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July 3, 2009
Plugging Holes
Chicago Blackhawks Sign Marian Hossa

by Tom Awad

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The signing of Marian Hossa with the Chicago Blackhawks has subtly altered the balance of power in the Western Conference. Hossa's GVT in 2008-09 was plus-20, 15th in the NHL, and he was without a doubt the premier offensive player available on the open market. The Blackhawks were already the third-best team in the Western Conference last year, and adding Hossa's 20 GVT to their team GVT of plus-48 would have put them at plus-68, second in the NHL behind Boston.

Almost as important, this contribution has been subtracted from the greatest threat to the Hawks, the Red Wings, who will be hard-pressed to find any player who can fill the hole left by Hossa. Playing with Hossa also will help the Hawks' young offensive players, whose numbers are likely to improve.

Much depends on whether the Hawks can keep together the rest of the team that did so well last season. Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin is gone, but Cristobal Huet played very well as the No. 1 in Montreal, can handle 50 games a season and is almost three years younger than Khabibulin. The Blackhawks did lose Martin Havlat, who contributed plus-16 GVT, second on the team to Jonathan Toews. However, Hossa is a mild upgrade over Havlat, if for no other reason than the incoming wing has been less injury-prone throughout his career.

Even though Havlat wasn't re-signed, Hossa's presence and another year of experience for this young team could put them as high as a team GVT of about plus-60. Using the differential between team GVT figures and comparing it to last season standings, a plus-60 GVT translates to about 114 points in the standings, which should put the Hawks in contention for first place in the Western Conference and even the Presidents' Trophy. Applying the same math to the Red Wings, and figuring that youngsters Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader will step in to help fill a small bit of the hole left by Hossa, the Red Wings could drop to a team GVT of plus-31 and 105 points.

In the long term, the Blackhawks are likely to run into problems with the salary cap as their young players demand heftier contracts in line with their performance. If cap space is needed, the Blackhawks would most like to trade Brian Campbell, who contributed only plus-11.7 GVT last year and whose $7 million cap hit could free up a lot of space for other players, but finding a taker for such a large contract will be hard.

For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Chicago Blackhawks signing of Marian Hossa, click here.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Tom by clicking here or click here to see Tom's other articles.

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