Hossa a perfect fit

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- It was five hours before the 2008 trade deadline and Ray Shero admittedly had no aces stuffed up his sleeves.

Just one night earlier, during a staff dinner, the personable general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins had informed members of his hockey braintrust that: "We have less than a 5% chance of landing Marian Hossa."

The next morning, with the clock precariously ticking toward the 3 p.m. deadline, Shero was surrounded by a collection of his staff who desperately were hoping things had changed overnight.

They hadn't.

"It was about 10 a.m. and I've got seven guys in my office all looking at me," Shero recalled yesterday. "I said: 'What do you want me to do, pull a rabbit out of my hat? I've got (bleep) all!' "

Hundreds of kilometres away from the Penguins offices, Marian Hossa, the commodity in question, quietly awaited his fate on that Feb. 26 morning. A pending unrestricted free agent come this summer, he knew he likely would be traded by the Atlanta Thrashers in the coming hours. But where?

"I had heard Montreal or Ottawa," Hossa said after yesterday's practice at the Wachovia Center. "I was preparing myself for either of those places."

What about Pittsburgh?

"Nope," he said. "Not at that particular time anyway."

As noon rolled around, Shero spoke to Thrashers general manager Don Waddell who asked the Pens GM: "Where are you at?" When Shero told him the potential package he was offering for Hossa, Waddell replied: "That won't do it."

If the Penguins really wanted Hossa, they would have to up the ante. And with just about 30 minutes remaining before the deadline, they did exactly that.

"In the final few minutes before 3 p.m. I started getting text messages from friends indicating the Penguins had stepped up," Hossa said.

Finally, Hossa got the call. He was, in fact, a Penguin, having been dealt along with Pascal Dupuis for forwards Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, prospect Angelo Esposito and a first-round pick in the June entry draft.

It is a marriage that almost never happened.

But Shero, Hossa and the rest of the Penguins are sure glad it did.

Imagine if Hossa had ended up a Hab or a Sen? Perhaps those teams still would be playing instead of watching the Penguins attempt to sweep the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final tonight, a berth in the Stanley Cup final hanging in the balance.

And maybe, just maybe, it would have been the Pens who would be on the golf course now had Shero not stepped up to the plate and snatched Hossa.

It is an entirely different Marian Hossa you see playfully wandering around the dressing room these days. Gone is the omnipresent frown he sported during all those playoff shortcomings with the Senators and Thrashers, replaced by a huge grin worthy of a talented goal scorer who finally is becoming the money player during playoff time that so many thought he should be.

Through the first 12 games of the '08 post-season, Hossa is tied with Evgeni Malkin for the team lead in goals with eight. Two of those have been game winners, including his series-clinching overtime marker in Game 5 against the New York Rangers; and his first-period snapshot that beat Flyers goalie Martin Biron Tuesday night, the first of his two goals in Pittsburgh's 4-1 triumph.

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Of course, playing on a line with superstar Sidney Crosby doesn't hurt. In fact, Hossa said he finally is getting over the growing pains of learning the on-ice tendencies of Sid The Kid.

"He's the fastest centre I've ever had," Hossa said. "I'm used to being the guy that's ahead, not behind, so it did take some getting used to."

A small hiccup in what has been a wonderful ride for Hossa.

"It has been great," he said. "I've had some bad playoffs in the past but so far this has been the best."

Shero couldn't agree more.

"He's a proud, caring guy," Shero said. "And I'm glad he doesn't have to read all that B.S. about past playoff failures,

"He has really fit in."

It seems the poker-faced Shero really did have an ace up his sleeve after all.


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