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Last Home Game for Marian Hossa?

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I'm not going to lie to anyone. I'm about as depressed as a person can be going to the Thrashers game tonight because I fully expect this the last time I'll see Marian Hossa in a Thrashers uniform.

Yes, he's had a sub-par season by his own standards this year, but I have tremendous respect for the way he played in his first two seasons here. Hossa was an absolute game breaker and probably our best defensive forward. That is a VERY difficult feat to accomplish. Seldom do you see a top ten scorer in the NHL back check the way Hossa has here in Atlanta. God's honest truth is that if Hossa had turned in those exact two seasons--but did it in New York or Canada--he would have gotten more MVP votes (I'm not saying he would have won, but he would certainly would have been mentioned much more often). It is a shame that those two season brought this organization so little and that his hard work failed to get the attention it deserved.

Hossa arrived here in one of Don Waddell's more inspired moves in exchange for Heatley who was viewed (by some at least) as damaged goods and a big question mark. When you look at how little the Oilers got in return for Chris Pronger you can see that it is not easy trading a star level player and getting good value in return. But here we are at the end of Hossa's three year deal and all indications are that he will not re-sign here because he doesn't expect there to be any Stanley Cup parades in the next five years. Honestly, I think the same thing.

The Thrashers defense is a mess and pretty much always has been. The goaltender is young and shows promise, but he is inconsistent and can't be counted on to play great in net for four playoff rounds. The forwards are a mish-mash of expensive wingers, overpaid checkers, older players heading into their decline years and smallish centers who will be pushed around in the playoffs when things get physical. (Can you imagine the Thrashers winning any games against the Ducks or Flames--I can't after watching the way those two teams went after Detroit in the playoffs last spring.) The ownership is very unsettled. In the final analysis the Thrashers have some interesting pieces that could become part of a Stanley Cup contender but right now there are more pieces missing than in place.

And yet the Thrashers remain the playoff hunt because they are fortunate enough to play in the worst division in hockey where not one team out of five can get their act together long enough to pull away. The only reason the Thrashers are still in the playoffs is because they are lucky. Talking about "the guys battling" or "they're really hanging in there" just obscures the hard truth: this is just not a very good hockey club.

In some ways I really hate the three division system because it allows fans, owners and management to trick themselves into thinking this team is really better than it is. If the NHL used a two division system we couldn't avoid coming to the obvious conclusion that this team is not very good and unlikely to go anywhere without very significant upgrades at center and defense.

But Hossa isn't going to deceive himself and why should he? If he stays healthy he probably has 5 quality season left in his body. Why waste those on a club that can't seem to ever identify or acquire quality defensemen? (or at least more than one every three years, Havelid and Enstrom could play on any team in the NHL.) Why sign a contract and hope that you get into the playoffs when you could sign with a club that has a Hall of Fame goalie or Hall of Fame defenseman behind you? The Thrashers have a potential Hall of Fame winger who is beginning to exert himself on the defensive end and show leadership qualities for the first time in his career.

Hossa has options and if I were him I'd give free agency a try too. The last time he signed a contract he was traded 10 minutes later. The same guy offering him a contract today was the guy who snatched him away from Ottawa. That might lead to some trust issues if it happened to you.

Sorry to be such a downer today, but that is where I'm at. I'm tired of missing the playoffs almost every year. I'm tired of watching the other team celebrate after yet another appalling defensive breakdown. I'm tired of only see bits and pieces of a contending team out there on the ice. But mostly I'm weary because I expect the Thrashers to have one less quality piece when I step into Philips Arena on February 28th.

Real Eastern Conference Standings 2-13
Points above .500
1. +15 Ottawa
2. +13 Pittsburgh
3. +10 Montreal
4. +10 New Jersey
5. +9 Philadelphia
6. +6 Buffalo
7. +4 Rangers
8. +5 Boston
9. +2 Washington
10 +1 Carolina
11 +0 Atlanta
12 +0 Islanders
13 -1 Florida
14 -2 Toronto
15 -3 Tampa