What Hossa left
on the table may still await him—next year, after all, he will be a free agent
again—yet he knows well that in a moment an NHL future can become a past.
During a game in March 2000 Hossa, following through on a missed shot, caught
Maple Leafs star defenseman Bryan Berard in the right eye, blinding him. The
incident haunts Hossa still. Berard returned to the NHL one season later, but
he is a marginal player who makes a fraction of what he might have earned.
"I know [the contract] is a gamble," said Hossa in the Red Wings'
dressing room last month, symbolically knocking wood with a rap to his
forehead. "The first thing my father said when I told him about [the
contract] was, 'Why so short?' But I made the right decision. I've known that
since I lay in bed that night."
Now Hossa lies
down each night in Royal Oak, a chic suburb of Detroit, where his girlfriend,
Jana Ferova, a student in Slovakia, often visits. On Sept. 18, the morning
after Hossa's first night in his new place, Red Wings players were having a
voluntary skate at Joe Louis Arena. Hossa was about to leave his apartment when
he stopped. "I had to go back and look up the address on the Internet. Then
I put it into my navigation system," he said that morning, laughing. "I
was not going to get lost. I really wanted to be here."