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Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Fantasy Spin: Hossa signing means rich get richer

By Pete Becker
ESPN.com

What do the Red Wings think the NHL is? A fantasy hockey league?

The defending Stanley Cup champs landed the biggest fish in the free-agent pond on Wednesday, by signing Marian Hossa to a two-year contract. This pickup makes the Red Wings a strong contender to repeat in 2008-09 by depriving their finals rivals, the Penguins, from re-signing their hired gun. The move has also taken one of the premier fantasy snipers in the game and primed him for what could be a career year. Rather than seeing his stock fall if he'd signed with a lackluster team such as the Oilers or the desperate Canucks ($10 million per year for Mats Sundin? Really?), Hossa is once again a sure-fire, first-round pick capable of anchoring your fantasy team in goals, plus/minus, shots on goal and power-play production.

Marian Hossa: Consistent Sniper

The 2007-08 season marked the first time since 2000-01 that Marian Hossa failed to play at least 80 games and score at least 30 goals.

Season
Team
GP
Goals
1997-98
Senators
7
0
1998-99
Senators
60
15
99-2000
Senators
78
29
2000-01
Senators
81
32
2001-02
Senators
80
31
2002-03
Senators
80
45
2003-04
Senators
81
36
2005-06
Thrashers
80
39
2006-07
Thrashers
82
43
2007-08
Thrashers
60
26
2007-08
Penguins
12
3
Hossa is coming off what was for him, a down year, scoring 29 goals in 72 games, the first time he's had fewer than 36 goals since the 2001-02 season. Since Hossa doesn't turn 30 until January 2009, the decline has less to do with a decay in skills and more to do with team environment. For all his skill and aptitude, Hossa plays best when he is the second-best man on his line. That's why he was a star on the loaded Senators and why he had a career-best 100-point season in 2006-07, sharing a line with fellow superstar Ilya Kovalchuk. The Thrashers floundered this past season, though, and Hossa was asked to carry a second line of offense, which he is not well-suited to do. As for his 12-game tenure with Pittsburgh, which yielded only three goals, it's simply too much to demand that he mesh with that squad so close to the start of the playoffs. In a full season with the Pens, he certainly would have eclipsed the 30-goal mark, and then some: Hossa's game is designed to thrive in a wide-open, offensively-geared system.

This is exactly why he will thrive in Detroit. The Red Wings are an excellent two-way team, capable of tightening down on defense, but equally capable of filling the net. They scored the third-most goals in the NHL in 2007-08 (252) while allowing the fewest (179), mostly by following the tried-and-true adage that it's hard for the other team to score if they don't have the puck.

Hossa's signing shows Detroit's commitment to following that formula again in 2008-09, which is great news for every Red Wing's plus/minus and for unquestioned (finally) No. 1 goaltender Chris Osgood, who needs to be drafted as a No. 1 netminder in fantasy. Hossa will be part of a very strong top-6 which includes a sensational playmaker in Pavel Datsyuk, a fellow elite sniper in Henrik Zetterberg and three other 20-goal scorers in Daniel Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom and playoff hero Johan Franzen. Add to that a defense which includes fantasy darlings Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, and you can make a strong case that Hossa will rarely be the best player on the ice, which is exactly the way you would want it.

The final piece of the puzzle is the power play, which was already operating at 20.7 percent efficiency, third-best in the NHL. Hossa, a right winger, can line up opposite Zetterberg and Datsyuk with Lidstrom and Rafalski on the point. If given the opportunity this unit could very well score 100 times with the man advantage. Opposing teams will have to pick their poison: try to skate with the Red Wings, or try to slow them down and take your chances on special teams. Either way, Hossa and the Red Wings are poised to light the lamp with frightening frequency this season.

Pete Becker is the senior editor for ESPN.com Fantasy.