Marian Hossa scored the 1,000th point of his career Thursday night, my first inclination was to put him in the Hockey Hall of Fame. After all, he already has two Stanley Cups (and possibly more to come) and he’s one of the best two-way players of his era.
Good enough for me. But then again, the Hall of Fame should be for the truly special players, not just the very good ones. And that’s where the decision around Hossa becomes a little more vexing.
Is Hossa a very good player, or truly a great player? As THN senior editor and Hall of Fame expert Brian Costello points out, 1,000 points is now more of a milestone than a Hall of Fame barometer. And there are currently 19 Hall of Fame eligible players who scored 1,000 points during their careers and who are not in the hall. With 466 career goals so far, Hossa is a shoo-in for the 500 mark and that’s where it starts to get a little more interesting. There are only seven players who have scored 500 who are eligible for the Hall of Fame and are not in there.
On the plus side, Hossa has his two Cups and has appeared in four Stanley Cup finals. Despite never winning the Selke Trophy – at least not yet – he has been and is still regarded as one of the most defensively responsible players in the NHL. He was a second-team all-star in 2008-09 and has twice been among the NHL’s top 10 scorers.
On the minus side, Hossa does not have any tangible recognition for his efforts. Compare that to Pavel Datsyuk, a player who should finish his career with 1,000 points and two Stanley Cups. Like Hossa, Datsyuk is a player who probably could have piled on a significant number of additional points if he weren’t so defensively responsible. But Datsyuk has three Selke Trophies – and four Lady Byng Trophies – on his mantle and nobody who knows hockey would suggest that Datsyuk won’t be a Hall of Famer the moment he becomes eligible.
Perhaps a better comparison would be Steve Larmer, another player who excelled at both ends of the ice without winning a Selke Trophy and won one Stanley Cup during his career. Despite the fact his name seems to come up every year, Larmer isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet and may never find his way there.
The problem for Hossa is that he has never been the centerpiece of a powerhouse team. The closest he ever came was 2006-07 when he scored 100 points and was the leading scorer for the Atlanta Thrashers, a team that won the Southeast Division regular-season championship, but was swept in the first round of the playoffs. And the years that he has been on championship-caliber teams, he has been a secondary player.
Perhaps we’ll just have to wait and see how the remainder of Hossa’s career unfolds. After all, he still has a mind-boggling six years remaining after this one on his deal with the Blackhawks. And that, in and of itself, will be interesting to see how it unfolds. Hossa signed his current 12-year deal with the Blackhawks in 2009, a deal that legally circumvented the salary cap and was accepted by the NHL. It carries a cap hit of $5.3 million until after the 2020-21 season, but his salary drops to just $1 million in the last four years of the deal.
When that deal was done, the thinking was that Hossa would likely retire after the 2016-17 season rather than play for more years at $1 million per season and the Blackhawks would be off the hook for the cap hit. But then the NHL got all punitive and petty with teams that signed those deals – again, deals that had been accepted by the league – in the last collective bargaining agreement. That means that if Hossa retires anytime before his contract expires, the Blackhawks will receive a “cap recapture” penalty of $4.3 million for each season of his contract.
Framed that way, that leaves a long time for Hossa to continue accomplishing things. But it also leaves a lot of time for his game to decline. If he plays out his entire contract, he’ll be 42 when it expires. And while there doesn’t appear to be any deterioration in his game to this point, a couple of really ugly years near the end of his career could tarnish his Hall of Fame credentials.
Upon further review, Hossa is not a shoo-in and he’ll probably have to accomplish more in the next couple of years to become a good bet for the Hall of Fame.