Commentary

Hossa made surprising choice to land in Detroit, but was it the right one?

Updated: October 9, 2008, 7:21 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Marian Hossa could have bought a sizable chunk of his native Slovakia with the amount of money he turned down in the first 48 hours of July.

But instead of "Show me the money," it was "Show me the ring." Or so he hopes.

Now comes the tough part -- proving to the rest of the hockey world he wasn't nuts to sign a one-year, $7.45 million deal with Detroit instead of the multiyear bonanzas on the table from Pittsburgh and Edmonton, among other teams.

"He could have went for a long-term deal elsewhere and gotten the security and everything, but he wanted to come to us to have a chance to win," Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said Thursday. "So I think that comes with pressure, playing for the Red Wings and playing for the defending Cup champs. That adds pressure. But he's been around a long time and I think he embraces that challenge."

Because Hossa wants to show he made the right decision, and because he wants so badly to fit in with a well-oiled machine that was working just fine without him, there's always the danger of putting too much pressure on himself to deliver.

"There's no question about that," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "And we've talked to him a lot about that already. We said, 'Just play the game and we'll fix things tomorrow.' We play a simple, simple system with a simple structure. 'Just find your game within our game.' And he's going to be able to do that.

"One of the things about getting going here is that his skill is going to come to the forefront, and his work ethic. I don't think it'll be a problem."

His new teammates appreciate his gamble. After all, what bigger compliment can a player pay than wanting so bad to join them, he turned away a truckload of cash? And one already gets the sense Hossa might become a rallying point in the Wings' dressing room, with everyone wanting to help him make the bet pay off.

"They've been great," said Hossa. "There's so many veteran guys and they welcomed me really nice."

Hossa is hardly a trailblazer when it comes to following his Stanley Cup dreams in Hockeytown. Down the hall in the visitors' dressing room Thursday, Curtis Joseph smiled when asked if he could relate to Hossa's situation.

"I certainly do, I certainly do," said the veteran goalie. "Although this town is a little harder on goalies than they are on forwards."

Six years ago, Joseph left Toronto in dramatic fashion after failing to agree to a new deal with the Maple Leafs, a team he helped transform into a contender, choosing instead to follow his Cup dreams to Detroit, where the Wings had just won another title that year. The move made sense. But didn't work.

"Certainly, there were some trials and lot of tribulations," said Joseph. "We won a lot of games and a Presidents' Trophy, but unless you win a Stanley Cup, they don't settle for anything less here. There's nowhere else like it, actually."

Gulp.

"I think these guys feel the pressure all the time because they're such a great team and people expect them to win," said Hossa. "Adding me here, obviously the pressure is going to be even higher. But you know what? There's so many professional guys that went through this before.

"I don't think they even care about it."

The Wings have essentially the same outfit returning. Plus Hossa. No wonder they're overwhelming favorites to repeat as Cup champions.

"You look around and there's lots of talent in this room," said Hossa. "Lots of big names on paper. We just have to make sure we put it all together and start winning hockey games."

Imagine GM Ken Holland's reaction on July 2 when he realized it wasn't a joke -- Hossa was really going to forgo those huge offers and sign a one-year deal in Detroit.

"Shocked," Holland said Thursday.

Holland said Hossa actually was on his free-agent wish list, but figured it was a long shot. After touching base with Hossa's agent, Ritch Winter, on the first day of free agency, July 1, the Wings didn't hear from him again that day.

"I went online that night and saw people were talking about offers for [Hossa] in the mega millions and mega years," recalled Holland. "I went to bed thinking we're not going to hear back."

On July 2, at 8:30 a.m. ET, Holland was filling his car with gas when his cell phone rang.

"It's Ritch Winter and he says, 'I've got Marian on another phone line. What would you say if Marian comes to you on a one-year deal?' I said, 'I'd love it. But it depends on the number.' He said, 'The number is going to work, but he wants to know what his role is going to be.' I said, 'I'm not the coach, so let's hook him up with the coach.'"

Babcock was more than happy to do his part.

"We were on the phone for quite a while," said Babcock. "When I was off the phone with Marian, I phoned Kenny and I said, 'He's signing.'"

About three hours later that day, with most of the hockey world still believing Hossa would end up either in Edmonton or back in Pittsburgh, Holland sealed it.

"Then, I hung up the phone after the deal was done and looked at Steve [Yzerman]. I would say we were stunned," said Holland. "You like to sell hometown discounts, but I would have a hard time selling that one."

Lidstrom could barely believe it.

"Just reading what was going on with teams that really wanted him on their team, I was really, really happy he decided to come and play for us," said Lidstrom. "I was real happy when I got that call from Ken Holland saying that we've signed Marian Hossa. Real happy."

If Lidstrom was surprised, so was Sidney Crosby. The Penguins' captain had chatted with Hossa during a vacation in the Bahamas the week before free agency and came home absolutely convinced he had his star winger returning.

"I thought he was coming back," Crosby told ESPN.com last month. "There wasn't a big question in my mind; I was looking forward to playing with him again. It was just a matter of how long was he going to sign for."

Hossa reached out to Crosby to try to explain the sudden change of heart.

"We talked through the e-mail a little bit," said Hossa. "He was a little disappointed, definitely, but he understood."

Hossa didn't help himself with Penguins fans when he explained his reasoning for signing with the Wings by saying he wanted to give himself the best shot at a Stanley Cup. Which, quite frankly, is true. It wasn't Hossa's intention, but the comments were translated in Pennsylvania as a slap in the face to a team that had just reached the Cup finals.

"Of course I didn't mean it that way," Hossa said Thursday. "Because they still have a really good young team, an excellent team. They're going to be battling on top for sure. I just felt coming to this dressing room and playing with future Hall of Famers … Just being here in this dressing room with them and spending the season with them and learning something new from those guys also brought me here.

"I didn't say anything bad about Pittsburgh because I had an excellent time there. It was a top organization and great fans. Coming here, people have to understand that it was my choice and I had the right to choose where I want to be for the first time."

We'll know in six or seven months whether that choice was right.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.