The high-profile, very talented forward was schizophrenic.

In the regular season, he was all about scoring goals, generating assists, and making his opponents look silly on the ice.

In the playoffs, he struggled mightily. The grip on the stick got tighter. The net shrunk. Or maybe the goalies got bigger. Something.

He’s a playoff choker, they said. And we have no use for those types in Detroit, a city that has turned into the 21st century version of Montreal: where only the Stanley Cup is acceptable.

It wouldn’t hurt our feelings, the masses said, if you cashiered the playoff choking forward.

Thank goodness the Red Wings hung onto Pavel Datsyuk.

Datsyuk, a league MVP candidate this season–and who just won the Selke Award and Lady Byng Trophy for the second straight year–wasn’t a playoff performer earlier in this decade. He disappeared, virtually, in first round losses to Anaheim (2003) and Edmonton (2006) and wasn’t much of a factor in a second round exit at the hands of Calgary (2004).

Now, it can be said that the Red Wings might have had enough to get by the Pittsburgh Penguins and win a second consecutive Stanley Cup, if only Pavel Datsyuk was healthy in the Finals.

The Red Wings resisted the urge to trade Datsyuk, back when it might not have been very unpopular to do so, and in their recent long playoff runs (2007-09), they’ve been rewarded for their patience.

Those of you who thought I was describing Marian Hossa in my opening paragraphs, you’re excused. Because the situation now, with Hossa, is similar as it was with Datsyuk several years ago.

But this time, there’s more urgency. Hossa, the supremely talented forward who came to Detroit to win a Stanley Cup, and do so right now, is a free agent. This is not news to anyone not sleeping beneath a rock.

So the decision isn’t whether to keep him or trade him, as it was with Datsyuk, once upon a time. The decision is whether to sign him or let him walk away, no compensation gotten in return.

Hossa could have made this a slam dunk for the Red Wings. He could have netted a ton of playoff goals, more commensurate with his regular season production of 40. He could have been a Conn Smythe Award candidate. He could have put the team on his back and lugged them through a couple of rounds.

He didn’t do any of that.

So it’s not a slam dunk decision whether to sign Hossa to a long-term contract, at age 30. It’s more like a pull-up jumper at the foul line. Still high percentage, but not as much.

It says here that the Red Wings ought to look beyond Hossa’s relatively disappointing playoff and sign him to several years in Detroit.

I have a hunch they’ll be glad they did.

A guy doesn’t score goals at the rate Hossa has (339 in 775 career games) and then totally forgets how to get them in the post-season.

Marian Hossa was not, by any stretch, one of the Red Wings’ better players this playoff. Not even close. But his reputation still caused other teams to pay attention to him, because you never know when he might go off.

There were flashes.

A couple goals in Anaheim, in Game Four, when a Red Wings loss would have put them down 3-1 in the series. Two more in Chicago in Game Four in the conference final, including a short-handed dagger.

But that was pretty much it.

So the decision to reward him with a long-term commitment–and Hossa, for his part, would like to remain in Detroit–wouldn’t at all be based on Playoffs 2009. It would be for what Hossa has the potential to do, and for the desire to not have him do those things wearing another uniform–perhaps even doing it against the Red Wings some spring.

Then what would everyone say?

“We should never have let Hossa go!”

That’s how it works for the sports fan; their vision is perpetually 20/20, for they always look at things in hindsight.

So do ink-stained wretches and bottom-feeding bloggers, as a matter of fact. I ought to know, because I’m both.

The Red Wings, my hunch is, will sign Hossa to a long-term agreement. Even if it means not being able to keep other forwards, due to the salary cap.

Because those forwards who would be let go (Jiri Hudler, Mikael Samuelsson, for example) cannot do what Marian Hossa has the potential to do. Period.

The 2009 playoffs were disappointing for Hossa individually, and heartbreaking, at the end, for the Red Wings as a team.

But the Red Wings are not better without him than they are with him.

That’s pretty much what it should boil down to, right?

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