It didn't take Kirk Maltby long to assess how important Marian Hossa will be for the Chicago Blackhawks this spring as they try to defend their 2010 Stanley Cup title in the playoffs.
Maltby, who retired from the Red Wings earlier this season, is now scouting for Detroit. If anybody knows Hossa's value, it'd be Maltby -- who helped the Wings win the 2008 Stanley Cup Final against Hossa's Pittsburgh Penguins before losing to the Penguins in the 2009 Cup Final with Hossa as a teammate.
How big of a difference can the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Hossa be for a team?
"He just showed it against us the other night," Maltby said, referring to Hossa's team-high seven shots, two points and game-winning goal in Chicago's action-packed 3-2 overtime win Mar. 28 at Joe Louis Arena. "He was the best player on the ice … but he didn't do anything that we didn't know he was capable of."
That's because in his one season with the Red Wings, Hossa scored 40 goals and 71 points with a career-best plus-27 rating during the regular season. Then, in the playoffs, he didn't quite live up to the high expectations placed on him -- scoring just 6 goals (1 game-winner) and 15 points in 23 games while dropping the Cup Final series to his former team.
Dave Bolland can't return from a concussion this season, Hossa is the biggest X-factor for the Hawks in these playoffs.
Chicago's top line of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp is immensely talented and productive -- but all three had great postseason runs a year ago.
Toews won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs. Kane scored the Cup-clinching goal in overtime of Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers to cap a magical playoff run that also saw him score a crucial game-tying goal in Game 5 of the Hawks' first-round series against the Nashville Predators. Sharp's 11 playoff goals co-led Chicago in the postseason along with former Hawks forward Dustin Byfuglien.
Hossa, meanwhile, was a little more pedestrian coming off a regular season in which he missed 25 games recovering from shoulder surgery. He finished Chicago's Cup-winning playoffs with just 3 goals, 15 points and a plus-7 rating in 22 games.
After the Cup was theirs, the Hawks -- almost to a man -- mentioned how nice it was to finally help Hossa get the proverbial monkey off his back by winning it all.
Toews even made sure he showed some "brotherly love" that night in Philadelphia by making sure Hossa was the first guy he handed the Cup to after giving it the initial hoist.
A year later, with Chicago barely qualifying for the playoffs after last year's team was broken up by salary-cap issues and this year's team was beset by injuries, it's now time for Hossa to lift the Hawks.
It's not like he isn't capable.
"We loved him in Detroit and were sad that we weren't going to get him re-signed," Maltby told NHL.com. "Obviously with the salary cap, it was not possible, but he's a good person and a great hockey player. Even in practice he makes the hard plays sometimes, and he makes the goalies better, too –because he's got that hard shot. He plays both ways, and if he's playing the way he's capable of playing, he's dangerous at any given time."
That's why Detroit signed Hossa as a free agent for the 2009 season, after watching him put up monstrous numbers in the 2008 playoffs.
In 20 postseason games for the Penguins that year, Hossa potted 12 goals (2 game-winners), 26 points, a plus-8 rating and an eye-popping 15.8 shooting percentage.
Numbers like that tend to draw a lot of attention. And it wasn't just Detroit that noticed. After the Red Wings couldn't afford to keep Hossa and stay under the salary cap, he was once again a free agent and signed a huge long-term deal with the Blackhawks.
"Defensively he's as good as anybody in the League as far as his positioning, back-side pressure and quickness," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "But when he has the puck, it's tough to get it back or get it away from him. His strength in that area helps him create a little bit more off that, get his shots though and (in the last month) he's been more productive than at any stretch."
He's also been sort of a polarizing figure in terms of his offensive production coinciding with the team's record. In 38 games that he's recorded at least a point this season, the Hawks went 28-7-3, while they went just 8-16-4 when he's played but not recorded a point.
Hossa also missed 17 games with injuries and Chicago went just 8-7-2 in those contests. Further, the Hawks went 17-3-1 this season when Hossa scored a goal.
In short, if Chicago is going to make another extended playoff run this season, the Hawks are probably going to need Hossa to be at his best along with Toews, Kane and Sharp. That's the way it was down the stretch run of the season and that's likely how it'll have to be in the postseason.
However, balancing that knowledge while also trying to be a team player can be tricky.
"Obviously the team needs us and we know that, but on the other hand you don't want to just try to do everything by yourself, because it's not going to go anywhere," Hossa said. "You just have to try and play a solid team game and (then) contribute big goals."
Not many were much bigger last spring than the one Hossa scored in overtime to end Game 5 of Chicago's first-round series against Nashville.
The Hawks clinched the series in Nashville in Game 6 and then cruised to the Cup title from there -- past the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks and Flyers. Along with the sight of Hossa hoisting the Cup for the first time, the sight of him sliding along the ice on his knees after the goal against Nashville -- pumping his fists -- is still a fan favorite in the Windy City.
The only way it'll be overshadowed?
Simple. Score more huge goals this season.