When Marian Hossa became an unrestricted free agent prior to the 2009-10 season, there were plenty of suitors vying for his services. And the Chicago Blackhawks, the eventual winner of the chase, were able to point to a revitalized roster, first-class treatment of players and a city hungry for winning hockey as some pretty potent recruiting tools.
"I think with Marian, we were planning for the off-season last year right around this time," Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman said. "We realized that Hossa was the best player that could be available. We weren't sure how that was going to play out, if he was going to hit the market or not. But we knew if he did we wanted to make a strong push for him."
In Bowman's mind, Hossa was a perfect fit for what he was building in Chicago, another potential significant piece of a Stanley Cup puzzle.
"His record speaks for itself in terms of his performance over a long period of years," Bowman said. "He's been a consistent performer. I think more than anything, though, he played a style that we were trying to instill in some of our younger guys, which is he plays both ends of the ice. And I think we've seen that in the playoffs here. He's contributed offensively, but I think when you watch the game closely, you notice that he does all those little things so well. And I think it has rubbed off on some of our younger players. We got a lot of talented young offensive guys here. You want them to be surrounded by players that play hockey the right way. I'm sure Joel would agree with that, that it's not always easy to get your most skilled players to play as hard as Marian does away from the puck and coming back in his own end.
"So we knew if we ever had a chance to get a player like him, we would really have to make a hard push," Bowman said. "I think he saw what was going on here with our team, and hockey has changed quite a bit in Chicago over the last couple of years. When Rocky (Wirtz) took over a couple of years back and decided to bring John McDonough in, that was a big move for ourselves. You see the difference that it's made, people who have been around Chicago for a long time. It's a totally different feel now.
"Hossa has commented before that that all played into his decision, that he saw the direction we were heading under the leadership, and it's gotten us to the point where we're at now."
"Definitely. When I was signing as a free agent in Chicago, I knew how good a team it is. Obviously, sometimes you can face some injuries, things like that. But so far it's been great. We had a great run since the beginning of the season, and we are not in the Final by accident, but by hard work."
Magical time -- There was a time during the regular season when there was talk that Paul Holmgren should be fired as the Philadelphia Flyers' general manager. It's always easy to make a rush to judgment when a team is struggling, but the Flyers kept Holmgren's calm hands on the wheel and now are competing for the Stanley Cup.
"When there was a setback, whether it was a couple of games or five games, it seemed devastating at the time, because we were very far down in the standings," Holmgren said. "I think through all the trials and tribulations we went through, we've become a very strong team.
"It's actually probably our greatest strength right now are the guys in the room and what they believe in and their belief in each other. It's not really about one moment that's turned us around. I think it's just about a series of events that's made us really strong and allowed us to be here in this opportunity. I don't think we'll be overwhelmed by it. I think we've been through too much.
"This has been a lot of fun here this last 45 days or whatever," the understated Holmgren said. "It's sort of magical the way we've players, first of all the way we got into the playoffs."
It all boiled down to the last game of the regular season when the Rangers and Flyers squared off at Wachovia Center. Whoever won, got into the playoffs. The game went to a shootout and the Flyers' were off on their magical ride.
"That's something that I find hard to believe will ever happen again, where the two teams playing, one gets to go into the tournament and the other team has to go home," Holmgren said.
"It's incredible. It's just been it seems like a year, the playoffs. We're excited about Saturday night. We can't wait to get going.
"Well, that's not as important as winning the trophy. That's the most important."
-- Marian Hossa on being the first player to play in three straight Stanley Cup Finals with different teams
-- Marian Hossa on being the first player to play in three straight Stanley Cup Finals with different teams.
Experience pays off -- While this may be Jonathan Toews' first trip to the Stanley Cup Final, he said other big-time events, like the Winter Olympics and World Junior Championships, have helped steel him for what competing for the Stanley Cup is all about.
"It doesn't really matter where you're at," Toews said. "When you're there, it's always a huge deal, whether it's the World Juniors or World Championship, if it's something new to you, a new experience, it's so exciting.
"You know you don't want to feel the feeling of disappointment if you lose, so you work hard and you learn kind of what it takes to win and how to overcome what your opponent is throwing at you.
All that experience does help you, but this is going to be the ultimate battle, I think."
Tide has turned -- Longtime Blackhawks players are excited not only by being in the Stanley Cup Final, but by the changes in atmosphere around the team in recent years when the roar returned to the United Center.
"I remember those days pretty good, my first couple of years in NHL," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "As a young guy, I'm just happy to be in the NHL and be a part of it. Dream your whole life to be a part of NHL, and you finally do and it's great. As time goes by, you realize when things do change, just how much better it is now and how much of a hockey city this town really is. Like I said, it's just fun to be a part of that, living in this city and playing for this team."