I was hanging out the other day listening to Neil Young’s Greatest Hits. Once I got past the fact that he’s become a grumpy old man that’s almost PAINFUL to see live at this point in his career, I was reminded that he used to be good. Really good. If you don’t believe me, just sit back and take a listen to Down By The River or Ohio. Good stuff.
It really reminded me that sometimes people will stick around too long and we forget how good they USED to be. It’s kind of sad when we think about someone that USED to be amazing, but we can’t get past their missteps later in their career. Elvis helped change music; yet I think of Fat Elvis in the horrible jumpsuits. James Brown was one of the most influential men in music and pop culture; yet I only think of his tragically unfortunate mug shot photo.
There are a ton of hockey players that are guilty of the exact same crime. For a younger generation, they’ll never remember Wayne Gretzky for his record breaking seasons in Edmonton. They’ll just remember the guy that wore the same number in New York that struggled to score 9 goals in his final season. If you take a look at the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’s littered with players that hung on for just a season too long. #99 wasn’t the first and he certainly won’t be the last.
I’m not going to say that they should retire to preserve their legacy or for their own good. No, I’m being selfish—I want them to retire for ME. I want to remember the good times. I don’t want to remember when they were a 4th liner getting 8 minutes per game. I don’t want them to become a bottom pairing defenseman that isn’t trusted in any important moments of the game. And I sure as hell don’t want them to take a job with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.
It’s their prerogative to stick around past their expiration date and God knows I’d want to hold onto my dream as long as I could. But it’s MY prerogative to hope that they’ll retire so I can focus on when they were great. And it’s my prerogative to listen to Bobby Brown whenever I want.
Right now, there’s no player that exemplifies this idea more than Mike Modano. He’s gone from a point per game type player to, well, one that’s not. He missed 13 games earlier this season due to a rib injury and has looked to get back on track ever since. He has 4 goals and 5 assists in his 17 games this season—but something else is missing.
It’s not just the scoring that shows how far he’s slipped from his prime. He used to be one of the most graceful and awe-inspiring players with his end-to-end rushes fueled by unparalleled speed. Once Ken Hitchcock taught him how to play defense, he was one of the best two-way forwards of the late 1990’s.
As much as his offensive play was admired, it was his defensive play that might have been the secret to the Stars success in the Stanley Cup Finals seasons. Mix in an underrated shot with his speed and defensive work ethic and you had the foundation of a guy that is a first ballot Hall of Famer.
But when you watch Modano these days, all of that is gone. He’s been reduced to 4th line duties on a young team that looks to other players for leadership. Maybe the end started when Brendan Morrow took over the C for the Stars back in 2006. Maybe it started with the knee injury that cost him 2 months of the 2006-07 season. Whatever it was, there has been a noticeable slide from superstar to just another Star (pun intended). This season, the slide has continued from star to just an average player. It’s kind of sad. But more than that, it’s frustrating.
Sometimes when people stick around too long, we forget how good they were in their prime. I remember when he broke into the league as the #1 overall pick for the North Stars. From his very first season, he was the most exciting player on the team. Forget his amazing productivity for a minute—he was the player that you were AFRAID of facing. You knew that any time he was on the ice, he could create something out of nothing and bury a shot behind your goaltender faster than you could say Guy Herbert.
Whether Stars fans or Modano himself want to admit it, he’ll be retiring in the near future. Whether it’s in a few months or a few years, sooner or later he’ll face the reality that every superstar before him has faced. I just hope that when he finally DOES decide to put down the stick for the last time, we remember the Hall of Famer that brought us to the edge of our seat. Not the 4th liner that looks out of place on a team full of young guys.
I guess Neil Young really is the right guy to get me thinking about Modano and his recent troubles. After all, he’s the one that wrote “Old Man,” isn’t he?