Dave Molinari on the Penguins: Catching up with Hossa and Detroit
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It was, Marian Hossa said, a purely personal decision.
Not for anyone else.
Which is why he seems a bit baffled that some Penguins partisans took his decision to sign with Detroit this summer so, well, personally.
Seemingly within minutes of Hossa, an unrestricted free agent, accepting a one-year contract with the Red Wings, he was being accused in some quarters of an epic act of civic betrayal for declining to return to the Penguins, who had acquired him from Atlanta a few months earlier.
Never mind that, in hard truth, Hossa was doing nothing more than exercising his collectively bargained right to select the team for which he'd play. Why he was expected to develop unbreakable ties to a town where he didn't work long enough to learn the traffic patterns remains more than a little perplexing.
"When I played for Pittsburgh, I tried to do my best to win the Stanley Cup," Hossa said. "I went all the way for the fans, because I've never seen [fans] like that in my life. Sell out [the entire] year? Are you kidding me?
"You can see the passion in that town. But on the other hand, when a person has a chance to make his own decision, I was looking for my own decision and I had to make a choice. There was nothing against the fans in Pittsburgh. Hopefully, they understand."
Some might. Some clearly don't. At the very least, Hossa expects to face some serious hostility when the Red Wings visit Mellon Arena Feb. 8 for the first time since clinching the Cup there.
" Obviously, I know it won't be pleasant when I come back there, but [some] people are happy and [other] people are unhappy," he said. "You never can make both sides happy, and I know that. I just hope people understand my decision and, if they don't, I can't do anything about it."
That game will be a back-burner issue for several more months, though. Far more pressing is the one looming at Joe Louis Arena Tuesday, when Hossa will face his former teammates.
It is, in the big picture, just one of 82 regular-season games for both clubs -- and probably even less significant than most, since they're in different conferences -- but Hossa allowed that he expects to relive a memory or two when he sees the players with whom he nearly won a championship.
"I wasn't there long, but I became really close with a bunch of guys because we went really far in the playoffs, and the bonding was even stronger than on other teams," he said.
"We got tighter and tighter as the playoffs went on. I really had fun with that group of guys. I'll think about it before the game, but when the puck drops, I just focus on the game and playing my game."
The Penguins, of course, lost to Detroit in the Cup final, and Hossa's desire to earn a ring was a factor -- likely, the biggest one -- in his decision to accept a one-year contract worth $7.45 million from the Wings when other clubs were offering deals that ran much longer and would have paid him much more, but that wasn't the only thing that nudged him toward Detroit.
"I just felt that, if I came to Detroit, I could [be part of] a really good team and also I could learn from future Hall of Famers, like Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom," he said. "It's an opportunity for me. It could be [for the first] time with an experienced team like that. It never happened before, so that's another reason I joined this team, to learn something from those guys and go all the way."
Hossa has been working on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom, and said that, despite limited time together during the preseason, the unit's members have gotten their games in sync.
"We didn't have a chance to play together much, to get used to it," he said. "But I think that a couple of games into the regular season, we got comfortable with each other, and now it's good."
Hossa entered the weekend with a team-high 15 points on six goals and nine assists and, aside from a little unusual swelling in the Red Wings' goals-against average, hasn't had much reason to second-guess his belief that Detroit is a viable threat to become the first club to win back-to-back Cups in more than a decade.
"We have to not get into penalty trouble," he said. "That's one thing that's been giving us trouble and it's why our goals-against [average] is higher. But overall, no regrets."
And none, it seems, about moving on from the Penguins, although he clearly doesn't share the animosity that so many seem to feel toward him for joining the Red Wings.
"It came down to two choices," he said: "One was Pittsburgh and one was Detroit."
Sounds perfectly logical, although that won't appease at least some of his accusers in the court of public opinion. And while he is fully prepared to be savaged, at least verbally, the next time he shows up at Mellon Arena, Hossa insists the hard feelings go strictly one way.
He doesn't have a harsh syllable to say about the city, his ex-teammates or the people who support them.
"I had a fantastic time in Pittsburgh," Hossa said. "It's a top-notch organization with great people. I had a great time. I would say there is no [point] in looking for the reason I left.
"I had two great teams in front of me and, for the first time in my life, had to make a choice, like regular people who want to work somewhere make a choice. I had to make a choice, and I made the choice of Detroit."
First Published November 9, 2008 5:12 pm