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Top Shelf: Defending Hossa, signing Roloson, trading snipers

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Who says the off-season isn’t exciting?

OK, August and September tend to move like a vintage ’90s trap game, but until then, there’s plenty to mull over and muse about.

For starters…

• Am I the only guy who feels even slightly bad for Marian Hossa? Well, maybe not in these parts.

By all means, mock the man for the fact he was a non-factor in the Cup final. Honestly, I don’t know that Hossa churned out one threatening shift all series; the kind where he works the puck down low, eventually cuts to the high slot and wires a deadly shot toward the goal.

That sequence simply never happened.

But this notion Hossa is some kind of turncoat based on which dotted line he signed on last summer blows me away. That sort of talk should be reserved for the selfish athletes who hold teams hostage with demands that an existing contract be re-worked and further inflated. Hossa simply exercised his option as a UFA to join a team he thought gave him the best chance to win a Cup. Turned out he was wrong by one win.

I understand why everybody in Pittsburgh is relishing this and if I were in any way bound to the Penguins organization, I would be too. But Hossa didn’t turn his back on anybody.

He was a free agent whose driving incentive was winning a championship, not banking dollars. He left upwards of $75 million on the table last summer in the form of long-term offers from other clubs in favor of inking a one-year deal with the perennial contenders in Detroit. I find that to be refreshing motivation.

The Wings will tender Hossa a multi-year deal this summer and no doubt he’ll only be too happy to sign. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, the Pens came along with a similar offer: Would anybody bat an eye if Hossa said, ‘Thanks but no thanks, I’ll take my chances in Michigan.’?

Didn’t think so.

• Speaking of locking up talent, it will be very interesting to keep an eye on prized 2010 UFAs Rick Nash and Ilya Kovalchuk this summer. Talk has already started in Columbus about whether Nash will re-up with the Jackets and if anybody actually talks hockey in Atlanta in June, they’re likely wondering the same thing about Kovalchuk.

My guess is both men will enter next season without signing extensions, meaning trade talk will take off soon thereafter.

Considering Dany Heatley has asked Ottawa to move him and that Marian Gaborik is a UFA come July 1, some incredibly talented under-30 snipers will be switching sweaters in the months to come.

• The biggest free agent no-brainer of July 1? Saku Koivu to Minnesota. Given the way Montreal’s season unraveled over the second half, the Canadiens have to be going back to the drawing board for next season. If they’re smart, the Habs will place renewed emphasis on youth and let their three prominent UFA forwards – Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay – walk away.

For Koivu, strolling to St. Paul represents a chance to play with his younger, bigger brother Mikko and an opportunity to wind down his career away from the heavy glare that comes with being captain in Montreal.

Minnesota promises to be a much more fun place to play under the new coach-GM tandem of Todd Richards and Chuck Fletcher.

So go on Saku, get your Wild on.

• Dwayne Roloson is four years Nikolai Khabibulin’s senior and has one fewer Stanley Cup ring, but I’d be more comfortable signing the Edmonton Oilers stopper this summer as a UFA than I would handing fellow UFA Khabibulin a new deal.

Roloson turns 40 in October, but he’s one of those rare athletes whose game has sharpened in the late stages of his career. He was a workhorse for Edmonton down the stretch this season, starting 36 straight games at one point. If the Oilers had made the playoffs, he would have been a Vezina finalist. He’d also come cheaper than the 36-year-old Khabibulin, who just completed his first good season in Chicago since signing with the team in 2005.

Khabibulin has also battled injuries the past few years, something bound to become a more prominent problem as his age increases. The Russian stopper does offer some high-end rewards, but for my pretend money, Roloson is the safer bet.

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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.

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