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Wings' loss was Hawks' gain when it came to Hossa

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO -- They are questions that aren't asked very much because Marian Hossa is already in his third season with the Chicago Blackhawks.

They're also an afterthought because nearly every team in the League has lost a talented player or two to salary-cap issues -- including Hossa's Blackhawks after winning the 2010 Stanley Cup.

Still, what if the Detroit Red Wings had been able to keep Hossa after a memorable one-year run in 2009 instead of letting him walk? What if that bitter defeat to his former Pittsburgh Penguins teammates in the 2009 Cup Final was merely the beginning of Hossa's stay in Motown?

"Oh, what could've been … "

Marian Hossa
Right Wing - CHI
GOALS: 17 | ASST: 29 | PTS: 46
SOG: 149 | +/-: 23
It has to be a vexing thought to this day for the Red Wings (27-15-1), who are set to host the Blackhawks (26-13-5) on Saturday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena (12:30 p.m., NBC, TSN2) for the third meeting of the season between the old rivals and first in Detroit.

Like anybody who's been on Hossa's teams during his 14-year career, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and Detroit coach Mike Babcock grew fond of the soft-spoken Slovakian star both on and off the ice. Red Wings players did, too.

As it turned out, however, they only got to spend one year with him as a teammate.

"That's the system," Holland told reporters in Detroit. "It's a cap League. It's a draft-pick League. It's a develop-player League. I'm proud of what we did prior to 2005. I think we managed the money well, or spent the money well, but there's no doubt we had a financial advantage over two-thirds of the teams in the League."

When that went away after the 2004 work stoppage, so did the notion of keeping a team full of high-priced stars like Hossa -- who was still an Ottawa Senator when the League's hard cap came into fruition.

No team knows what kind of roster upheaval that created better than the Red Wings -- who watched Hossa and Tomas Kopecky go straight to their rival in 2009 -- and the Hawks, who lost almost half of their Cup-winning roster in 2010 because they would've far exceeded the cap number.

The Hawks struggled to find the same chemistry last season amid the fallout, while Holland has watched Hossa torment his Red Wings while wearing the famed Indian-head logo on his chest.


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After all, Hossa does have a dazzling array of skills at both ends of the rink. He's a powerful skater and relentless worker. His stickhandling skills at times look like something Detroit's puck-toting wizard Pavel Datsyuk would pull off. His shot is high-speed and heavy, and his passing skills are precise.

"It's pretty easy to play with him, the way he works and the way he uses his size and body and what he does," said Hawks center Dave Bolland, who has scored goals in back-to-back games while centering Hossa's line because of injuries. "That's the reason he's an All-Star and why he's got (405) goals and is coming up to almost 1,000 games (940 to be exact). Hossa's one of those players in this League that can take the puck and really do something with it. Playing with Hoss is always fun."

How fun?

"It sort of brings you back to those (Martin Havlat) days (in Chicago), when Havvy was on the same side," Bolland said. "I don't know whether it's a Czech thing or Slovak thing … but it's always fun."

It's fun for the teams those guys are playing on, that is. It hasn't been much fun for the Red Wings.

Last year Hossa ended Detroit's last home game of the regular season on a sour note with an overtime rocket that felt like a punch to the gut for Wings fans. This season, he and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews took over the first meeting in the Windy City and made sure the Hawks left with a big 3-2 win.

Hossa scored a goal in that game and Babcock said he and Toews "were the best players on the ice," which had to sting knowing that his team might've kept Hossa in the pre-cap days.

Instead, Hossa has endeared himself to Chicago and Blackhawks fans are thankful. Although they dropped the second meeting with the Wings, also by a score of 3-2 in overtime, Hossa assisted on both Hawks goals.

Before this season, some questioned whether Hossa was really worth the 12-year deal that still has nine years left and will pay him a reported $62.8 million over the life of the contract -- an average of $5.233 million a year. Nobody has doubts about it now.

After his first extended offseason to recover from three straight playoff runs to the Cup Final, Hossa is back to his dominating ways. He's the Hawks' leading scorer with 17 goals and 29 assists for 46 points, and also leads the team with a sterling plus-23 rating.

He's also gone without scoring a point in just 13 of Chicago's 44 games. Hossa also became a dad for the first time just before the season and is still as happy-go-lucky as ever.

"It's definitely nice that I've had no injuries or breaks in the season," Hossa said. "I can go with the flow and just keep rolling. It definitely helped to have a little bit longer summer to prepare and I think the body needed it. I think right now I'm a little stronger than I was and also mentally stronger."

Older and wiser, too?

"Definitely, I'm getting older, but I still feel young," Hossa joked on Thursday, his 33rd birthday and the day he learned about making his fifth All-Star team. "I don't feel any older."

He doesn't play like it, either.

Despite the fact Hossa hasn't been given a steady pair of teammates to work with this season -- bumping between the first and second line -- he's making everybody who plays with him productive.

He started the year at right wing on the second line, which at that point was centered by star forward Patrick Kane, another right wing by trade. Hossa has also played on the right side of Toews on the top line and then been put back on the second line with the likes of rookie center Marcus Kruger, injured star Patrick Sharp, Bolland and even 6-foot-6 rookie forward Jimmy Hayes, who will play just his eighth NHL game on Saturday.

If it feels like Hossa could be paired with anybody and help them look good … well, that's how Quenneville sees it, too.

"You look around and everybody's game rises when you get a chance to play with Hoss," Quenneville said. "It's been a situation where (Hossa's) game has been complementary to our team game -- whether it's with (Bolland) or (Toews) or (Sharp) and (Kruger). He's been in a lot of different places and been very effective for us."

He'd be just as effective for the Red Wings, had they been able to keep him. Certainly the Wings would've paid Hossa's price prior to the salary-cap era.

Would Detroit have won another Cup in 2010 or 2011 with Hossa playing alongside Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen? Would we be talking about another Red Wings "dynasty" had Hossa hoisted that Cup two years ago for Detroit instead of the Blackhawks?

Those are questions that can all be answered with a strong "maybe," but in reality they will never be answered. Detroit couldn't fit the multi-talented Hossa under its salary cap and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

It came down to a choice between Detroit keeping Hossa or the homegrown Franzen, a big Swedish power forward who was also set to be an unrestricted free agent. The Wings gladly kept Franzen -- their leading goal-scorer -- but reluctantly let Hossa hit the open market.

It couldn't have worked out better for the Blackhawks, who are currently battling for first place in the Central Division with the Red Wings and St. Louis Blues -- and were the League's top team for a while in the season's first half. Chicago is also on a two-game winning streak heading into Detroit and Hossa has points in three straight games, which is no surprise to anybody.

"I just try to find the right area and it also helps playing with great players," Hossa said earlier this season, attempting to explain his overwhelming success. "I try to read off them. It's just … things are happening and I feel I'm in the right spot right now."

He meant in the offensive zone, but the Blackhawks would tell you the same could be said for his current city of residence.
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