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Hossa ponders his future in Atlanta

Monday, 01.28.2008 / 10:00 AM / 2008 NHL All-Star Game

By Larry Wigge - Columnist

Marian Hossa was touched by the warm reception he received from the Atlanta crowd at Saturday night's Dodge NHL SuperSkills competition.
There’s a macho mentality among some athletes – a little voice inside their head that tells them not to let anyone know their innermost feelings or let anyone see what makes them tick. But Saturday night at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Marian Hossa was caught up in the moment.

"I play in this building 41 times a year and hear the crowd sometimes, but tonight ... it wasn’t like business as usual ... it was fun ... I felt tingly," he said, obviously emotional, after he was greeted with thunderous shouts of his name as he took in the atmosphere at the Dodge NHL SuperSkills competition at All-Star Weekend at his home-away-from-home in Atlanta.

Earlier in the day, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound power forward from Stara Lubovna, Slovakia, admitted that he has a very important decision to make about his career in the weeks ahead. But his impending unrestricted free agency on July 1, and the many rumors that he could be a very attractive rental player in the trade market leading up to the NHL’s Feb. 26 trade deadline, were second to having fun in Atlanta this weekend.

However, after the skills competition, he admitted he saw a few things a little differently when he listened to the excitement at Philips Arena and watched the faces of the fans in the stands.

"This is what I hoped to see in Atlanta when I got here from Ottawa," Hossa said of his trade from the Senators to the Thrashers for Dany Heatley on Aug. 23, 2005. "This is the feeling ... of a commitment to hockey ..."

After the just-turned 29-year-old paused for a moment, he offered some insight about the commitment he is looking for at this point of his career.

"I'm 29," Hossa said. "The way I look at it, there are four or five years in your prime. My goal is to win the Stanley Cup. To me, the Thrashers have some key pieces in place. That’s a good sign. But ..."

Which leads us to the negotiations Thrashers GM/coach Don Waddell hopes to have with Hossa’s agent in the next week about signing the star forward to a new contract.

"We definitely want to keep Marian," Waddell said Saturday night, adding that he knew the team would have to provide new parameters on a four-year, $28 million offer made earlier this season. "I was hoping we'd be further along in terms and dollars and cents."

Hossa cut his NHL teeth in Ottawa and had just agreed to a three-year, $18-million deal, before then-Senators GM John Muckler moved Hossa, his contract, and defenseman Greg de Vries to Atlanta for Dany Heatley, who felt he had to have a change in location after being under daily scrutiny following the car crash he had in Atlanta in which teammate and best friend Dan Snyder was killed.

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Now there are those around hockey who wonder if Hossa needs that same kind of fresh start that Heatley got 2 1/2 years ago.

"I have not talked to one team about him," Waddell said. "We want Marian to stay here."

"I don't want to speculate," said Daniel Alfredsson, Hossa's former Ottawa teammate. "But obviously, a lot of teams would love to have him, including us."

"He's one of our leaders and I really want him to stay here," Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk said. "Marian is a great person. He scores key goals for us all the time. He's a big part of our team."

Five years and $35 million just might do the trick – and enable Hossa to think about that Stanley Cup in his future a little more.

Hossa and Heatley ooze the skills and passion and determination that are on display on the icy waters around the NHL every night. Both were at Dallas for the All-Star Game last January, and Heatley would be here this weekend if not for the separated shoulder that will keep him out of the lineup for several more weeks. They are clearly and indelibly tied into that date in late August 2005, even if they both got to that position in very different ways.

For one, it was a business decision. For the other, it was a life decision. And just like that, it all changes.

Hossa admitted he was completely caught off-guard by the phone call he received on that fateful August day in 2005.

"It was a quite a shock to say the least," Hossa said. "We had just finished a three-year contract. I was just starting to think about the future with the Senators ... with security and confidence to go on when the phone rang ..."

Muckler wasn’t calling to say hello. "He said, ‘Marian, we want to thank you for all the great service you gave the Senators, but ..."

This is where Hossa knew something was very, very wrong.

"He said I had been traded to Atlanta ... and that it was only business," Hossa continued. "It was at that point that I realized they had a trade in place before I signed my new contract. I felt betrayed."

The phone calls on the other end of this trade had indeed begun two weeks earlier, when Heatley first called Waddell to tell him that he could no longer play in Atlanta, that there were too many reminders of the accident.

Marian Hossa has been a fan favorite in Atlanta since coming over to the Thrashers from the Ottawa Senators in August of 2005.

The request blindsided Waddell, who had hand-picked Heatley with the second-overall pick in the 2000 Entry Draft and had envisioned building the Thrashers around him and the high-scoring Kovalchuk.

"Dany and I were pretty close," Waddell said. "I got to talk to him for about 15 minutes and I said; 'Dany, take a day to think about this and I'll give you a shout back tomorrow.' But the longer we talked, I knew he was sincere that his life was filled with memories what he was asking for. I never tried to talk him out of it. I wanted to make sure I understood his true feelings and make sure it wasn't an impulse thing. But he had put a lot of thought into it. I could tell that when I talked to him.

"Obviously, disappointment was my biggest emotion. And then I thought; 'How am I ever going to trade a player of this value?' "

That’s when Waddell remembered that Ottawa was having contract issues with Hossa.

"I got the call and Don explained the situation he had with Dany," Muckler said at last year’s All-Star Game in Dallas. "He wanted to know what we were going to do about Hossa and thought we might have a fit. At first, I had to take a moment to ponder his proposal. I mean, how many times is this going to happen, when there’s a player like that available out there ... especially when I was having a problem with Hossa?

"I had so many things going on in my head: Here we were sitting with Hossa, who was demanding $6 million, a deal we could not afford. Plus, I was wondering if Dany could rebuild his career anywhere after what he went through. That’s when I remembered how good Craig MacTavish was for the Oilers when I was coaching them and we signed him after he was released by Boston following a one-year jail term for vehicular homicide.

"I phoned Donny back the next day to see if he was still serious. By then, I realized this might be the perfect trade for both teams because it made both teams better. Here we were getting a young player – a goal scorer that we felt could help us – and the Atlanta Thrashers got a terrific player in Marian Hossa. It was the kind of calculated risk we had to take at the time."

Two players. Two very different phone calls.

"After a while I realized this was a chance for me to go to a team that was a lot like Ottawa when I got there – young players looking to make the playoffs," Hossa recalled.

"I got to know Dany a little at the All-Star Game (in South Florida) in 2003," Hossa said. "It would be easy for me to be mad at him for turning my life upside down. But I understand the situation he was facing more now ... and that is part of the business."

Now Marian Hossa is trying to juggle a similar business vs. life decision in his head – 2½ years later.

Quote of the Day

Life's about opportunity and how you respond to that opportunity, and obviously he must have some swagger about him, some confidence about him, because he was solid. He made some good saves. He was 6-foot-3 on every shot, which is a good thing for a goalie. He played well. We got a win.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock on rookie goaltender Garret Sparks, who made 24 saves in his first NHL start, a 3-0 win vs. Oilers
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