NHL Free Agency. It didn't used to be this fun. It used to be the NFL and MLB had their days or weeks in the spotlight, while NHL free agency was simply a way for aging veterans to go to the richest teams. Enter the lockout, enter the "New" NHL. The New NHL makes money, has exploding salaries, has fans complaining about these salaries (but it has fans, yay!), has Brian Burke and Kevin Lowe's sideshow feud (but its in the news, yay!), and is slowly but surely creating every sports commissioner's dream - parity.
Yet, the most bothersome news to arise from free agency wasn't the overinflated contracts being given to average free agents across the board (continuing to create a slippery slope of increased salary demands from players, which leads to rising ticket prices, which leads to less fans, which leads to poorer owners, which leads to another lockout, etc. Nope, nobody cared about the future viability of the league). Nor was it the insane, reeks-of-desperation $20 mil/2year offer sheet the Canucks gave to an aging and past his prime Mats Sundin. It was the below value, one-year deal taken by Marian Hossa, one of the best forwards in hockey, to play for the Red Wings, the reigning Stanley Cup champions. In an era when dynasties should be destroyed by salary cap rules, player greed, owner greed, bad management, and where parity is supposed to be occurring in all leagues, a signing like this frustrates many, and leaves so much to question.
The Detroit Red Wings are parity's enemy. When Robert Frost wrote,
Two roads diverged in a wood
And I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference
he could have been prophetically speaking of the Mike Ilitch era of the Red Wings organization. Ilitch, of course, is the Red Wings owner. Ilitch, along with Red Wings GM Ken Holland, former coach and current Red Wings Senior Advisor, Scotty Bowman are credited with running one of the best, if not the best, organizations in hockey. They are widely recognized as heavily scouting European and Russian players before many other teams, and took many risks with drafting, smuggling and believing in these players. They continue to be seen as being ahead of the curve in their scouting department, and seem to often find late round players who fit their system and their organizational philosophy. The Red Wings win. They win in the regular season, they win championships, and they do it their way, without superstars, and as a team. In professional sports, this is the road less traveled.
Marian Hossa’s reputation has been following him since at least his season in Juniors. Loads of talent, will put up points, but not so high in the clutchometer rankings (to the point of withering away). This reputation has carried with him from Ottawa to Atlanta, and to Pittsburgh (despite his strong playoff finish last season). Usually, a lack of “clutch” will lead most fans to think of a player as mentally weak, and mentally weak leads to a player only playing for the money, in the end, making the player a "me guy." Deserved or not.
This is why the world gets flipped upside down when Hossa takes a one year deal for less money instead of numerous offers of multi-year deals worth significantly more. This is why, when Hossa tells the Detroit Free Press,
"I wanted to have the best chance to win the Stanley Cup. I think the team in Detroit is something special. It wasn't easy, and there were a few (big offers), but I know it's right."
people don't believe it.
In the end, the deal makes incredible sense for both sides. For Detroit, Mike Ilitch wants to win, Hossa was the best player there and the team had the cap space. Why a one year deal? Detroit needs cap space next year to lock up two young homegrown stars - fan favorite, team leader and team jack of all trades Henrik Zetterberg as well as playoff force and consistent centerman John Franzen.
For Hossa, he gets to see life how hockey life should be, run by the best organization, gets to learn under some of the best leaders in the game, and doesn’t have the pressure of being “the man.” In Detroit, nobody is “the man,” everyone is just a piece. Hopefully in the process, for the benefit of both sides, Hossa begins to repair his reputation while putting up huge numbers. Financially for Hossa, if this works as planned, the deals offered to him this off-season will be laughable compared to next year, after he becomes a leader.
Or, maybe I'm wrong about all of this and Hossa simply reads Robert Frost, too.