Chicago Blackhawks' Marian Hossa (81) controls the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues in Chicago, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Whenever the subject of the defensive skill of the forwards on the Chicago Blackhawks comes up, the conversation usually starts off with captain Jonathan Toews, who won the league’s Selke Award last year as the top defensive forward in the game.
Outside of Toews however, the Blackhawks have several other high-quality players that contribute on the defensive side of the ice (and thus have earned Joel Quenneville’s everlasting love and trust). Players like Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane have made tremendous strides in that area of their game over the years, but the guy who really stands out for his play on defense is Marian Hossa.
Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Stars provided a great snapshot of what Hossa does for the Hawks. In the second period of the game, Hossa managed to strip the puck from the Stars in the offensive zone and then prolonged the possession by protecting it as he skated across the ice, and the pressure eventually got to the Stars as Kris Versteeg picked up a goal on the rush to give Chicago a 2-0 lead.
Hossa was at it again late in the hockey game as the Stars were feverishly trying to tie things up. After a questionable icing call led to a face-off in the Stars’ zone, Hossa was able to steal the puck at the blue line and then cut across the zone and flipped in a backhanded shot into the empty net to give his team the 4-2 advantage that ultimately decided the game.
Those defensive plays by Hossa aren’t just limited to the occasional game either. All season long, his blend of aggressive back-checking, smart puck protection, and ability to read plays and turn the offense around in transition quickly have made the Hawks one of the league’s most dangerous teams, and the numbers surrounding Hossa reinforce that notion.
In 63 games played this season, Hossa has a Corsi For percentage (a measure of the number of shots a team takes with a player on the ice versus how many they allow) of 58.1%, which ranks him 16th among NHL players. That does put him behind Toews, who is currently fifth in the league at 59.6%, and Brandon Saad, who sits just ahead of Hossa in 15th place. He also has a Fenwick For percentage (the same as Corsi For, but with blocked shots taken out of the equation) of 57.3%, which is good for 16th in the league.
Hossa is also the top ranked forward on the Blackhawks with a 1019 PDO, a measure of puck possession. That isn’t much of a surprise considering his reputation, but it’s just one more example of the way that Hossa can impact a game defensively.
The question then is whether or not Hossa is a legitimate contender for the Selke Award this season. Having Toews on the same team doesn’t really help his case, as voters tend to factor reputation into the equation (much like Gold Glove awards in baseball), so Toews will likely get more attention.
The fact of the matter is that Hossa should get some serious consideration for the award as one of the best defensive wingers in the game, but there are simply too many good defensive centers that he would have to jump over. Guys like Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar both not only have better advanced metrics than Hossa does, but they also play the center position and are therefore automatically assumed by voters to be superior defenders.
All of that being said, it’s still surprising that Hossa doesn’t get more love for the award on a yearly basis. He consistently makes remarkable plays to win the puck back, and his strength on the puck is one of the things that makes him so valuable to the Blackhawks. Yes, guys like Toews, Kopitar, and Bergeron will be ahead of him in the conversation, but he at the very least deserves some recognition for his stellar play on defense this season.