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Marian Hossa showing no signs of slowing down

Marian Hossa has earned the right to be bored.

This is a man who has played 1,175 regular-season games and 194 playoff games. A man who’s played on the game’s grandest stage — the Stanley Cup Final — five times in the last eight seasons. A man who has held the Cup aloft three times.

So you’d understand if the 36-year-old veteran wasn’t all amped up to play some regular-season game in October; to hop on yet another plane for yet another relatively meaningless game against yet another middling opponent; to start the long grind all over again. You’d expect him to just go through the motions at this stage of his 18th NHL season. And you’d probably cut him a little slack.

But, then, you wouldn’t really know Marian Hossa.

“Hoss just keeps going,” teammate and locker-room neighbor Bryan Bickell said. “He still looks like he’s 25, and it’s because of how hard he works and prepares himself. I’ve been sitting beside him for the last five years, and I look up to him, what he does, how he does it, even though I’m almost 30. He’s a guy that plays 110 percent every night, to be ready for every game.”

What drove Hossa in his early days was a youthful desire to score as many goals as possible. By the end of the 2000s, he was motivated by his dream of winning a Stanley Cup, a desperate quest which saw him lose in the Final with the Penguins in 2008 and the Red Wings in 2009 before finally breaking through with the Blackhawks in 2010. And again in 2013. And again in 2015.

Now? Well, it’s pretty simple, really. He’s just having too much fun to do anything else.

“Put it this way,” Hossa said. “Being on this team, it’s exciting. We’ve got lots of fun guys on our team, even just watching sitting on the bench. And it’s a good atmosphere. Maybe If I’m somewhere else, it wouldn’t be the same. But right now, I’m looking forward to it and I’m still having fun.”

His teammates have noticed.

“I think he loves being around the guys,” linemate Jonathan Toews said. “He loves the game. He loves coming to the rink. I think that’s the No. 1 driving force for his success at this stage of his career. When you’re in a great group like this, I don’t think it ever gets old.”

But what separates Hossa from other affable, aging veterans is that he’s still on top of his game. He’s almost certainly the top two-way winger in the game, his position the only thing preventing him from winning the center-dominated Selke Trophy during his Hall-of-Fame career. His quickness and deftness on the backcheck, his muscle in the corners, his touch around the net and his vision haven’t diminished with age.

If anything, his all-around game keeps getting better.

It’s especially remarkable considering the physical setbacks he faced just two years ago. A nerve issue in his back forced him to miss Game 3 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, and he considered (but avoided) surgery over the summer. It looked like his body was finally breaking down after all those long seasons — heavy minutes in a heavy game. Joel Quenneville talked about treating Hossa with kid gloves, sitting him on back-to-back games and preserving him for the postseason. Age was finally catching up to Hossa.

Then he played 72 games in 2013-14, posting 30 goals and 30 assists, and playing all 19 playoff games. Then he played all 82 games last season, with 22 goals and 39 assists, and playing all 23 playoff games. Hossa said he feels as good as he has in a long time. Quenneville said he’s been “flying” this fall, skating better than ever. There’s no concern about back-to-back games anymore, no need to protect the big Slovak.

“Playing more games is better because nothing’s stopping you,” Hossa said. “If you have long times off [it’s harder]. Jumping on a moving train is tougher for older guys.”

For the Hawks, Hossa’s late-career success is important for more than just on-ice reasons. His contract is something of a running joke in hockey circles. He was 30 years old when he signed the front-loaded, 12-year deal, which immediately was deemed an albatross once the rules changed with following the 2012 lockout. Hossa will be 42 when the contract ends following the 2020-21 season. If he retires before then, the Hawks will be slapped with a significant annual cap penalty for the remaining years, depending on how many years are left on the deal.

But here’s the thing. That contract doesn’t seem quite so absurd anymore. With a cap hit of $5.275 million, Hossa is a steal. And it’s starting to look more and more possible that Hossa will follow in Jaromir Jagr’s skate marks and play — and play well — into his 40s.

“That’s unbelievable that he’s still playing in a high-paced game,” Hossa said of Jagr, 43. “There aren’t many players like him. But as long as I’m healthy and having fun, I would love to play.”

At this point, nobody would be surprised — especially those who see Hossa at the rink every day, who see the work he puts in to the game, and the joy he gets out of it.

“Absolutely,” Toews said. “It just comes down to what he wants to do, because he has the ability, he has the tools. Really, there’s nothing he can’t do.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus