This is an
ineluctable hockey truth: As in varsity sports, the letter matters.
Modano had been
the captain for two seasons but during training camp he earned a battlefield
demotion, to alternate captain. You might as well have borrowed Hester Prynne's
A and stuck it on his jersey. "Unless a guy willingly gives up the C,"
says Kirk Muller, a Montreal assistant coach and former teammate of Modano's,
"these things never turn out well."
Doug Armstrong, in conjunction with Tippett, decided that "Brenden has to
have a bigger voice moving forward and ... in a transient league, it's
important to go to a younger player who's going to be here a long time."
Morrow, a dependable but hardly voluble 27-year-old winger, signed a six-year,
$24.6 million extension last September that kicks in next season. Modano also
has a long-term deal. He is in the second season of a five-year, $17.25 million
contract he signed after the lockout, taking a hometown discount (and a
no-trade clause) over richer offers from Boston and Chicago, a commitment that
theoretically should have solidified his standing as a team leader. In Detroit,
Yzerman maintained a vise grip in the dressing room after others had eclipsed
him on the ice. In Dallas, Modano remains the best player. Rather than grooming
Morrow by aping the Sabres, who rotate the C between Daniel Bri�re and Chris
Drury, the Stars made a clean break, even though, as Hull notes, "Mo's a
sensitive guy. He takes things to heart."
has been circumspect about the arrangement--"We never think about it in the
[dressing] room because Mike's made it so comfortable for us," says goalie
Marty Turco--but if the poached eggs and buttermilk stack go down easy, the C
change sticks in his craw. He thinks he has been "scapegoated" for
Dallas's first-round losses in their past two playoffs, collapses more
logically attributable to Turco's .859 save percentage than a leadership void.
"Who's to say what would have happened if we'd won a round," Modano
says. "Would I still be captain? ... I think this was Doug's doing. It was
about making sure everyone knows who the authority figure is. Making that
change kind of puts a thought in everybody's mind that no job is
the responsibilities of leadership, and spoke his mind, last February at the
Turin Olympics. After being benched in the third period of a 4--3 loss to
Finland that eliminated the disappointing (1-4-1) Americans, the three-time
Olympian went off in the media mixed zone, assailing coach Peter Laviolette for
a timeout he had taken midway through the first period and ripping USA Hockey
for the shoddy arrangements--at least compared with Hockey Canada's--it had
made for players' families. The irony: Modano didn't even have family at the
tournament. "Every day on the [team] bus I was hearing the same crap, how
families had to wait out by a Shell station [near the arena] after games, so
finally I say something and everybody's all over me for bitching and
moaning," Modano says. "I guess I kind of turned myself into a
scapegoat by my timing, which wasn't the best."
defenseman and fellow Olympian John-Michael Liles, "He wasn't afraid to
stand up for the team. That's why he's a good leader."
fast this season, scoring eight goals in the first 12 games before getting just
one in his next 14. Even during that minislump, however, he contributed
regularly. In a 5--4 loss at Carolina on Nov. 18, Modano won 15 of his 18
face-offs, including 10 of 11 against Rod Brind'Amour, the NHL's best face-off
man. "When I had Mike," says Hitchcock, now the Columbus coach, "he
didn't even have to have a point to be the best player on the ice most
Modano hopes to
slip into his hockey dotage as gracefully as he skates, without any more public
fusses. He concedes that since his financial setback he has been more
"jaded about the trust thing ... my guard is constantly up now with people
in general," but his allegiance to the only organization he has ever played
for, and to a city that he says he will probably live in all his life, is
unwavering. "Whatever I can do to help us win another Cup," Modano
says, "I will." There is no C, but the A is for more than effort.
Read regular NHL
columns by John Ondrasik, frontman for platinum-selling band Five for Fighting