June 07, 2009
It started last night on NBC, which did puff piece on Marian Hossa's(notes) decision to spurn the Pittsburgh Penguins' long-term, big-money deal in order to sign a one-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings. It continues today in the Associated Press:
Right about now, what must bother the Pittsburgh Penguins more than their inability to switch off the power of Pavel or the disappearance of their stars during a meltdown in Motown is that Marian Hossa could be right. The Red Wings truly might be the NHL's best team, and Hossa's better chance of winning the Stanley Cup was in Detroit, not in Pittsburgh.
This rarely happens, especially during times of a troubled economy: A player giving a team the pink slip, and not the other way around.
Gotta love finding virtue in the most sought-after free agent on the market writing his own contract.
Were it the Penguins leading this series, would Hossa be lauded for his economic acumen and shrewd assessment of hockey roster talent? Of course not. He'd be pegged with rotten veggies and labeled the dumbest man on two skates for making the wrong call.
But with the Red Wings one win away from the Cup, the Hossa storyline was front and center on Sunday's off-day. As was the notion that Hossa could, in fact, raise the Cup for the first time in Mellon Arena while wearing the Winged Wheel.
Statistically, Hossa's been underwhelming in the Finals: three assists, none on the power play. But his coach and teammates have repeatedly celebrated his puck control and overall toughness in the Finals; none seem critical of his production.
So unless he tallies in the next game (or two), Hossa will win the Stanley Cup as part of the drink rather than the straw that stirs it. Perhaps that role suits him better, hence the rejection of that superstar contract from the Edmonton Oilers last summer.
Nonetheless, he's one win away, and Wing Coach Mike Babcock was asked today about the emotional dynamics of Hossa's moment:
Q. You've got one player who has maybe a little different dynamic than your other players. Marian Hossa made a huge career decision last year with what he was going to do with this season. Can you imagine the swing he must be looking at, the validation of the second guessing depending on how this goes?
COACH BABCOCK: Yeah, but I don't know if he's second guessing. He's a man, he made a decision. I think he's really pleased with his decision.
You know, in some ways it's probably as difficult a situation for him as it could have been. There could have been a lot other teams we'd be playing and it would have been easier and we wouldn't be talking about this stuff.
But I'm a big believer in life, when you make a decision, it's a good one, because you made it. You thought about it, and you made the decision, now you live with it and you enjoy it. And I think that's what he's doing. And I thought he was excellent last night.
If Hossa were a talker, his would be the biggest story in hockey right now. But he's a reserved guy, never fueling the fire of this incredible narrative. He won't have to say a word for the images of him shaking Sidney Crosby's(notes) hand and raising the Cup after Game 6 to serve as a powerful finale for his story.
"It's not easy to go into Pittsburgh and play against your old team. He's got good friends there. But he's been really good. He's hard on the puck and physical. He proved that last game. I'm sure he's excited. We feed off the whole atmosphere of Pittsburgh ... it should be fun Tuesday."
Well, fun for somebody, at least.
We still can't tell how Pittsburgh Penguins fans would feel about Hossa hoisting Stanley on Tuesday. The boos weren't as intense at Mellon as expected. The thousands assembled outside had their protest signs and jerseys, but it wasn't overwhelming nasty. Even when the wound was fresh last summer, a poll on Mondesi's House found 62 percent of fans had good memories of Hossa after his departure. Fans like The Pensblog say that Hossa leaving saved the Penguins from a salary cap nightmare for years to come.
So Hossa winning the Cup would be more about Marian and much less about Pittsburgh's reaction to him.
If he does win the Cup, that is. Because if he doesn't ... well, expect the media to be a tad less in awe of his good judgment.