This never happens.
I mean really, this never happens.
This is the story of a man who broke all the sacred unwritten rules in hockey—and got away with it. This is the burn of the decade.
Defying the sports gods almost always ends up badly for the culprit. Nine times out of 10, it is the team that is vindicated, not the player. Young kids everywhere learn a lesson about team loyalty and sports ethics, and all is right with the world.
Marian Hossa plowed and powered his bulldozer through that notion.
In 2007, Hossa was an Atlanta Thrasher, and by most all accounts, he was miserable. At the time we thought his competitive drive had the restraint of just wanting to make the playoffs, of which the Thrashers did just once and resulted in a four-game sweep in the first round.
Realizing both Hossa's unhappiness and the reality that Atlanta would likely not be able to re-sign the star, the Thrashers traded him to Pittsburgh in 2008.
The Penguins gave up a lot for Hossa: three prospects in Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, and Angelo Esposito, and their 2008 first round pick on top of it all.
I remember as a Red Wings fan anxiously watching the 2008 trade deadline with the hope of a six-year-old on Christmas Eve that Detroit would somehow find a way to acquire Hossa. Then I saw what Pittsburgh gave up and felt small relief.
Still, it nearly paid off for the Penguins as they powered their way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In the deciding Game Six, three seconds before Detroit would claim victory, it was Hossa who very nearly sent the game into overtime. Seconds later the camera zoomed in on a devastated Hossa, still in the same crumpled position on the ice after his chance was denied.
Talk circulated about a budding future dynasty in Pittsburgh. They would have a core that included young phenoms, scoring sensations Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and a star veteran in Hossa for years to come. Multiple Stanley Cups were in this team's near future.
Pittsburgh offered Hossa what was rumored to be a six-year, $49 million deal, a more than fair and very competitive proposal.
Hossa, however, had been in talks with the Red Wings. He was nearing his 30th birthday, just over the hill for an athlete who wanted to win sooner rather than later.
As the legend now goes, it was more specifically players like Nick Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg, not general manager Ken Holland, who were the masterminds behind the deal.
The players were in frequent talks with Hossa, explaining the mission statement of the team and the concept of team first, money second. Hossa bought into it and signed a one-year, $7.45 million deal with Detroit with the belief that the Red Wings would give him the best chance to win the Cup in the immediate future.
The uproar tore through the NHL like a tidal wave, and Pittsburgh fans came out in force with the wrath of a fanbase scorned.
Pens fans loved Hossa, and this is how they would be repaid? By rejecting a lucrative deal? By leaving them for the team that beat them in the finals?!
Pittsburgh, who gave up so much for Hossa, would be left in flames, while Detroit gave up nothing but money and a roster spot.
He would surely get what was coming to him. The hockey gods would issue swift and harsh punishment. This defiled the sanctity of the game! This was blasphemy! There would be a special place reserved in hockey hell for Hossa.
Because Hossa didn't leave Pittsburgh for fame. He didn't leave for money. He didn't leave for the security of a long contract or for the glitz and glamour of a happening town.
He went to Detroit for a one-year contract with nothing promised after that. He went there for less money than Pittsburgh offered. He went to a city that was hit harder than almost everywhere else in the nation by economic recession, and he went to a team that already had beloved star players, not seeking the spotlight.
Hossa signed with Detroit for one reason, and for one reason only. He wanted to lift Lord Stanley's Cup.
It is now June 2009, and Hossa is one win away from his goal.
This wasn't supposed to happen. Especially being that if it happens, it will come against his former team.
No vindication could be sweeter.
They don't make stories like this anymore. Well, maybe in Hollywood.
Through it all, Hossa hasn't been the center of attention in this series. He has chipped in a modest three assists against Pittsburgh, and I would wager that he doesn't mind one bit.
Call him a traitor, call him backstabbing betrayer, call him a bamboozler, a ding dabbler, any other Dr. Seuss insult you want to throw at him.
He's a winner—and he now sits on the cusp of a dream realized.
Writer's Note: My apologies to my readers and to Bleacher Report for my recent lack of Red Wings coverage in the Stanley Cup Finals. I was out of town for two weeks for my wedding and honeymoon. At times it was a bit painstaking not getting to see my Red Wings in action for the first five games of this series, but sometimes there's just more to life than hockey (what?!).