Not long after he scored his 30th goal of the season yesterday for a Detroit hockey club that outclassed the seriously-in-trouble Penguins, 3-0, and looks very much like the Stanley Cup favorite again, Marian Hossa made a startling admission.
"I don't have any regrets."
OK, so maybe it wasn't so startling.
Really, why should Hossa have regrets about leaving Pittsburgh for Hockeytown, USA?
Look at the NHL standings this morning.
The Red Wings have an astonishing 35-11-7 record and the second-most points (77) in the Western Conference. The Penguins are a pedestrian 26-24-5 and in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, in grave danger of missing the playoffs.
You will argue, of course, that maybe the teams' records would be reversed if Hossa had accepted any of the Penguins' offers for five, six or seven years for more than $7 million per season rather than leave as a free agent in July for a one-year, $7.4 million deal from Detroit.
Well, maybe not.
At least that's Hossa's story, and he's sticking to it.
"They've got enough firepower," he said, dismissively, of the Penguins. Then, he pointed out how it takes time for any team to mix in a lot of new players. He also mentioned how the Penguins miss injured defenseman Sergei Gonchar "really bad."
That isn't to say Hossa wouldn't help on Sid Crosby's line or that he hasn't been huge for the Red Wings, who are trying to defend the Cup they took out of Mellon Arena in June, the previous time they visited the old barn. Only an idiot would suggest otherwise.
"He's a stud, an amazing two-way player," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said of Hossa. "Mentally, he's such a great guy. He's just a strong human being."
That explains how Hossa so easily shrugged off some ugly hostility from the Mellon Arena crowd yesterday. Fans booed his every appearance on the ice, got a couple of good "Traitor!" chants going and broke out the always popular "Hossa sucks!" after he took the suspense out of the game by beating Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with a sweet backhander through traffic for a 2-0 lead midway through the third period.
The Hossa treatment was predictable and understandable in one sense. Fans take it personally when a player leaves their team. But the animosity was troubling and even embarrassing in another sense. Hossa nearly helped the Penguins win the Cup last season, playing a starring role in getting them to Game 6 of the final.
His situation is so much different than that of Jaromir Jagr, another player who was viciously booed here after he left the Penguins. Jagr was disruptive in the dressing room and asked to be traded several times. Remember the "dying alive" quote? Hossa, by all accounts, was a tremendous teammate. All he did was take advantage of the NHL's free-agency system and make a career choice, leaving enormous gobs of money on the table to do it.
"These are great hockey fans. They showed their emotion," Hossa said, refusing to fight back.
"I had a great three or four months here. I enjoyed every little bit of it."
It likely didn't hurt that Hossa got the afternoon's last laugh. The Red Wings won and he had a goal, his sixth in their four-game winning streak. He hit 30 for the seventh time in his career.
"It's a nice number. It's kind of a bonus for me to get 30," Hossa said. "But that's not why I came [to Detroit]. I came for a different reason. To try to go all the way and win the Stanley Cup.
"A lot of people said it was a gamble. But it was my feeling at the time to do this. So far, it's been good."
Hossa remains good friends with many Penguins. They don't feel the same anger toward him that the fans do. Sure, they were disappointed he chose to leave. But they also know a man has to do what a man has to do.
"They understand it's a business," Hossa said. "They know you've got to make a decision. It wasn't easy because both are great teams. One group of people is going to be happy, the other group of people isn't. No matter what you do, you can't make everyone happy. You just have to do what you think is best for you. That's what I did."
What's intriguing is that Hossa could have to make another tough call this summer. He'll be a free agent again if the Red Wings don't do a long-term deal with him first. Odds seem to be that he'll stay with Detroit, but who knows in the salary-cap era? It would be nice to see the Penguins take another run at him, but that doesn't seem likely. Not so much because he spurned them -- remember, it's business, not personal -- but because they have their own cap issues with big commitments to Crosby, Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik, Ryan Whitney and Jordan Staal.
"He's a big part of our team," Babcock said of Hossa. "I think he's enjoying his time in Detroit, and we're enjoying having him. Hopefully, he'll be a Red Wing for a long time ...
"In the end, it's not the money that makes you happy. Winning makes you happy. Playing with good players makes you happy."
So it is for Hossa.
For him, next season can wait.
Right now, there's a Cup out there to be won.
Ron Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .