Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Dying Breed

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.

At least for now.


Anonymous said...

Great blog. Modano is indeed a rare find amongst pro athletes. Not only has he stayed in Dallas, but he took several million dollars LESS 2 years ago to do so. And this year, when they took the Captain's C away from him, what did he say about that? "It's disappointing, but it's not going to affect how I play." True class, through and through. Way to go, Mo.

hockeygirl said...

The Pittsburgh Penguins have what even I'll admit is one of the most talented young teams in the league right now

Oh. My. Goodness. A positive comment towards the Pens. QUICK! Someone mark this day! :D

CapsChick said...

Taking less money to stay somewhere makes Modano another sort of dying breed, not just in the NHL but in sports in general. He joins Sakic as being of the mindset that loyalty to a team and community can sometimes outweigh monetary reward. Of course, it helps when you've already won a Cup, but that shouldn't diminish the classiness of such a move by any stretch.

HG: Don't get used to it. ;)

Anonymous said...

as always, a great blog. and you were even nice to fitzburgh.

Netsy said...

Nitpicking: Does a penguin qualify as "fowl"? I always thought of fowl as being birds you can eat-- and waterfowl as being, say, ducks and geese and such. Penguins are of a different order from ducks... and we generally don't eat penguins. (Do we?)

Mind you, I'll admit that "Flightless Sphenisciformes" doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

Victor said...

Let's change it to "flightless f***ers."

Anonymous said...

I'm not as sanguine about player allegiances to their drafting organization as you are, although I completely understand your rationale. Olie Kolzig comes immediately to mind. It was positively heroic/courageous for him to re-up last year, knowing what was immediately ahead -- and how much on the receiving end of it he'd be! But yes, the Sakics and Kolzigs are increasingly exceptions to the player movement rule.

When are you next headed back to press row? Hope we can commisserate there again soon.


CapsChick said...

I don't always mind a player moving teams, and I definitely have no problem with someone moving on at the end of their career, going for one last shot at the Cup...still, there's something nice about someone staying in one place for 15-20 years. They become part of the community and fans look forward to seeing them every season. I'm such a cheeseball, I know. :)

Doesn't look like I'll be in the press box anymore this season - I was stupid and bought tickets for almost every home game between now and the end of the season. Next year, though, I'd love to try it again! (BTW, great stuff on your Bears road trip! Sounded like an amazing time, I'll have to get up to Hershey sometime soon...)