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Pens think Hossa risk is worth potential reward

by Larry Wigge

Marian Hossa was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Feb. 26 NHL trade deadline.
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Marian Hossa's words were simple, honest and right on the point.

"I'm 29," Hossa said during this season's All-Star Weekend in Atlanta. "The way I look at it, there are four or five years in your prime. My goal is to win the Stanley Cup."

So too, were those of Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero.

"There's a risk any time you acquire players," Shero said. "There's also a risk in standing pat. ... This gives us a better chance to win."

Earlier this season, Hossa called Atlanta, home of the All-Star Game, his home as a member of the Thrashers. But approaching unrestricted free agency this summer, Hossa opted to find new digs. He told Thrashers GM Don Waddell he wouldn't re-sign early, so the Thrashers made the difficult decision to trade Hossa and get back something on their investment.

A little more than 2 1/2 years earlier, Hossa learned what it felt like to be traded as an unwilling participant, going in a deal from Ottawa to Atlanta for Dany Heatley. This time, however, was different, he had some control.

With seven minutes to spare before the Feb. 26 NHL trade deadline, Penguins General Manager Ray Shero signed off on a deal that brought Hossa and forward Pascal Dupuis to Pittsburgh for forwards Erik Christensen and Colby Armstrong, prospect Angelo Esposito and a first-round draft pick.

Shero underscored the risk/reward factor in making the Hossa deal, considering this Penguins team has been built on the draft and Hossa could walk as a free agent this summer, just as Ryan Smyth, Peter Forsberg and Keith Tkachuk did after being the marquee names obtained before the trade deadline last year.

The Penguins, who already were one of the front-runners for the Stanley Cup with their lineup of skilled forwards like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Ryan Malone, scooped up Hossa to put an exclamation point on a day many in hockey looked at as a holiday that could be more important than Christmas.

In doing so the Pens, with all of that future talent, are sending a signal that they think the future is now.

Risks? Yeah. Rewards? That's the bottom line here.

What if Hossa clicks with Crosby and Malkin continues to soar? What if Hossa likes the thought of continuing as Crosby's sidekick and re-signs with the Penguins?

The fact, though, is Hossa had only one assist in four playoff games for Atlanta last season and has 13 goals and 35 points in 55 career playoff games.

Bottom line: These trades come with no guarantees, but allure of adding Hossa to a team was strong. The Penguins certainly weren't the only suitors for his services.

In fact, the trade came as no surprise, as Hossa was rumored to be heading to assorted destinations in the weeks before the deadline. Montreal and Ottawa were considered the front-runners in the bidding for the right wing, who had 43 goals and a career-high 100 points last season. Boston also was heavily in the mix. The Penguins were the surprise. Even in Pittsburgh.

While the initial asking price reportedly was a roster player, a prospect and a first-round pick, it apparently went up as the day unfolded.

"I told our people, the chance on Hossa was, I felt, less than five percent," Shero told reporters afterward. "We didn't have much going on at about 11 a.m., except that we were talking to Toronto about (defenseman) Hal Gill.

"About noon, Don Waddell phoned us back and asked; 'Are you still in it?' I threw out some names and asked; 'Where does that put us?' He said; 'Of the teams still involved ... last.' "

It was then Shero mentioned he might be willing to part with Christensen and Armstrong. Actually, Shero admitted that as the deadline approached, he wanted to take those players out of the equation.

"But Donnie made it quite clear that if they both weren't part of the deal, we had no deal," Shero said.

"We had three dance partners in the morning and, as the day went on, we had more offers," Waddell said. "At 2:45 (15 minutes before the deadline), we were concentrating on the Penguins deal and we asked them for one other asset. We got what we wanted from Pittsburgh with seven minutes to spare."

Where Pittsburgh won on the Hossa deal, Montreal, Ottawa and Boston lost out.

"At one point about midday we thought we had a pretty good proposal on the table with Atlanta for an impact player that we really liked," Canadiens GM Bob Gainey said of a much-speculated deal that presumably included Michael Ryder, Maxim Lapierre and Mikhail Grabovski. "The three players we offered are skating in our game tonight. That's when they asked for a fourth element. We thought about it for a few minutes and realized we couldn't give them what they asked for. I would have been in even more trouble if I made that deal. Actually, we made them a counter offer with less elements involved, and they made their decision."

A similar story took place in Ottawa, where GM Bryan Murray bowed out of the bidding after the Thrashers reportedly wanted winger Antoine Vermette, defenseman Christoph Schubert, prospect Nick Foligno and a No. 1 pick for Hossa.

"I made what I thought was a really good offer," Murray said. "I wasn't going to give up the No. 1 pick ... and Donnie wanted Vermette on top of everything I offered. I couldn't do it."

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