Modano's farewell, my award picks, and the Oilers' lottery options
It was, of course, a beautiful mirage. A night when
It's important to remember that, even if his controversial tying goal and dramatic shootout winner made everyone in the American Airlines Center, including Modano, think that maybe, just maybe, it isn't quite time to say good-bye.
Of course, it is.
He hasn't yet officially announced his retirement, and he might not any time soon. But it seemed like a done deal watching the tears stream down his face moments after a brief video clip was played of him saying thanks to the fans for 17 great seasons. And then the magic happened.
There was the uncanny deflection of a
Bedlam at the AAC. The fans, waiting for a moment to fully honor their hero, were delivered one in dramatic fashion. And then the shootout clincher -- a nasty wrister that eluded
It was a night to make everyone believe that there might be just enough gas left in the tank for one Mo year, as several signs hoisted at the AAC suggested. As he showed last night, he can play...but there are plenty of good reasons why he shouldn't. Truth is, as magical as Thursday night was, it's been a long time since Modano has shown anything near this level of intensity. He's had jump in his legs, but not enough drive in his heart. The consistent excellence is gone. Sure, he can step in and make things happen on the power play, but he was reduced to third- and fourth-line minutes at five-on-five for good reason.
So accept this for what it was: The hockey gods reverently tapping their sticks and giving Modano the kind of send-off that superlative athletes deserve, but so rarely receive. Hearing him talk afterward about possibly succumbing to "Favre-itis" next season, you just hope that it was the emotion talking and he eventually accepts this gift.
Because here's the thing: Next season won't be 82 magical evenings. It'll be aging bones and slow-healing injuries. It'll be five-game losing streaks and three games in four nights and grinding road trips through Phoenix and St. Louis and Columbus. It'll be exactly the same drag that led him to seriously ponder the end this time around.
And here's the other thing: Even if he doesn't want to go, the Stars might need him to. This is the second consecutive season that this team will miss the playoffs. Not to say he's the problem but, at 40, Modano clearly is not part of the solution.
Lost in the moment, but highly significant, was a symbolic changing of the guard. With just over a minute to go in OT and the game on the line, Modano wasn't sent over the boards for some last-second heroics. Instead, he was the one being called back to the bench as coach
You'll certainly hear lots of talk in the coming weeks of the team owing Modano another season as reward for his years of honorable service, but this room needs a change. A good chunk of the future is in place with
That may be tough for the fans to accept today, but surely it's something that Modano, a player who has seen a few changing of the guards over his own career, understands. That won't make it any easier to let go. But it's the right thing to do for everyone involved. Especially after one last night of Modano magic that hockey fans in Dallas will never forget.
With the regular season wrapping up this weekend, I thought this might be the ideal time to offer up my selections for this year's award winners.
If this was simply the best player, you'd have to give it to
There's not much to separate Miller from Bryzgalov in terms of stats or impact, and the Olympics don't count, so I'm thinking this decision will swing in the favor of the Sabres' stopper by virtue of one factor: intimidation. As well as Bryzgalov played, he doesn't (yet) carry the one-game-winner-takes-all aura that defines Miller's game.
This one might be the toughest to call.
When he was released by the Stars last summer, I wrote that some team would snatch him quickly and be very glad that they did. Hey, even I get one right now and then. Tippett walked into a nearly hopeless situation in Phoenix, joining a team during training camp that was embroiled in off-ice turmoil and managed to convince a bunch of pluggers that they could compete with the best in the league if only they'd adhere to his system. What followed was maybe the best coaching performance of the last decade, overshadowing another stalwart effort by
A runner-up each of the past three seasons, St. Louis may be the closest thing to a sure bet this award season. With 92 points, he's on pace for a top-five finish in the scoring race and his second-best season ever, production-wise. He's also taken just six minors while playing a solid defensive game. He's due.
Not to get too caught up in stats, but Datsyuk has one that defines his excellence with his league-leading 125 takeaways.
With their last-place finish long locked up, it really doesn't matter much what the Edmonton Oilers do in their final two games against the Kings and the Ducks this weekend. But if they can eke out one more win on Tuesday, this season won't have been a complete loss.
Of course, their season will be over by that point, but the lottery to determine selection order at the entry draft looms. And that's one the Oilers really don't want to lose.
While the odds of retaining the first-overall pick are certainly in their favor -- a 25 percent chance to win it outright and a 48.2 percent chance in total -- there are no guarantees (
In 2000, the 26th-place Islanders bucked the longest odds to move all the way from fifth to first overall. Not that it helped. They took
Imagine the Capitals if they hadn't won the lottery in 2004? If they'd stayed in the third spot, they likely would have grabbed
The Oilers can't drop any lower than second, so it seems like they'll come up with an elite prospect no matter what. Much like in 2004 when
Considering that their top prospects,
Whatever happens, it'll be compelling viewing and offer a bit of hope for a team that clearly needs some.