The Pittsburgh Penguins mortgaged a lot of their future when they sent two young roster players (forwards Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen) and basically two first round draft picks (prospect Angelo Esposito and the rights to eventual 29th overall pick in 2008 that became Daultan Leveille) for free-agent-to-be forward Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis.
The gamble by GM Ray Shero largely worked; Hossa scored 12 goals and 14 assists in 20 playoff games on Sidney Crosby's wing and was a major reason why Pittsburgh played deep into the spring. Hossa was arguably the top skater on a Penguin team that jumped from 1 playoff in in 2007 to 14 playoff wins in 2008.
It takes, of course, 16 wins to hoist the Stanley Cup; so Hossa and the rest of the Penguins had to watch Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and the rest of the Red Wings skate off with the Cup in June 2008, and on Mellon Arena ice no less.
After the jump, how the pieces fell into place after the Hossa's July 2008 decision to sign with the Cup champions Red Wings. The fall-out from his choice and Shero's moves since then have shaped the Pittsburgh Penguins 2009 Stanley Cup finalist roster, as well as the rosters for the years to come....
Marian Hossa's decision: Detroit
Hossa, who played for 10 seasons where he was told, earned the right for free agency and play for a team of his own choosing. He had suitors from all around the league, including a reportedly huge offer from the Edmonton Oilers, at $9 million a year. The Penguins made what they knew would be their best offer to Hossa; reportedly five or seven years (his choice) at somewhere between $7-$7.5 million per. For a team that already had a lot of money tied long-term into young stars Sidney Crosby ($8.7m annually), Evgeni Malkin ($8.7m), Marc-Andre Fleury ($5m) and Ryan Whitney ($4m) it was an invitation for Hoss to join that core.
Then Detroit jumped in with a proposal of their own. They couldn't match the money that a team like Edmonton could, or even the term that Pittsburgh could due to the contracts they had tied up themselves. But they sold Hossa on joining a team that just won a Cup and lost virtually no pieces of the puzzle. Clearly last summer they had the best chance to win it again, if they don't right now. Hossa signed the dotted line and set his course.
If Hossa had offered his services to Pittsburgh on a one-year deal, it's about a slam dunk that the Pens management would have accommodated his wishes. But that was never an option that Hossa chose to give the Pens, he cast his lot and his Cup chances with Detroit.
Pittsburgh signs a winger in free agency
Pittsburgh management momentarily reeled, but then they moved on, as they had to, the clock was ticking in free agency. The Pens quickly sent out feelers to at least offensive wingers Markus Naslund, Jaromir Jagr, Brian Rolston and Miroslav Satan and signed Satan to a sensible one year $3.5 million contract.
While Satan certainly hasn't worked out as a top line winger, his contributions to the Pens post-season run has been admirable and tangible. And, since they only signed Satan to a one year deal, they'll have the salary cap space to look again this summer for another offensive winger.
Room to re-sign Brooks Orpik
Then the Penguins signed UFA defenseman Brooks Orpik to a six year deal worth $3.75 million. While the Penguins had other defensemen emerge this season (namely Mark Eaton and, to an extent, Philippe Boucher), Orpik has been a top pairing defenseman all year long, providing a lot of stability and a physical presence to a blueline that needed it.
Orpik had the opportunity for a bigger money contract (reportedly a lot of interest and/or solid offers from Los Angeles, NY Rangers and Atlanta) but he choose to stay with the Pens.
If Hossa signed with Pittsburgh, there's a 0% chance the Pens would have had the flexibility to feel good about offering Orpik a big money, long term contract. He wouldn't have received an offer from Pittsburgh and would have ended up slipping away much like Ryan Malone did.
Signing Jordan Staal
When Hossa departed, the Penguins added Jordan Staal to their long-term plans with a four year deal worth $4 million per in January 2009. Granted, Staal was and is a big part of the Penguins future, so perhaps they would have found a way to lock him up for the future regardless of whether of not Hossa signed. But with $7 million not committed to the payroll for the next five years, it certainly was a lot easier to give another player a sizable chunk of the salary cap to a forward.
This is speculation-- especially given how much Pens management likes Staal-- but perhaps they would have traded him before his restricted free agency would have hit this coming summer.
Sometimes the best moves a general manager makes are the ones he thinks better of and doesn't go through with. Staal, just 20 years old with over 245 games of regular season and playoff experience, is a hulking center who figures to grow into a 3rd line role and maybe even a 30 goal / 40 assist scorer in his prime. Perhaps if Hossa was a Penguin for longer, Staal wouldn't have been.
Adding the final piece at the Trade Deadline
Needing a winger for Crosby, the Penguins dealt one of their core young players, Ryan Whitney, for forward Chris Kunitz and a prospect in February. Do they feel the need to make that deal if Hossa was around all year? Maybe, maybe not, we'll never know.
But the Penguins saw another opportunity and ended up trading a 3rd round pick to the NY Islanders for their captain and former Stanley Cup Champion Bill Guerin. All Gurerin has done is score 13 points (6g + 7a) in 16 playoff games, good for third on the team behind Crosby and Malkin. Guerin's also added the unquantifiable measure of veteran leadership and presence that the team had needed and benefited from too.
The Penguins had to send the at-the-time-ineffective Satan to the minors to wrangle Guerin's prorated $4.5 million salary to fit under the cap. But if Hossa was still on the roster (and payroll) the move to acquire Guerin would have been impossible to make.
So basically we've got at least Satan + Guerin + Orpik for Hossa. While there's no doubt Hossa is an impact player at both ends of the ice and one of the best snipers in the game, the Penguins have replaced his allotted would-be salary with 3 contributing players to another Stanley Cup finalist team. Hossa helped to get the Pens to the finals last season, but the players who've came on in his stead have helped the team get back this season.
This series of decisions and other related personnel moves (like Whitney for Kunitz) and moves they did not make (like possibly trading Jordan Staal) is why we're at where we are today. And now Marian Hossa is one win away with the Red Wings from meeting his old team for the whole thing and the ultimate validation of his summer decision.
Would the Penguins be where they are now if they still had Hossa and less depth? We'll never know for sure. Sidney Crosby scored 6 goals last spring, he's got 14 now. Malkin had 22 points last post-season, this time around he's got 28 in fewer games. Crosby and Makin have carried the weight, showing that the decision for depth over top-flight skill has apparently been a good one so far.