When your nickname is ‘The Professor,’ it’s only fitting you’d continue producing quality work in the late stages of your career.
Igor Larionov, a cerebral skater if ever there was one, served the Detroit Red Wings well for several seasons, two of which came after his 40th birthday.
That fact is likely at the forefront of Wings GM Ken Holland’s mind as he makes a pitch to sign Mike Modano two months after the veteran center entered his fourth decade.
At this point in his career, Modano is to NHL teams what spandex is to fashion; definitely not for everybody, but a fantastic fit for a select few.
Put the Red Wings on that list.
Modano would slide into the Wings’ No. 3 center hole, where he would be expected to play an efficient two-way game while churning out modest offensive totals.
How does 43 points sound? That’s exactly what Larionov contributed to Detroit in each of the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons while averaging about 14 minutes per game over that span.
(And if Modano played a full season in red, mark him down for 50 points, easy.)
Larionov had actually left Detroit for Florida via free agency in the summer of 2000, but Holland reacquired him just six months later, 25 days after the Hall of Famer’s internal odometer hit 40.
Larionov, of course, was playing behind Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov, setting up an incredibly similar scenario to having Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg – or Datsyuk and Valtteri Filppula, depending on how the lines shake out – star in the first two center slots ahead of Modano.
The wonderful thing about having a veteran player with the savvy of Larionov or Modano around is, not only can you bank on the steady play, but you’ve got a prime candidate in the lower ranks to raise his game when it matters most.
Larionov, at 41, was terrific for the Red Wings in the 2002 playoffs, notching five goals and 11 points in 18 games as the Red Wings beat the Carolina Hurricanes in five games for the Cup. The series was tied 1-1 when Larionov scored an absolutely critical and beautiful triple-overtime winner in Game 3 that set the Wings on their way. It was his second goal of the contest and he added another in a Game 4 triumph.
That’s the kind of big-moment contribution Modano could provide; especially in a situation where he’s not being completely counted on to do so.
Want proof Modano can still play? When Brian Burke was beginning to assemble the American team that ultimately came within one goal of gold at the Vancouver Olympics, he invited Modano to Team USA’s summer evaluation camp, while passing on every other member of the stars and stripes’ golden generation.
Said Burke last summer: "Mike's production has fallen off, but his usefulness as a player has not. It's just that his role has changed and he's accepted that."
Modano ultimately didn’t make the cut, perhaps partially due to an early-season rib injury, which combined with a late-season appendectomy to limit him to 59 games in 2009-10. He still managed 14 goals and 30 points for the Dallas Stars, the only organization he’s known since being drafted first overall in 1988.
Modano would also represent a rare chance for Hockeytown to promote a Michigan boy in the program, something that can’t hurt when trying to sell tickets in an economically depressed city.
Throw in the fact Modano can still skate like the wind and more and more the Motor City feels like a perfect fit…as long as Mr. Michigan can find a digit he likes as much as Mr. Hockey’s No. 9.
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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