For Hossa, final vs. Penguins would be 'interesting'
Detroit's Marian Hossa celebrates after scoring in the first period against Chicago yesterday in Game 4 of the Western Conference final.
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CHICAGO -- Marian Hossa, unlacing his skates and peeling off his socks in the smallish visiting locker room of the United Center, clearly was not looking an inch outside these tight walls.
He could have been thinking about his chance to get back to the Stanley Cup final again, this time with the talent-oozing Detroit Red Wings, who are one victory away from eliminating Chicago after his two goals and assist triggered a 6-1 rout of the Blackhawks yesterday.
He could have been thinking about how he could face the Penguins, the team he greatly helped ascend to that level last spring.
And, were he so compelled, he could have been thinking about how none other than No. 81 in red would be a certain focal point of such a series, given the rancor still remaining in Pittsburgh over his departure.
As it was ...
"I'm focused on this," Hossa said, motioning to his teammates Saturday after practice. "This is why I picked Detroit, to go all the way to the final. We're more than halfway there, but we've still got work to do."
Could he at least imagine what it would be like if the Red Wings and Penguins met again?
"That would definitely be really interesting," he said, allowing a small smile. "It's still in the future, but it could happen."
Hossa's present easily could have been 180 degrees different, if not for his striking decision to sign with Detroit only weeks after the Red Wings beat his Penguins in six games.
He was offered a seven-year, $49 million contract from the Penguins to stay, and that came with ample lobbying from Sidney Crosby, who finally had found a winger whose bullish puck-possession style complemented his own.
The Edmonton Oilers stepped up with a nine-year, $81 million offer.
But Hossa chose Detroit, even though the Red Wings offered but a single year, with a price tag of $7.4 million that adhered to the club's policy that no player makes more than brilliant defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.
Some called Hossa crazy, while others admired that rarest of professional athletes who genuinely did not go for the money.
In Pittsburgh, though, it widely was seen as a slap in the face to the franchise and to the city, a player openly declaring right after being beaten that he had a better chance to win if he crossed to the other side.
As a result, Hossa was booed loudly with each possession upon Detroit's only regular-season visit to Mellon Arena Feb. 8. Some brought signs displaying their anger, and chants resonated through the game: Trai-tor! Trai-tor!
If it bothered him, it was difficult to detect in the result, a 3-0 shutout for the Red Wings in which he blew one of his patented, blazing wrist shots past Marc-Andre Fleury.
And, if the booing happens again in the final ...
"You try to use that energy to your advantage," Hossa said, as matter-of-factly as he spoke after that game. "It doesn't happen that often, that atmosphere all for one player, where every touch of the puck they boo you. It was only one game I played there like that, so it's tough to say what a series would be like. But I tried to use it that one game, and it worked."
He stressed that he still harbors no ill will toward the Penguins or their fans.
"I was there in Pittsburgh for just a few months, not even a whole season. And I had great memories there," he said. "They're that type of fans there: They're excited when you're winning, and they let you know when you're losing or, when you go to a different team, they let you know that, too."
He laughed at that.
When Hossa and the Penguins met in the regular season, the Penguins were two games above .500 and a week away from firing coach Michel Therrien. He said then that "they've got enough firepower" to rebound, but he was proven right only in the aftermath of the deadline deals that brought wingers Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz to finally replace the productivity and chemistry he once had with Crosby.
"They made some trades which really worked for them, turned their season around," Hossa said. "They got new players, the right fit, and they started winning."
Was he surprised that Guerin and Kunitz adjusted so quickly when others have looked lost next to Crosby?
"It took me and Sid a little bit of time when we first got together, too, but it's always easy to adjust when you're playing with a great player."
Hossa, now 30, wiped away a label as a playoff underachiever -- one affixed while part of a perennially underachieving group in Ottawa -- with his superb 20-game run alongside Crosby, scoring 12 goals and setting up 14 others. And he has not let up in these playoffs, following his 40-goal regular season with Detroit by producing six goals and six assists in 15 games, all while backchecking doggedly within the Red Wings' two-way system.
Beyond this spring?
Hossa's only definitive when eyeing another possible high-profile run through free agency is that he will seek a long-term contract.
"Well, you don't want to do one-year deals over and over, right?" he said. "I felt there was a chance coming to Detroit for one year, and I took it. But, after that ... I've got a family, and we don't want to move every year. I'll try to set up for the long term."
Hossa is not negotiating with the Red Wings during the playoffs but expects talks to begin shortly afterward.
Any chance of returning to Pittsburgh?
"That's a tough question right now. I haven't really thought about that."
He could have much else to distract him in the coming couple of weeks.
First Published May 25, 2009 12:00 am