By Allan Muir
April 09, 2010

It was, of course, a beautiful mirage. A night when Mike Modano turned the clock back for 60 minutes and slipped on the green, gold and black superhero cape one last time to lead the Dallas Stars to a home victory.

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 Trevor Daley point shot to tie up the meaningless game in the dying moments of the third period. Truth be told, any other night, it might have been waved off. It sure looked like a high stick when viewed live and in several replays. But there was one camera angle that left enough wiggle room to rule the review inconclusive and allow the on-ice call to stand.

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 Jonas Hiller's glove hand high. It left everyone in the building thinking the same thing: this is why you watch sports. For moments just like this, where the reality is so perfect that you simply couldn't write a better finish.

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 Marc Crawford put the onus on Brad Richards' unit to secure the win. It didn't work out, but the younger, hungrier group created multiple chances that were thwarted by Hiller (whose 49 saves would have easily earned him first star accolades any other night). Their failure set the stage for Modano's shootout moment (and those of departing vets Jere Lehtinen and Marty Turco, as well). But the message was clear. We've got different go-to guys now.

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 Loui Eriksson, James Neal and Jamie Benn assuming significant roles this season. For better or worse, this is their team now...but it won't truly be theirs until the 800-pound gorilla is out of the room and the responsibility for the direction of this ship is placed firmly in their hands.

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.

HART TROPHY: Henrik Sedin

If this was simply the best player, you'd have to give it to Alex Ovechkin. And since some of the voters clearly blur the distinction best player and the player most valuable to his team, there's a very good chance that AO will skate away with the hardware. No problem in this corner if he does. Still, Sedin has been the player who best fit the definition, thanks in large part to the extended absence of his brother Daniel. Henrik not only helped the Canucks survive that loss, but elevated his game to a level that no one knew he had in him. He wasn't only elite, but it's impossible to imagine his team succeeding without him.

Runners-up: Ilya Bryzgalov, Alexander Ovechkin


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. Tuukka Rask didn't get in enough games to be a serious contender, but he laid the groundwork for a legitimate run next season. He's the real deal.

Runners-up: Ilya Bryzgalov, Tuukka Rask


Matt Duchene looks to be a worthy successor to Joe Sakic's legacy in Colorado. Tyler Myers defied all expectations by not only stepping right into the Sabres lineup, but smashing the stereotype of the lengthy learning curve for defenders. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the agile behemoth in the running for the Norris Trophy next season. Still, I give the Calder to Howard for essentially coming out of nowhere to salvage the season for the injury-ravaged Red Wings. Just compare his numbers (2.31 GAA and .923 save percentage) to those that Chris Osgood (3.01, .887) put up last season playing behind a healthier group and you realize just how big an impact Howard has made on this franchise.

Runners-up: Tyler Myers, Matt Duchene


This one might be the toughest to call. Mike Green led all defensemen in scoring for the second consecutive year and matured into a more reliable presence in his own zone. Duncan Keith, always dependable defensively, is on the verge of a 70-point season and proved to be Chicago's best player all season long. For my money, though, this has been Doughty's year. The MVP of the playoff-bound Kings (doesn't that take some getting used to?), he's simply the game's best general at both ends of the ice and adds a physical element that neither of the top contenders can match.

Runners-up: Duncan Keith, Mike Green


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 Barry Trotz (maybe the league can add a career achievement award like they have at the Oscars) and some equally crafty work from Joe Sacco, who led a team most of us picked to finish last in the conference into an unlikely playoff berth.

Runners-up: Barry Trotz, Joe Sacco

LADY BYNG TROPHY: Martin St. Louis

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. Brad Richards can make nearly as good a case with his season, but St. Louis carries a sentimental edge.

Runners-up: Brad Richards, Pavel Datsyuk

SELKE TROPHY: Pavel Datsyuk

Not to get too caught up in stats, but Datsyuk has one that defines his excellence with his league-leading 125 takeaways. Ryan Kesler is second with 84, essentially one-third less. If just watching Datsyuk in action didn't convince you, that number should.

Runners-up: Ryan Kesler, Patrice Bergeron

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 (try this simulator). In fact, since the lottery was put in place in 1995 to prevent tank jobs like the one Pittsburgh not so discretely pulled back in 1984 to secure the services of Mario Lemieux, there have been several instances of the bad luck continuing for the last-place squad. In the last decade alone, it's happened four times, more than enough to make Oilers fans sweat just a little.

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 Rick DiPietro instead of Marian Gaborik or Dany Heatley. In 2001, the Thrashers leapt from third to first and secured Ilya Kovalchuk.

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 Cam Barker. Alexander Ovechkin would be wearing the black-and-gold of the Pittsburgh Penguins. And in 2007, the Flyers were all set to draft Patrick Kane before the luck of the draw sent the first overall pick to the Blackhawks.

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 Evgeni Malkin turned out to be a decent consolation prize, Edmonton can do no worse than the leftovers of either Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall. But the team clearly has a reason to want to control their destiny.

Considering that their top prospects, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, are both wingers, a center like Seguin would fit their most compelling need and would likely be their choice if they win the lottery. But Hall, a dynamic scoring winger who offers the speed and competitive fire of former Oiler Glenn Anderson, wouldn't be too hard to swallow. Of course, if they win and feel the team with the second pick is desperate for Hall, maybe they trade down and add an asset along with their choice of players.

Whatever happens, it'll be compelling viewing and offer a bit of hope for a team that clearly needs some.

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