Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Dying Breed

Since we have no Dallas fans here anymore, I thought someone should point out Monsieur Modano's milestone goal last night en route to what turned out to be a pretty exciting win over the Flyers. (I even got to watch it on my computer! But that is a story for another day.) Anyways, the goal and the celebration that followed made me think about the fact that Modano has done this all with one team, albeit in two cities...

[Cross-posted on A View from the Cheap Seats]

Last night Mike Modano scored his 500th career goal, becoming only the second American to hit that milestone and the 39th overall. Modano joins a handful of elder statesmen that have also hit career milestones this season – Jagr, Shanahan, Brind’amour, Sundin, Sakic, Bondra, Recchi, and Selanne to name the most notable. This is a group that truly represents a generation of hockey players that has changed the game as we know it.

What makes this milestone even more amazing, however, is the fact that Modano has accomplished this feat with one franchise. His time in Minnesota/Dallas mirrors that of Joe Sakic in Quebec/Colorado, Brodeur in New Jersey, Yzerman in Detroit, and hopefully, Kolzig in Washington. The fact that I can even pick out these players from memory, though, shows how the league has changed. Gone are the days where players spent all or most of their career with one team, where one person embodied a franchise – Jean Beliveau will always mean the Montreal Canadiens. Stan Mikita is the Chicago Blackhawks. Even Mario Lemieux in all his greasy splendor is the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Just look at a case like Ryan Smyth – drafted by Edmonton, the team he grew up watching. He played 12 seasons there, was idolized there, even led the Oilers to the Stanley Cup Finals. And what happens? He and the Oilers come to an impasse over a contract extension, a difference that is rumored to account for around $100-300,000...and he is promptly shipped off to the Islanders. It’s a sign of the times, to be sure, and it’s not likely to end there.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have what even I'll admit is one of the most talented young teams in the league right now, with 14 players under the age of 30 and an improbable hold on the 5th spot in the conference. But 5, 10 years from now, how many of these guys will still be wearing the flightless fowl on their chest? For that matter, how many of the highly touted young Capitals will still be in DC? With talent comes salary demands, and while paying one player $8 million a year is technically doable, paying 10 guys that salary is not. Each of these teams is therefore going to have to make some tough choices on which players to grow their franchise around in the years ahead.

Free agency and salary caps are going to play a much bigger role down the line than they have in the first few seasons since the lockout, and you can bet all eyes will be on Ovechkin and Crosby when they each turn 27. They've been touted as 'franchise players', the young guns that are given the daunting task of lifting up a team and holding it up for the next 20 years. Yet there’s simply no guarantee that Ovie will always be a Cap, although we’d like to believe it’s possible. As for Crosby, well, the league keeps shoving the idea down our throats that he’s the next Wayne Gretzky – and even Gretzky was traded.

So we celebrate Modano’s milestone both as a great human achievement and a symbol of a dying breed. It’s already started, with Yzerman and Luc Robitaille both hanging them up and the rest of their generation growing long in the tooth and thin on top. We just may be seeing the end of the great franchise player as we know it.


thehockeychick said...

The fact he's a franchise player is certainly a main reason he's one of my favs. Not to mention he's an exciting player to watch. Just when you think he looks tough checking someone, he turns around and skates with the finesse of a gold-medal figure skater to the net and gets a goal.

Heather B. said...

I've never been a huge fan of Modano for some reason but I do love that he's been with one organization his whole career. I think you're right that that's going to become more and more rare in hockey with the salary cap and really it's already unusual in professional sports in general. I know the recently retired Jeff Bagwell was one of the few big players in MLB to still be with the team he started with. That defintiely shows an awesome committment from the team and the player.