Even those who follow the Dallas Stars closely don’t yet know if Mike Modano will return for a 21st NHL season next fall.
The end of Modano’s career would mean the beginning of a good old-fashioned hockey debate, centering on whether or not the career-long (North) Star deserves entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
My sense is he would get in, but it’s not a slam-dunk.
That’s also my gut feeling on Mats Sundin, whose career is extremely similar to that of Modano’s.
(Yes, I hear all those Dallas fans and Toronto haters screaming, “Except for the Stanley Cup!” Don’t worry; we’ll get there.”)
Modano was taken first overall in 1988 by the Minnesota North Stars, one year before Quebec drafted big Mats in the same slot.
Modano has played his entire career with one organization, while Sundin played the vast majority of his with Toronto. The slick Swede had three more points (1,349) than games played (1,346) in his career, while Modano is just under a point-per-game average (0.93).
Both were durable players and highly consistent performers. Neither won a major individual award, while Sundin was a two-time second team all-star (2002, ’04), with Modano earning the same distinction just once, in 2000.
The difference, as mentioned, is Modano hoisted the 1999 Cup, something Sundin never got to do. I don’t believe that fact alone should keep Sundin out, but working environment aside, there’s just an undeniable divide between those who won a championship and those who did not.
That said, there are two small factoids that stick in my brain about Modano that, to some degree, prevent him from pushing himself into the NHL’s true upper crust.
People often assume he was the captain of the Stars during their heydays, but in fact the ‘C’ was worn by nasty defenseman Derian Hatcher, whose game was as well suited to pre-lockout defending as butter is to toast.
And when the Stars finally did get over the hump after a couple years of falling short, it was Joe Nieuwendyk – parachuted in from Calgary – who won the Conn Smythe.
Modano was a huge contributor for Dallas in consecutive runs to the Cup final, scoring exactly 46 points in 46 playoff games over the course of the ’99 and 2000 post-seasons.
It’s just that, ultimately, somebody else was judged to be more valuable to the cause when the votes were counted. Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic had help, too – a lot of it, in fact. But both won Conn Smythe Trophies as the captain of their teams and that catapults them into a category Modano can’t access.
THN’s in-house Hall expert is Brian Costello, who astutely pointed out that the fact Modano is the all-time leading scorer among American-born players also works greatly in his favor. That was a title once held by Joe Mullen and it – along with three Cup rings – helped him punch a ticket to the Hall after a career that didn’t include overwhelming numbers.
It’s a good precedent for Modano, who will likely be taking at least one more trip to Toronto for an induction ceremony after he does decide to retire.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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