“It was a really tough decision for me to make. When I compared the two teams, I felt like I would have a little better of a chance to win the Cup in Detroit.” - Marian Hossa, July 2, 2008.
Regardless of whether or not the Red Wings beat the Penguins later tonight, Hossa was pretty much wrong. If Detroit pulls out the victory on its home ice, Hossa will happily lift the Cup, but that won’t have made him any more correct that Detroit gave him “a little better of a chance.”
Hossa, though you might not know it from his play in this series (0-3-3, plus-1) or indeed the whole playoffs (6-9-15, plus-6 in 22 games), is a game-changing player. That he took the smaller paycheck to have a better shot at the Cup might seem like some sort of magnanimous “I’m not in it for the money” type gesture, and certainly I don’t begrudge him that. It’s just kind of a dick move.
But that’s old news, obviously. So here we are more than 11 months later, and it all comes down to one game between the one he chose and the one he snubbed to see which team wins the Cup. All things considered, it’s more or less a 50-50 chance that everything works out in what he’d consider to be his favor.
But what this point ignores is that the Red Wings now have just as good of a shot of winning the grandest prize in all athletic competition as do the Penguins, and that’s with the whole “We have Marian Hossa on our team” affect. WITH Hossa, the Red Wings were more or less a dominant force, even when saddled with some of the worst goaltending in the NHL for the entirety of the regular season. WITH Hossa, the Red Wings rolled through Columbus in four games, struggled to down Anaheim in seven, dispatched Chicago in five and now stand on the brink against Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, WITHOUT Hossa, the Penguins struggled mightily before they dumped Michel Therrien. And without Hossa, they became inarguably the best team in the NHL under Dan Bylsma (I mean, they’ve lost 10 games in regulation since Bylsma took over on Feb. 16). And without Hossa, they snuck by Philadelphia in six games, struggled to down Washington in seven, dispatched Carolina in four and now stand on the brink against Detroit.
Clearly, Pittsburgh and Detroit are two very even teams, but imagine where the former would be if it were plus-Hossa and where the latter would be if it were minus-Hossa. Pretty easy to imagine that Pittsburgh would have been a better team if Hossa, who scored 40 goals this year, was the one getting one-timer feeds from Crosby or Malkin instead of, say, Petr Sykora (25), Ruslan Fedotenko (16) or Miroslav Satan (17).
Obviously there are some mitigating factors here: Might the Pens have fired Therrien had their record been slightly better? Might they have had the cap room to trade for Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin? Might they never have discovered the power of a barbecue pork burrito? Tough to say, obviously. But Marian Hossa makes Pittsburgh, like any other team he happens to be on, better, and conversely a Hossaless Detroit worse.
A better Penguins team would have beaten a worse Detroit and Hossa would have already lifted the Cup by now. Just sayin’.