Craig Leipold had been approved as the new majority owner of the Wild in April 2008. The NHL’s free-agent period opened a couple of months later, and it became clear the Wild was ready to end what had been a largely conservative stance when it came to spending.
Marian Hossa was near the top of that free-agent class. The Wild wanted him for a couple of reasons: A) to upgrade its play up front substantially; and B) to increase the chances that Marian Gaborik, Hossa’s pal from Slovakia, would re-sign with the team rather than leave as a free agent in the summer of 2009. (He left.)
The Wild offered Hossa an eight-year contract for $8 million per year. The 29-year-old lost in the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals with Pittsburgh. He wanted the best chance to win and signed a one-year deal with Detroit for $7.45 million.
“The Wild made him a very significant offer,’’ Hossa’s agent Ritch Winter told the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo. “It’s not really an insult to anybody. Marian had a good long talk with Doug [Risebrough], but this was a chance to play for one of the greatest teams ever assembled.’’
The Red Wings lost to Pittsburgh in the 2009 Finals. This gave commentators around the NHL a chance to ridicule Hossa, since he had left the Penguins in his search for a Stanley Cup.
Hossa was a free agent again in the summer of 2009. He went through his options once more, with more of an eye toward winning the NHL’s big prize than total dollars.
He didn’t go back to Detroit; rather, Hossa signed a 12-year contract with Chicago worth $62.8 million. That’s an average of $5.23 million … almost chump change in today’s NHL for a player of Hossa’s standing.
“We all thought the Blackhawks had a great group of young players, but the sure sign of that was when Hossa decided to sign with us,’’ Tim Hickey of Frankfort, Ill., said Tuesday night. “He took less money than he could’ve gotten elsewhere — by quite a bit — because he thought Chicago was the place to win a Cup.’’
Hossa was right in this free-agent choice. The Blackhawks beat Philadelphia in six games to win the title. It was Chicago’s first Stanley Cup since 1961.
Hickey is confident his Hawks will collect another Cup next month. He was standing outside the Lodge bar located on the locker room-level of the Xcel Energy Center. The Blackhawks had whipped the Wild 3-0 to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series.
“What really makes a fan appreciate Hossa is that he’s so skilled on offense, and he’s also great on defense,’’ Hickey said. “He’s always making big plays. He got us started tonight.’’
Hossa picked a Mikko Koivu pass at the Wild’s blue line. He made a quick move, fed Michal Handzus, and his shot was tipped by Patrick Sharp for a 1-0 lead at 8:45 of the first period. And that was enough.
The Blackhawks are trying to get out of the first round for the first time since 2010. The salary cap pummeled the Blackhawks with personnel losses after they won the Cup.
They were eliminated in seven games by Vancouver in the 2011 first round. They were eliminated in six games by Phoenix in the 2012 first round.
The key moment came in Game 3, when the Coyotes’ Raffi Torres delivered a vicious blow to Hossa’s head. It was such a horrendous cheap shot that in a league where punishment is handed out in drips, Torres was given a 25-game suspension.
There were thoughts that Hossa’s career could be in jeopardy. He went through seven months of rehabilitation before resuming hockey activities. You watch him now, and even with Toews and Kane and Sharp and Saad, there’s an inclination to say Hossa is the best forward on the ice.
“He’s unbelievable,’’ said Nick Leddy, the Blackhawks defenseman from Eden Prairie. “Marian makes it so much easier on the ‘D,’ the way he comes back and covers guys. The play on our first goal … typical Marian.’’
Chicago coach Joel Quenne- ville gave the Chicago Sun-Times what seems the perfect review of the 34-year-old Hossa earlier this season:
“Zero maintenance from the coach’s perspective. Offensively, defensively, positionally, he’s exactly how you want your team to play.’’
Too bad there wasn’t a “greedily’’ to be used with Hossa as a player, or he might have been the first recipient of Leipold’s free-agent largesse in Minnesota five years ago.