In a career reaching into four decades, Mike Modano has built an impressive resume: over 550 goals, 800 assists, one Stanley Cup, and the reputation of an "every-minute" forward with point-per-game skills in a period when the former was rarely recognized and the latter hard to come by.
Now, we are coming to the end of his career. We watch as he moves closer to home and wears an alien uniform, wanting old to become new one more time, but instead it has just gotten older. Modano isn't playing the toughest opponents anymore; in fact, he is now playing the weakest. Wrist surgery has him rehabbing hard, trying to get one last playoff run, a chance to sew up the loose ends and make sure he can end it on his terms.
We demand this of our Hall of Famers, and he better get in.
Because, unfortunately, there are a lot of arguments to the contrary. He has one 50-goal season to his credit, one Cup win (and a controversial one, at that), 7 All-Star Games, but zero major trophies, zero 100-point seasons; the fact that he's the highest scoring U.S.-born NHLer might be enough on its own, or his place on the 1996 World Cup and 2002 Olympic teams. In a time when 500 goals is less than enough, we have to dig like this to find pinnacles in a career that was just consistently higher than most.
Stats tell us more, like the fact that he was relied upon to play in every situation, even when the Stars were flooded with defensive stalwarts like Jere Lehtinen, Guy Carbonneau, and Brian Skrudland. He was that good, and he and Lehtinen formed the core of some of the more eye-opening numbers of the Dead Puck Era. The success of the Devils was pretty sobering, but then Ed Belfour tied together two sub-2.00 GAA seasons, actually topping (or is it "bottoming"?) Brodeur in 1997-98. After that, Modano and company made Marty Turco into a star, as Turco himself had two sub-2.00 GAA seasons. Four sub-2.00 GAA seasons, across two goaltenders and seven seasons, are not a function of great goaltending, but a great defense at work.
GVT likes him even more; among forwards with 1,000+ games in NHL history, Modano's per-game defensive GVT ranks 13th, ahead of Doug Gilmour, Rod Brind'Amour, Dave Taylor, Jason Arnott, and even Bob Gainey.
Modano fits within the battle for legitimacy in a time where we constantly debate what is Hall-of-Fame-worthy. He needs to give a pound of flesh because the boxcar stats don't hold him "elite" enough; he needs one more Cup because 16 wins this year, this time around, are more important than 1,500 games of top-flite hockey. We want him to do it, because great for longer makes it easier to decide. And winning a Cup can truly make you look great. But what if he was elite all along, and we were looking in the wrong place?
In history, there are meteors, and there are prolonged figures; I believe strongly in meteors, as their intensity truly makes us think differently about a particular time and place.
But prolonged figures are less fire and more glowing coal, confined but constant, reminding us that long after the flame has died out, it was firing our engines and warming our air.
Let's make sure Mike Modano gets into the Hall.