The negotiations are continuing. Red Wings fans are still hoping. But the outcome is becoming to look inevitable: Marian Hossa will not be a Red Wing next season.
This isn’t the first time we’ve been down this road. And it won’t be the last. But when it comes to superstar athletes and money in Detroit, people get upset. As far as players go, nobody has been this polarizing for Red Wings fans since Sergei Fedorov decided to hold the Wings hostage with his salary negotiations in both 1998 and 2003. When Fedorov finally spurned the Wings for the Ducks, he effectively sealed his fate as a player who will eternally be despised in Hockeytown. However, the Hossa situation is a bit different. Where Fedorov actually took less to play for Anaheim, Hossa is all about the cash. Or at least that’s what his agent Ritch Winter is leading us to believe. According to a whole slew of reports, the Wings have offered Hossa somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 million, but Winter wants closer to 6 million for his client. That’s a pretty big gap when you stretch it out over the long term, and Hossa could potentially lose out on alot of guaranteed money.
But who is calling the shots here? As this saga drags out, the finger of blame is quickly being shifted to Winter and fans and media alike are portraying him as the major hurdle to retaining the service of Hossa. Winter finds himself in the crosshairs of fan anger right now, simply because he has laid out a number that the Wings can’t match. Here’s the thing: I don’t blame Winter. I blame Hossa.
Throughout this entire process, where has 81 been? We haven’t heard anything from him. This was the guy who decided Detroit offered him the best shot at a Cup, and seemed to be buying into the mindset that Detroit continues to carry with them: play our system, respect our decisions and you will win. Now all of a sudden, the man who was interested in winning a Cup and settling down for the “long term” has continued the vanishing act that he started all throughout this year’s playoffs. Meanwhile, Winter is charged with not only securing a contract for Hossa, but also being the face of the entire Hossa camp, since his client has the gag in his mouth. For the time being, let’s table the frustration, and look at this in the way that Winter is. Last year, his client missed out on a huge guaranteed payday to follow through on his dream to win a Stanley Cup. Winter watched the money slip away once, and he won’t let that happen again. Add to that the fact that Hossa’s value dropped as a result of his Houdini like disappearance in the playoffs, and Winter has a responsibility to lock up as much money as possible, and to do it right now. That’s what an agent does and that’s all Winter is doing here: his job.
Sometimes, the passion of the fans clouds the fact that this game (and many others) are a business. In the end, it’s all about the money and less about the championships for some players. And while we in Detroit are insulated from alot of that because of the Kris Drapers and Nick Lidstroms of the world, we occasionally run into a player who is so talented and effective, yet is usually all about the money, that we put away our better judgment and throw ourselves behind their attempt to “help the team.” I’m not saying that Hossa didn’t genuinely try and make the Wings better or try and forge friendships in the locker room. I’m just saying that we should have seen this coming. Hossa has been about the payday his entire career, and just because he had a moment of “clarity” and acted as if he wants to play the game simply for the love of the game, we should have known that his loyalty only ran so deep. Now, Hossa is on the verge of dashing for the cash and jilting the Wings organization and fans.
But let’s be fair, here: Hossa hasn’t gone anywhere. I could just be sitting here spewing my frustrations, while Hossa is putting his name on the dotted line of a 10 year deal with the Wings. If Hossa does re-sign, great. It will be a true testament to the power of the Red Wings brand, as well as a testament to the character of Hossa. But if he does leave, don’t act surprised. Ever since he came here, my excitement has always been slightly tempered by the fact that he has been all over the NHL and hasn’t stayed put. Yes, his quotes about wanting to stay here for the long term got me excited, but there has always been a sense of unease when I think of Hossa and this situation has done nothing to quash those feelings.
So where do we go from here? Hossa technically becomes a free agent on July 1, at which point he can take the highest bid from any NHL team and the Wings would be out a 40 goal scorer with no compensation. However, Ken Holland is no fool, and if he feels that this situation isn’t workable, he will do everything he can to trade Hossa’s negotiating rights and at least get some form of compensation. Right now, the Los Angeles Kings appear to be the top choice, as they have plenty of cap room and are very interested in adding Hossa to their lineup. But here’s the thing: the Kings aren’t going to win a Cup anytime soon. Both Hossa and Winter know this. Now, this doesn’t mean Hossa is guaranteed to sign with the Kings, but their price would likely be in the ballpark that Winter has suggested, Hossa would immediately be billed as the top player on that team and he would likely be paired up with the exciting Anze Kopitar to form a formidable scoring tandem. But the Kings are a work in progress, and it would be a long haul with alot of losses before Hossa would get another shot at the Cup. If Ken Holland feels that Hossa is a lost cause, he’d be well served to get something from the Kings and let Winter and Hossa figure out the rest. If Hossa is serious about making more money while still competing for a Cup, he won’t play in LA. If he does, then we know EXACTLY what Hossa is all about.
No matter what happens, remember this: When a true champion gets close to their goal, they do whatever it takes to get back and get it done. If Hossa’s goal is a Cup, then he’ll be back because the Wings are a constant threat to get there. If the goal is more money, then don’t let the door hit you in the ass.
The clock is ticking and there’s only one person who can make this decision. So what’s it gunna be ‘Hoss?