Thursday, April 8, 2010
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - The End of the Line for Modano, Turco and Lehtinen
Break out the hankies for these soon-to-be-former Dallas Stars.
Good morning, hockey fans! Here's hoping you, too, haven't been mathematically eliminated from whatever it is you're trying to do in your godforsaken lives. Last week we hoped against hope, quaffed the Kool-Aid and publicly humiliated ourselves worse than that time we wore that "McCain is the New Black" t-shirt to the Republican National Convention. This week, I was planning on doling out end-of-the-season awards to each and every Dallas Star for their part in Debacle '09-10 (Keynote Speaker Marc Crawford: "I would just like to thank the mid-90s for helping me get, and keep, this awesome job. Where's the beef, mother****ers!!").
But since tonight's home game against Anaheim will feature the highly likely end of three iconic Stars careers, it's time instead to quietly reflect on the good times and look forward to a future full of promise, the laughter of children and chocolate-covered unicorn eggs.
**Lifelong Star #1: Jere Lehtinen** -- True Stars fans know who will be missed the most among these three. While Lehts certainly hasn't played up to his own exacting standards over the past year (his only minus season in a 800+ game career), the Jerenator has been the quiet heart and soul of this Dallas Stars team since he laced 'em up in 1995. While never as flashy as some of his high-scoring teammates, Lehtinen defined this team not by what he said but by how he played: a silent but insanely quiet player that scored clutch goals while preventing same. A guy who willingly skated into the corners to retrieve pucks in both zones. A locally renowned metal head that played like he had Metallica's 'Seek and Destroy' on endless loop in his head. A player who you almost never saw on an enemy highlight-reel goal. The only forward you'd ever need on a two-minute 3-on-5 penalty kill. A hard-checking forward that regularly led his team in goals scored.
Despite his surprisingly large number of trophies --a Stanley Cup, 1996 World Championship gold medal (Finland's only gold ever), four Olympic medals (that's more than Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin multiplied together), three Selke Awards-- as far as hardcore Stars fans were concerned, Jere's impact on every shift made the NHL MVP awards a total joke. Behind only Sergei Zubov in Unrivaled Awesome Points, Lehtinen's defensive commitment and offensive counterattacking abilities pretty much defined how the Stars played for the better part of 14 years.
Career High Point: The 2002-03 season, when he led the team in goals, was +39 and won his third Selke trophy, joining Guy Carbonneau and Bob Gainey (and soon, probably, Pavel Datysuk) as the only players to win the award that many times.
Defining Moment: Keeping the puck hemmed in the Sabre's zone for what seemed like 15 minutes of game time, before dishing off an assist to Brett Hull for the controversial Cup-winning goal in 1999. Sorry, Sabres fans, but as long as Lehtinen was on the ice, that next goal was going to find the twine behind Hasek no matter what.
Low Point: This past season, where injuries and age finally seem to have caught up to the guy. Time to put Celtic Frost back into the iPod there, Jere.
Best Feature: Killing penalties late in the third period of one-goal games.
Worst Feature: Taking faceoffs. He was cover-your-eyes bad on the dots.
Next Year He Will Be Wearing: A Washington Capitals jersey. After another deep postseason run is cut short by a complete lack of team defense, the Caps will come hunting for guys like Jere. Whether he can still play at an elite level is immaterial: it's the Eastern Conference, after all.
**Lifelong Star #2: Marty Turco** -- A younger, cheaper version of Brett Favre will finally get heave-hoed out of Dallas next week, and most fair-weather fans couldn't be happier. Turco has always been a monumental risk in net, but for most of his career it was a risk worth taking: Turco would routinely give up a goal on the first shot of the game, then completely shut it down for the next 58 minutes with highlight-reel saves and mad puck-handling skillz. Unfortunately, that style of play only works when you're athletic and lucky; as Favre himself could tell you (but won't), gunslinging is a young man's game. Also, the fact that this fading, aging Star is just two weeks older than myself makes all the above points hit disturbingly close to home.
But much like the Eastern Conference Marty, Turco was a mensch for the first seven years of his NHL career. He set the modern-day GAA record in his first full season --which Kiprusoff would "break" the following year playing just 38 games (slow... clap...)-- as well as holding virtually every Dallas Stars franchise goaltending record imaginable. The guy's got 261 wins under his belt, and is probably good for 100-120 more with the right Red Wings team. And despite letting in some truly back-breaking softies this season, he does sport a .913 save percentage and an above-.500 record (21-20 is technically above .500). But the gaping five hole and T-Rex-esque glove hand will not be missed, especially after seeing heir apparent Kari Lehtonen man the pipes in a limited role last month. It's time for Marty to be put to pasture.
Career High Point: Posting a Belfour-esque 1.84 GAA in 25 playoff games in his last two post-seasons.
Defining Moment: Outdueling Nabokov and the potent San Jose Sharks in a four-OT sudden-death Game 6 for the right to get steamrolled by the Red Wings. Oddly, Nabokov's save on Brad Richards was the one most pundits fawn over, despite the fact that all it did was postpone the inevitable.
Low Point: Getting out-ballooned by Giguere's massively-oversized padding in the 2003 playoffs, putting an abrupt end to what should have been the best Stars team of all time cruising to the Cup Finals.
Best Feature: Highlight-reel saves on highlight-reel shots in the shootout.
Next Year He Will Be Wearing: A Philadelphia Flyers jersey. After not trading for him at the deadline, the Flyers' goaltending situation went into the tank within hours when Ray Emery went down with a season-ending injury. Similar to when the Flyers picked up Chris Pronger --which had many hockey fans scratching their heads and wondering aloud, "How did this not happen sooner?", Turco's fading abilities and gambling style should play beautifully in Philly, particularly in the post-season.
**Lifelong Star #3: Mike Modano** -- The male-model face of the franchise and Greatest American Forward Ever (sorry, Ed Olczyk!), it looks like Modano will be calling it quits after 20 seasons in the NHL. The guy's logged some 1400 games, scored some 1300 points, won a Stanley Cup and was even nominated for the Lady Byng once (but has, surprisingly, never won a single award in the NHL during that span). He holds pretty much every scoring record for both the Stars and our Great Nation, has legions of kids looking up to him (some of whom are currently NHL All-Stars), and will never have to pay for a starfruit appletini for the rest of his life in Dallas city limits.
That said, Modano's perhaps the second-most frustrating Star after Turco to watch over the past two seasons: the career statistics indicate that Mike's played 137 games the past two seasons, but Stars fans who watch the games would probably say that number is inflated by a factor of ten. Once a defensively-responsible first-line center, Modano has not taken his fourth-line center role with much grace and aplomb, takes lazy hooking penalties frequently and seems to be floating around his own zone avoiding contact whenever possible. Add in the undeserved role of second-team powerplay point man --which has led to more short-handed scoring chances than a Verne Troyer sex tape-- and the team would be better off with pretty much any hard-charging AHL call-up in that roster spot. Jersey sales and local used-car commercials, on the other hand...
Career High Point: 46 points in 46 games during the 98 and 99 Cup runs. This, despite facing opponents' top checking forwards, #1 defensive pairings and more clutching and grabbing than a men's restroom at a Sarah Palin fundraiser.
Defining Moment: Breaking Phil Housley's all-time American scoring record with a short-handed goal against the vastly superior San Jose Sharks. (For the more cynical of Stars fans, I vividly recall a regular season game against Edmonton in the late 90s where Mike skated around all five Oilers, deked out Tommy Salo and missed an open net.)
Low Point: You mean other than lobbying for Ricky Martin's Living La Vida Loca over Metallica's Nothing Else Matters for the 1998-99 Stars playoff theme song? Probably this: despite being a solid idea, the beginning of the end was when the team took the Captain's 'C' from Modano and gave it to Brenden Morrow. The formerly point-a-game Modano has been a shell of his former self ever since.
Best Feature: Fluid, effortless skating ability.
Worst Feature: Porous lack of effort in checking role.
Next Year He Will Be Wearing: An Ermenegildo Zegna silk-linen blazer, Versace straight-leg jeans and paisley-print Jacquard, off-white Stefano Ricci tie while sipping a fuzzy navel with the Stars' new owners. Despite the uninformed pleas of casual hockey fans across the country, it's been pretty obvious that the fire went out over four years ago for Modano, and he's probably ready to coast into a jet-setting lifestyle free of the Todd Marchants, Bryan Marchments and Jordin Tootoos that have plagued him throughout his playing career. And frankly...can you blame him? It's not like Mike Ricci's getting many acting or modeling gigs after his playing career was over (although am I the only one who thought Crispin Glover's character in Hot Tub Time Machine looked a hell of a lot like Ricci? Anyone? No?). The man's got a Stanley Cup and 20 years with the same team. Another year as a bit player on a fourth line with some wanna-be contender probably doesn't float Modano's boat --the warm, crystal-blue waters of the Western Caribbean do that quite nicely.
That's it for this week's tearjerking Cupcheck. Tune in next week when the playoff seeds are finalized, the postseason has begun and 15 of the 16 hockey fanbases start down the inexorable road to soul-crushing disappointment.