Any time a banner hangs in Chicago, it’s special. Whether it’s a world championship, a conference championship, a division title, or the number of a legendary player, they always feel so meaningful. Maybe it’s the fact that we don’t get many of the things on that list very often in this town.
When you look at the nearly 100-year history of the Chicago Blackhawks, only seven numbers (for eight players) have been retired. Glenn Hall’s #1, Keith Magnuson and Pierre Pilote’s #3, Bobby Hull’s #9, Denis Savard’s #18, Stan Mikita’s #21, Tony Esposito’s #35, and now Marián Hossa’s #81.
“Something tells me very soon, I’ll be flying back to Chicago to raise a few more of these jerseys,” Hossa said during his retirement ceremony.
He’s right, and we’ll have plenty of time to dive in to who might be next, who’s worthy and who might be left out in the months and years to come, but I want to make this post especially about Hossa.
When we got to talk to Hossa at CHGO on Friday, he was struggling with his voice. He had done so many interviews over the course of the week, and I’m sure had been asked many of the same questions many times. However, when I told him how meaningful his time in Chicago was to Blackhawks fans, he seemed caught off guard.
“The symbolism of you coming to Chicago means a lot to the people here. I don’t know if you realize that. It felt like an arrival for Hawks fans. Marian Hossa chose us, and that feeling was incredible,” I told Hossa.
“Right now, I’m taking all the credit and it doesn’t feel fair,” Hossa responded. “It was not just me that won the Stanley Cup. It was the whole team.”
“It’s a little bit different because you chose to come here,” I told him. “You chose Chicago.”
July 1, 2009 was the day it happened. The Hawks were coming off a Western Conference Final loss to the Red Wings, but were clearly the NHL’s team on the rise. There was some thought that with some small tinkering, they might be in the Stanley Cup conversation, but when they landed the premier free agent on the market in Hossa, the narrative changed. They went from possible contenders to favorites, almost overnight.
Yes, there had been big free-agent signings in Chicago before, but how many of them actually worked out as planned? How many of them exceeded expectations? Hossa was the best all-around player he ever was during his time in Chicago. Oddly enough, he credits that growth to his one year in Detroit, which he outlines in great detail in his book.
Three-time Stanley Cup Champion. First ballot hall-of-famer. His number in the rafters. Marian Hossa is the greatest free agent signing in Chicago sports history.
The other Chicago athletes with an argument would be Jon Lester or Candace Parker. Lester was fantastic as a Cub, but a pitcher only pitches once every five days. Parker, who has also won a championship in Chicago (and gets bonus points for being local), has only been with the Sky for two years. Hossa wins the tie-breaker with three championships to Lester and Parker’s one.
As I spent some time reflecting on the dynasty Sunday night, it was a reminder to me who my favorite Blackhawks of the dynasty were. Hossa was second. My favorite was Brent Seabrook, and he might just be next to have his number raised to the rafters.
Just like when Hossa surprised Jonathan Toews at his 1,000th game, Seabrook got the biggest pop from the crowd when he hit the ice. Second on that list was Niklas Hjalmarsson. It’s great to see that Chicago still recognizes the players who sacrificed their bodies night after night. I was concerned that the love for Seabs might have been diminished after his last few years in Chicago weren’t exactly Norris Trophy seasons. Time heals all wounds, and Chicago loves Brent Seabrook, as they should.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, November 23 @ Dallas
7:30 pm on NBCSCH+ & WGN Radio
The Stars sit atop the Central Division with an 11-5-2 record and 24 points. Their +22 goal differential is third in the NHL, behind only the juggernaut Bruins (+38) and Devils (+26).
Jason Robertson, 23, is the player to watch in Dallas. He is one of the league’s brightest young stars. This summer, he signed a four-year contract with an AAV of $7,750,000. If he continues at the pace he’s on for those four years, he will be one of the league’s highest paid players.
Friday, November 25 vs Montréal
1:00 pm on NBCSCH & WGN Radio
The Habs aren’t exactly lighting the world on fire (9-8-1), but they have some of the most exciting young players in the game in Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki. If you’re looking to a team that could run parallel with the Blackhawks when they’re ready to win again, Montréal might be a candidate.
They also have one of the best hockey last names in the game in Arber Xhekaj (pronounced JACK-eye).
Call this the Kirby Dach revenge game. Dach has been playing very well in Montréal. It helps that he’s paired up with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, but I don’t want to take anything away from what he’s doing. He needed a change of scenery from Chicago, but I feared moving to a market so intensely focused on hockey could be tough for Dach, but he’s been great so far. He’s third on the team in scoring, behind his linemates Suzuki and Caufiel,) with 4 goals and 12 assists in 18 games, and leads the team with 6 power play points.
Sunday, November 27 vs Winnipeg
6:00 pm on NBCSCH, NHL Network & WGN Radio
The Jets currently sit in third place in the Central Division with a 10-5-1 record. At the time I’m writing this story, they’ve won 7 of their last 10 games. They’re also a perpetual thorn in the side of the Blackhawks. Chicago hasn’t won a season series vs Winnipeg since 2018.
Earlier this month, the Jets blanked the Hawks 4-0. You may recall this as the game where Dylan Wells was forced to make his NHL debut after Arvid Söderblom left the game with dehydration. Josh Morrissey and Pierre-Luc Dubois each picked up a pair of points in the win.