A Look At Why Marian Hossa Struggles In The Playoffs

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When Raffi Torres’ brutal hit in game-three of the western conference quarter finals knocked Marian Hossa out for the rest of the series, there is no question the Chicago Blackhawks missed his speed and defensive strength on the way to being eliminated in six games. However, when it comes to creating offense and scoring goals, let’s face it, Hossa was not doing much before the hit, either.

In fact, few players have seen their production fall as much in the playoffs in recent years as Hossa has. It might surprise you that since joining the Blackhawks in 2009, Hossa has scored only 5 goals in 33 playoff games, good for a 12-goal pace over a full 82 game regular season. That would be mediocre production for a third-liner, let alone someone like Hossa who gets top power-play time. Even Hossa’s 6 goals in 23 games in 2008-2009 with the Red Wings were relatively poor.

The question is why has Hossa struggled to produce in the playoffs? Sure, there is always a usual-suspect-list of NHL players with reputations for disappearing come playoff time, but with them you can usually make the case it’s simply a lack of effort to blame. Hossa, however, works his tail off (no doubt the reason he repeatedly escapes criticism for his playoff struggles when the others don’t, when really he shouldn’t).

So what we have here is an extremely talented hockey player, as attested to by every scout alive and born out by his excellent regular season numbers, and an equally hard-worker come playoff time, with a very high will to win, as evidenced by Hossa forgoing the financial security of a long-term contract when he first became an unrestricted free agent in 2008 to sign a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings, simply because he thought the move gave him the best chance to win a Stanley Cup.

Clearly with Hossa, the normal causes for playoff-production drop-offs that we usually see do not apply at all, which is what makes Hossa’s struggles all the more intriguing and unique. All the known factors add up to him being a great playoff scorer, yet he’s not.

Why? Is there an unknown factor? I believe there is. In watching Hossa play, I’ve noticed something that might just be the mysterious cause of his poor postseason production, and it’s probably not what you think. It’s deceptively simple, and it would seem that Marian Hossa himself does not even realize the problem, nor the Blackhawks organization.

What is it?

Check back next week to find out!

Just kidding. Here goes.

The current, modern, 2012-version of NHL hockey is a very tight-checking game, with nary much room to operate in at all offensively, especially in the postseason. There are defenders everywhere, working their butts off, hounding the puck-carrier, poke-checking the puck and the passing lanes constantly. What this means is, one bobble of the puck and you lose it, converged on. One pass that misses the tape, one bad stick-handle, and you lose the puck.

Plenty of players are able to cope with this, and adjust from regular season to playoff hockey without much issue. The difference is, they are not dealing with the impediment Hossa is, and has been for as long as I can remember. And don’t get me wrong, this impediment also holds Hossa back in the regular season from truly being the superstar forward I believe he otherwise would be, just not as much as it does in the postseason, because the postseason is amplified in its lack of space on the ice. And that impediment is simply that Marian Hossa has played with a stick that is too long for him for years. Hossa’s stick length, combined with the way he holds it, both hands so close to the handle, means he has to carry the puck farther away from his hands (and body) than most players. And since there is less space in the playoffs, there usually isn’t room to hold it that far away from him, so he loses it, not to mention how much harder the puck is to control when it’s that far away from you.

Perhaps a better illustration would be this. It’s not so much about where he holds the puck in relation to his body as where he moves it. With all the poke-checks and defenders coming at you in the playoffs, you constantly have to be maneuvering the puck on your stick and protecting it if you want to keep possession of it for enough time to make plays. Hossa’s long stick helps him in protecting the puck along the boards when the play is static because it gives him a greater reach, but it hinders him in almost everything else. Once it comes time to build up speed with the puck or maneuver around a defender, Hossa’s too-long stick becomes a hindrance because it’s imprecise. The farther the puck is away from you, and just the more your stick is a bad fit for you, the harder it will be to control precisely. You may want to move the puck three inches to the left to avoid a defender’s stick, but you’ll only move it two-and-a-half by accident because the puck is harder to control with an ill-fitted stick.

Here is a photograph I found on google images that shows what I’m describing to an extent.

Hossa has a long stick, and he holds both his hands so high that the remaining shaft below his left (bottom) hand is too long and imprecise. Ask yourself, is it easier to hold a paddle in your hand and bat a ping-pong ball around right in front of you, or is it easier to attach that paddle to a long stick, then try to bat a ping-pong ball at the other end of the room using that stick? Clearly, whether it’s a tennis ball or a hockey puck, these objects are easier to control the closer you are to them, with the least length of stick or stilt between them. The longer the shaft, the more they make your hand movements inaccurate.

That is why Marian Hossa struggles to create offense in the playoffs. The length of his stick, and the way he holds it, is not ideal for the tight-checking style of playoff hockey, and the precision that lack of space on the ice necessitates. Hossa has all the physical talent of a superstar, but his “stick situation,” if you will, is hampering his natural talents. All one need do to see the problem for themselves, and all Hossa needs to do, is watch an Ilya Kovalchuk or Alex Ovechkin play, and see the sticks they use, and how much more naturally they are able to control the puck. Kovalchuk and Ovechkin are players of similar height and overall size to Hossa, yet they either use shorter sticks or hold their sticks differently–to me it looks like both, and it makes all the difference.

As good as Marian Hossa is right now, ill-fitted stick and all, I believe his true potential has not yet been reached, and will not be reached until he gets fitted with a proper sized stick. It may sound like an inconsequential detail, but it’s anything but. I encourage hockey fans and Blackhawks fans to pay attention to Hossa’s stick length and how he holds his stick next time you watch him play, and I think you will notice a problem exists as well.

Written by Shark Circle

ED. NOTE: I believe I deserve credit for taking the time to outline my actual theory as to why Hossa struggles in the playoffs when I could just as easily of written “he struggles…because it’s the Cup.” Just saying.

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