Why not start off with a bang, eh? Marian Hossa is, quite simply, my favorite hockey player, ever. That's not to say that Gretzky isn't The Great One, and Lemieux isn't right up there with him. It's not to say that Daniel Alfredsson shouldn't be knighted and given the key to the city of Ottawa. But Hossa is just one of those players... from the first second I saw him play, I admired him completely.
What I remember most of his rookie season was that he was a late comer, having missed several months due to a major knee injury suffered in junior the year before. He sort of came out of nowhere.
He was a highly touted prospect, picked 12th overall in the 1997 entry draft. But all we really knew about him was that his knee injury was a major issue and some were worried that as a result, he may never be the player the Senators hoped he'd be. Keep in mind, this was long before the blogosphere and rumor sites were around to keep us all up to the minute on such things.
So all of a sudden, there was this young rookie on the ice, #18, who immediately caught the attention of fans with his speed, his skill, and most importantly, his strength! I can still picture that trademark 'strong-arm' he would do (and still does...) as he forced his way through opponents. Hossa is a player with a ton of skill, no question, but he plays like a grinder. There's none of that 'soft-hands' softness you see with most skilled players. He just bulldozes his way around the net and he back-checks like a coach's dream.
In the summer of 2005, after years of dedicated service with The Ottawa Senators, Hossa was without a contract and push finally came to shove. But with just minutes to go, then GM John Muckler went against his word and signed the winger to a 3 year, $18M contract -- the highest salary in team history. And right before that giant sigh of relief could make it's way out of my lungs.... Disaster.
I was devastated. Totally devastated. I knew who Dany Heatley was, and I knew what he would bring to the table. I'm not going to say something ridiculous like "I knew he was a deadbeat"... none of us did. We were excited at the promise of this young talent, and Heater most certainly delivered on that promise.
Heatley brought with him a new, high octane offense that would contribute heavily to the Senators post-lockout success, and trip to the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals. And he came at a much lower price tag as well. But for all the glory the Sens had in those years following the deal that sent Marian Hossa packing, no player could ever compensate for the loss of HOSS.
The Senators underwent some alarming changes under Muckler, and the Hossa trade was a pinnacle moment. Players that had been drafted and cultivated through the Senators system were being traded away, and draft picks and prospects were flying out the window in exchange for aging rental players who would help 'put us over the top'. Of course, none of them ever did, and in the end, the cupboards were left bare and the culture on the team hit rock bottom, and ultimately, Dany Heatley left, too. In that sense, we lost Hossa for nothing.
Hossa is about as complete a player as they come. He plays with energy, with skill and with heart, and he gives'er 100% every time he steps on the ice. Every time he has an expiring contract on the horizon, I get gitty with excitement at the thought of his return to the Senators. But I know it's a pipe dream. After all, it's not like he was treated very fairly in his final days here.
For what it's worth, the Chicago Blackhawks are in deep, deep cap trouble heading into next season. Perhaps?
My favorite all time Hossa moment... If anyone has an english version, please let me know!