Marian Hossa's Decision Set Penguins and Red Wings on Collision Course

Todd FlemingAnalyst IJune 11, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JUNE 09:  Marian Hossa #81 of the Detroit Red Wings collides with Maxime Talbot #25 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game Six of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals at the Mellon Arena on June 9, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Despite not significantly influencing the course of the Stanley Cup Finals so far, Marian Hossa has been the Finals' biggest story because of a twist of fate.

He made the decision at the end of last season to turn down a lucrative long-term offer by the Pittsburgh Penguins to sign with the Detroit Red Wings

He did it for one reason, and one reason only: Hossa thought he would have a better chance at winning a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings.

He all but said as much.

That decision did not endear him with Penguins fans, earning him the nickname Benedict Hossa.

But the biggest story in regards to Hossa is the one that is not really being told, which is the impact of his decision on the fortunes of both teams.  

In my opinion, neither the Penguins nor the Red Wings would be in these Finals without Hossa making that decision.

Let's start with the Penguins. It is not that I think they would have been worse if Hossa would have stayed on board. Quite the contrary.

They would have been better. Love him or hate him, Hossa is a great hockey player. Partly because of the loss of Hossa, the Penguins took a big step backwards this year.

If he had remained a part of the Penguins' flock, that backwards step would not have been quite as cataclysmic. 

Which means I don't think the most meaningful thing that happened to the Penguins this season would have happened had Hossa stayed in Pittsburgh. 

They would not have slipped all the way to 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings where they were barely treading water, probably falling to somewhere between the sixth and eighth seed. 

But the lack of an impact winger in the mode of Hossa was only a small part of the Penguins' problems.

They simply were not responding well to Michel Therrien's defensive approach and disciplinarian style.

However, despite their struggles, they would not have slid far enough in the standings to cost Therrien his job, which means Dan Bylsma would still be in Wilkes-Barre.

The impact of that coaching change cannot be understated. The Penguins have responded to Bylsma in glorious fashion. They were a completely different team once he took over the ship. 

Bill Guerin would probably also not be a Penguin and would have likely landed on another Cup contender at the deadline. 

The Penguins wouldn't have had the room to make any big signings before the deadline as they stumbled into the playoffs.

That means that I don't think the Penguins would be playing in these Finals this year had Hossa remained a Penguin. 

As for the Red Wings, this year's squad needed Hossa. They were not as dominant during the regular season as last year's team and struggled to remain healthy. 

With the injuries sustained by several of the key players before and during the playoffs, Hossa has played a huge role for them.

I'm not saying I think Hossa made the right decision. I don't.

I think he would have been better off staying a Penguin. He would have put up scary numbers playing on a line with the best setup guy in hockey, Sidney Crosby, and that chemistry would only have grown in the years ahead.

His long-term impact as a Penguin would have been more profound than as a Red Wing.

But the most immediate impact of his decision was that it set in motion a course of events that landed the two teams right back where they finished last season, battling in the Finals for the Stanley Cup.

Maybe Penguins fans should be secretly thanking Hossa, even as they call out their boos when he touches the puck for one more game. 

If my guess is right, who would we be watching right now if Hossa was still a Penguin? 

My guess is that we'd be tuning in to watch Washington and Anaheim play for the Stanley Cup.

But we'll never know.