- Craig Custance
The one image of Mike Modano that former teammate Marty Turco will always remember came in Buffalo when Modano finally raised the Stanley Cup. The American superstar closed his eyes and lifted the silver trophy into the air, a mix of celebration, relief and ecstasy.
"You could tell the flashbacks are going through his brain, everything he endured," Turco said during a conversation after he finished a training session in Sault Ste. Marie. "The sacrifices he made to help a franchise grow, to build a fanbase, to sometimes knowing what you're doing, to sometimes not knowing how big you really are and how meaningful you are. The weight of the world kind of lifted off his shoulders when he lifted that Cup up."
For the last few years Modano has been trying to find that perfect ending to his career, maybe one where he repeats that moment. But with his press conference today in Dallas it ends the next best way: As a member of the Stars. He leaves behind a legacy, not only in Dallas, but throughout the United States. There wasn't a better American forward to ever play the game.
"Every opportunity he had to represent his country, he did," said Chris Chelios, who always sat next to Modano on the Team USA bus during their silver-medal run in Salt Lake City.
Modano's are huge skates to fill, but Chelios has worked with the next generation of American forwards and loves the mix of talent and confidence coming through the system. There may not be one with Modano's exact skill set, but these five could one day challenge his throne as the best American forward:
Zach Parise: At 27 years old, Parise already has three 30-goal seasons on his resume and a 45-goal breakout in 2008-09. He also has an Olympic moment that will boost his case, scoring the game-tying goal against Team Canada with 24.4 seconds left in the gold medal game during the 2010 Winter Olympics. It's safe to say it's been decades since a hockey goal was celebrated in unison by the entire sporting nation of the United States.
A knee injury sidetracked him, but it's only a small bump in what should be an incredible career. We checked with Devils coach Pete DeBoer and he sees signs that Parise is close to getting the timing back he needs to be an elite scorer. "He's in great shape. Mentally he seems in a real good spot," DeBoer said. "You can see it starting to come -- he played (Wednesday) night and he'll play again this weekend. I'm not concerned."
Ryan Kesler: When I asked Chelios to name the American forwards who impressed him the most he started with Parise then immediately mentioned Kesler. "The U.S. team has a lot of skill," he said. "They can compete with anybody."
Kesler is a major reason why. His two-way game makes him one of the most important players in the U.S. system moving forward, and his 41-goal output last season is a sign that he can put up the kind of stats that made Modano great. Modano had just one season, 1993-94 when he scored 50, that topped Kesler's goal output from last season.
Patrick Kane -- Like Modano, Kane broke into the league young. He's still just 22 years old and already has 103 career goals to his credit. Kane told CSNChicago's Tracey Myers that Modano was an inspiration growing up. "Obviously he's the best American player of all time," Kane said. "My greatest memories of him are flying up and down the ice and scoring a lot of power-forward goals. He seemed to overpower defenses with his shot."
Like Modano, Kane has the kind of star power that separates himself a bit from the other American forwards. "Kaner is a dynamic player," Chelios said. "He doesn't fit the system but he gets it done. His speed and his skill showed as one of the best players in the Olympics and he's a young kid. He has a great future ahead of him in the NHL and with the USA program."
Bobby Ryan -- Corey Perry stole headlines in Anaheim last season with his Hart Trophy run, but Ryan quietly continued his point progression. The last three seasons, he's registered 57 points, 64 points and 71 last year. Playing with Perry and Ryan Getzlaf should continue to help shape Ryan into one of the country's best young forwards. "Not too many teams have three guys like Getzlaf, Ryan and Perry," said Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle.
Phil Kessel -- Like Kane, Kessel has started to build an impressive goal total at a young age and he's done it without the benefit of high-end teammates that Kane and Ryan enjoy. At 23 years old, Kessel already has 128 career goals, including three 30-goal performances in five seasons. In his first five seasons in the league, Modano had an impressive 173 goals. Since leaving Marc Savard and Boston, Kessel's had to do it without a No. 1 center setting him up, but at some point Brian Burke will land Kessel one in Toronto, which should help boost his numbers.
Shanahan's impressive debut
New league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan has decisively ruled on his first two suspensions and gets high marks for transparency and for sending a message.
Shanahan suspended Calgary's Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond for five games, including one regular season game. Then on Thursday evening came the news that Jody Shelley will sit for five preseason games and five regular-season games for his illegal hit on Darryl Boyce. The best part was Shanahan's video explanation, breaking down exactly what Shelley did wrong. It was a great opportunity to highlight the league's new boarding rule -- Rule 41.1, which states that "... the onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenseless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize contact."
For a league universally criticized for a disciplinary system that seemed to lack consistency, leading to jokes like Joe Yerdon's Wheel of Justice and the accompanying image of Colin Campbell spinning a wheel of random penalties to determine suspensions, it's a major step forward.
Shanahan explained that Shelley was a repeat offender and that Boyce's injury played a part in the decision. The challenge moving forward comes when the hits aren't quite as obvious and involves a star player or playoff games. But so far, the league's new disciplinarian is off to a strong start.
Craig Custance chats with former American NHL great Chris Chelios and other stars in search of the next U.S. standout and comes up with five strong candidates to fill the skates of the retiring Mike Modano.