DETROIT – Marian Hossa is about to find out if he made the right choice.
The flashy winger left all kinds of money on the table last summer when he turned down a contract offer from the Pittsburgh Penguins because he believed the Detroit Red Wings gave him a better shot at winning the Stanley Cup.
It was a move that shocked people in both organizations and left behind a few hurt feelings. It’s also placed Hossa squarely in the spotlight on the eve of the second straight championship series between the two teams.
“Going through the summer it was a difficult decision to make,” Hossa said Friday. “You know, it came down to two choices. I could be a good scout because I picked the two best teams right now. But to tell you the truth, it was a hard one.
“In life you have to make hard decisions, and I chose this one. Hopefully I made the right decision.”
While everyone involved says they’ve moved on, it’s foolish to think that the Penguins wouldn’t take a little extra satisfaction in beating Hossa.
Sidney Crosby said he was almost certain that his former linemate was going to return to Pittsburgh after the team lost last year’s Stanley Cup in six games. The two players even found themselves at the same island resort on holiday before the free agency period opened.
All signs pointed to Hossa’s return until July 2, when he signed a US$7.45-million, one-year deal with Detroit. The news hit the Penguins hard.
“At the time I was disappointed,” said Crosby. “It wasn’t harsh feelings towards him, it was just that he wasn’t going to be with us. That was it.”
The two players have since talked things over and had dinner together during the regular season.
Hossa says that he’s been tracking Pittsburgh’s progress throughout the playoffs and seemed to hint that he’d rather not be facing them in the final. While everything might feel pretty normal during Game 1 on Saturday and Game 2 on Sunday, he’ll definitely get a chilly reception when the series shifts to Pittsburgh after that.
It’s a situation the Red Wings are confident he can handle.
“I think he’s fine,” said GM Ken Holland. “I think he’s ready to go.”
Holland believes the winger was his team’s best player in the latter portion of the Western Conference final against Chicago. Even though Hossa’s 12 points are well off the 26 he put up during last year’s playoffs, he’s not getting the same playing time on a deep Red Wings roster.
Hossa was a central part of the Penguins offence along with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin during last year’s playoff run. His departure was a significant enough blow to the team that it took a little while for it to recover.
“He was with us for a few months and did a tremendous job for us,” said GM Ray Shero. “(He) was a tremendous teammate. …
“He’s moved on, we’ve moved on – good for him. I feel very happy for our group of players that elected to stay and saw this thing through. And to be back with this core group of guys … feels very good for us.”
Even though Hossa is only one year removed from being part of the Penguins, there are quite a few new faces in the team’s locker-room. Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz, Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko and Matt Cooke have all been added up front since then.
In Hossa’s eyes, the biggest change was Shero’s decision to hire Dan Bylsma as coach back in February after firing Michel Therrien.
“You know, since that day they’ve been winning hockey games,” said Hossa. “They’re playing desperate and playing really well. So obviously they’re going to be ready. And it’s going to be really hard because they’re a quick team, they’ve got superstars on their team. We’re going to have to be really prepared for the first games.”
It’s the moment he’s been waiting for.
Hossa joined the Red Wings because he wanted to win the Stanley Cup so badly and that elusive goal is now only four wins away. No matter how things play out in the series, he intends to try and enjoy the ride.
“This doesn’t happen every day, being in this kind of situation,” said Hossa. “I am looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great challenge because Pittsburgh’s a really good team.
“You know, we’ll try to have fun.”