For all the romanticism with the Chicago Blackhawks this season, the guys who lace 'em up everyday understand to reach the heights expected of them, they need a healthy Martin Havlat.
So far, so good.
"He's an elite hockey player, so if we're going to win games we're going to need Marty," Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell said. "He can carry this team. When he's healthy and feels good, he's been a dangerous player for a while."
Havlat's health has been an issue since the lockout. Before this season, he had played in only 99 of a possible 246 games and has had his right shoulder operated on three times.
Havlat, though, is a positive thinker and he believes his luck has changed.
The Czech-born winger, with his thrice surgically repaired right shoulder, has been on the ice for every one of the Hawks' 29 games this season. Havlat is thrilled to finally proclaim himself "healthy and excited."
Then, of course, he scours the room for some wood to knock on.
"It's a new beginning," Havlat told NHL.com. "The last three years were pretty tough for me. I just want to stay healthy the whole year and show, finally, what I can do."
He did right off the bat this season.
In the Hawks' fourth game of the season, Havlat got around Phoenix defenseman David Hale at the top of the left circle, cruised through the high slot and from the bottom of the right circle used his backhand to roof a shot over goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's left shoulder while falling down.
The goal, which tied the game at 1-1 at the 8:25 mark of the second period, drew a "Holy jumpin'" reaction from Coyotes broadcaster Darren Pang. While still on the ice, Havlat pumped his fist three times before being mobbed by his teammates.
"An individual effort like that, the guys love to see it," Blackhawks forward Colin Fraser said after the 4-1 Hawks' victory that night, Oct. 15. "Only a handful of guys can do that in this League."
Havlat has always been one of them. You just may have forgotten about it.
As a rookie with the Ottawa Senators in 2000-01, he had 19 goals and 23 assists in 73 games, which remains a career high for him. Even though he battled some minor injuries, Havlat got better in each of the next three seasons as a Senator.
He had 50 points in 72 games in 2001-02. The following season he wracked up 59 points and a career-best plus-20 rating in 67 games. He posted career-highs with 31 goals and 37 assists for 68 points in 68 games during the 2003-04 season.
"I did it at the beginning," said Havlat, who has 8 goals and 15 assists this season. "Seventy-three games is my most, but still that's almost a whole season. I have done it before, so why not this season?"
Critics will say it's because he's not durable enough, that his right shoulder is too fragile. They'll say he will inevitably break down again this season, sometime soon.
Havlat can't say that he won't. It's a prediction not worth making because, as he said, accidents do happen. Instead, after spending another offseason recovering from another surgery, he can only hope he did everything in his power to ward off another problem.
"When it's happening like this for a while you think about a lot of stuff, but I'm trying to forget everything and think positively," Havlat said. "I worked hard this summer to get ready for this season. I did everything I had to do and I feel pretty good about myself. I know I did everything I could to get ready for the season."
Havlat swears he isn't scared, or even hesitant on the ice despite the fact that injuries, including ankle and groin problems on top of the shoulder issues, have kept him out of 147 regular-season games during the last three seasons.
"You need time to gain some confidence in your shoulder and not to think about it, but if you think about it you can't really play," he said. "It's tough."
He says he follows the one-game-at-a-time philosophy, but he's always done that. He shot down the notion that every game he plays in is a small victory unto itself.
"Every game is important and I want to be in every game," Havlat said, "but the last three years I wasn't fortunate enough to do that."
In-season surgery early in the 2005-06 season kept him out for 58-straight games, but he returned just before the Stanley Cup Playoffs and was a productive player for Ottawa. He had 13 points in 10 games despite playing in only 18 regular-season games.
"I was happy I could fight for the Cup," Havlat said. "That's what kept me going the first time. I missed almost the whole season, but I could come back and try to win the Cup. It was my last playoffs. Hopefully I'm going to be in the playoffs this season."
For the Blackhawks to get there, they need Havlat to play in most, if not every one, of the 82 games. He's averaging more than 17 minutes per game and is currently the right wing on the Hawks' third line with Andrew Ladd and Dave Bolland
Don't, however, let his third-line role fool you. The Hawks value Havlat as a top-six forward, but he's found a nice chemistry with Ladd and Bolland.
"If we lose him, it’s almost like losing two guys," Hawks right wing Patrick Kane
told NHL.com. "He adds so much."
Kane said not having a Havlat healthy last season is high on his list of reasons why the Hawks didn't make the playoffs. Havlat dislocated his shoulder in the season opener and played in only 35 games, none after Feb. 27. He had surgery on March 12.
The Blackhawks finished two wins shy of a playoff berth.
"Three points here or there," Kane said. "He could have helped that way."
Sure he could have. No one denies Havlat's supreme talent, but it's fair to wonder if his right shoulder can survive the balance of this season? Havlat, ever optimistic, believes it can.
"It energizes the whole team when we see him doing well," Kane said. "We’re so much deeper."Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer