Well now that the Stanley Cup playoffs are over, with the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisting the cup, there is a shining lesson to be seen by the rest of the league. And no it has nothing to do with the Penguins. Marian Hossa, perennial superstar, signed a one year deal with the Red Wings in order to get a shot at the cup; and he got one. But you wouldn’t know he wanted to win if you watched his play.
Oh sure when the playoffs began he talked about how important it was for him, how much he wanted it, but none of that translated to his play on this ice. He was un-inspired throughout the entire finals, and mainly invisible in the championship series. No goals and just three assists (two of them coming in game 5’s 5-0 rout) in the final series, a series where I didn’t see him hustle one bit. Not exactly the effort you wanted to see from a guy who signed a one year deal for a cup; it was as though he expected Detroit to do it for him not with him.
But there is a lesson in this, a lesson which the Rangers should thank their lucky stars they didn’t have to find out the hard way. When you sign a free agent, he has to want it. In a city that cares so much about blue collar work on and off the ice, it is important to sign players who are more than just “great hockey players.” They have to have heart, they have to have grit, and they have to want it. It isn’t necessarily the cup but it is the winning nature that you would expect to find anyone who is lucky enough to don a professional jersey, no matter the profession, to have. And Hossa simply doesn’t have it.
There are things that get teams, and players, through gritty game 7’s and tough opening round series. Those things are players who have heart, who have grit, and who are willing to leave it all on the ice no matter what the score. If you’re a Ranger fan think Callahan, Dubinsky, Lundqvist, Staal, Betts, Orr, Sjostrom as the players that have that heart. If you’re a fan of another team think Zetterburgh, Eric Staal or St. Louis just to name a few. Those are the players you want on your team, guys who are hungry enough to give a damn every single time they play.
Maybe it takes signing guys who have never won a cup, or maybe it takes the intelligence and the free agent savvy to know who will have that hunger no matter how many rings they have. But even as you read that last sentence remember that Marian Hossa was a Detroit Red Wing, a team who has been the golden standard for churning prospects into superstars and signing free agents who will actually help their cause.
At the end of the day the real lesson is knowing who will help your team, not just in the regular season but in the playoffs as well. And having more heart than anyone else on the ice is a great indication on players who play great in the playoffs, even if they don’t put up points (hockey is about more than the stat-sheet folks). Did Hossa have to put up 15 goals and 15 assists in order to keep me from writing this article? No, but he needed to play with heart and he needed to play with grit. A perfect example is Crosby himself, he had an atrocious final series point-wise, 1 goal and 2 assists for 3 points in 7 games, but he was all over the ice hitting, blocking shots and trying. He wanted it, he had that fire burning inside him.
Did Hossa want to win the cup? Obviously, in fact I bet he wanted to win it just as badly as Crosby. But when the two players stepped onto the ice Crosby played harder than Hossa by a long shot, and after the lesson I just described you can probably guess whose name you’ll find on the cup.