Six things I never expected to see. But will they last?
Posted: Friday November 11, 2005 2:33PM; Updated: Friday November 11, 2005 2:46PM
A reinvigorated Jaromir Jagr has led the Rangers to the top of the Atlantic Division.
Andy Marlin/Getty Images
No one really knew what to expect when the new NHL hit the ice just over a month ago, but here are six story lines that have taken me by surprise:
1. The rebirth of Mike Modano
Facing a preseason revolt from their fan base, the Stars said a little prayer and offered their free-agent captain a deal (reportedly five years for $17.25 million) far richer than they otherwise would have liked in order to keep him in Big D.
With Modano coming off the worst season of his career (14-30-44), and dogged by whispers of a lost focus, the signing was a major risk. So far, he's been full value for the dollar.
Modano's point-per-game pace doesn't rank him among the league leaders, but it doesn't accurately reflect the turnaround in his game, either. There's a jump in his step and a renewed burst of creativity that recalls his early years.
And don't discount the importance of his team-leading plus-nine mark. After the dreadful minus-21 Modano posted last season, it's safe to say he's rediscovered his focus.
It's too early ... to name the comeback player of the year, but Modano's fine play in the first quarter has him atop the ballot.
2. The first-place New York Rangers
It figures, doesn't it? The team that was the poster child for the financial ills of the NHL cuts its payroll by 55 percent from 2003-04 (more than any other team, by the way) and discovers it's easier to win on the cheap.
Solid goaltending from Swedish league star Henrik Lundqvist and spare part Kevin Weekes has played a large part in the turnaround, as has the re-emergence of the enigmatic Jaromir Jagr as one of the game's most indomitable forces.
Aided by slick center Michael Nylander as well as the new rules, Jagr has been a fixture among the scoring leaders. His nine power-play markers top the charts. More important, he's having fun playing the game again, something that hasn't been said of him since his Pittsburgh days.
It's too early ... to start printing playoff tickets, but the team's seven-year postseason drought might not make it to eight.
3. Alexander Ovechkin's dominance
If you've only seen Sidney Crosby this season, you'd have trouble believing another rookie has outplayed him, but that's exactly what Ovechkin has done. And unlike Crosby, who enjoys the company of several All-Star caliber teammates, Ovechkin's cronies are just a step or two better than the 1973-74 expansion Caps.
His 12 goals through the first 15 games rank fourth in the league and have him on pace for 65. Not quite the rookie record of 76, but that's certainly enough to establish the swaggering winger as a colorful cornerstone of the new NHL.
It's too early ... to anoint him the Magic to Crosby's Larry Bird, but give it another month or so and we'll see who's left among the unbelievers.