Signed C Mike Modano to a one-year contract worth $999,999 (Sep. 23, 2011)
C Mike Modano announced his retirement from the National Hockey League (Sep. 23, 2011)
After one sub-par year with his hometown Red Wings, the native of Livonia, Michigan (20 miles west of Detroit), returned to the Dallas Stars, the franchise he will forever be associated with, for one last day in the sun. The size of the contract was chosen in honor of the number on the back of his jersey for each of his 20 years with the franchise, including four years as a Minnesota North Star before the traumatic move south.
Modano hung up his skates with 269.2 career GVT, ranking him 36th all time. Among currently active players, the figure trailed only Nicklas Lidstrom, Martin Brodeur, and Teemu Selanne, with Roberto Luongo very likely to pass him early on in the 2011-12 season. The next highest active skater, Daniel Alfredsson, will turn 39 a few weeks before this year's Winter Classic, and seems very unlikely to reach Modano's heights. Alfredsson ended 2010-11 with 217.3 GVT, and even ignoring his poor play of last season, would need four more seasons at least as valuable as his 2009-10 to reach the total NHL value provided by the one-time Stanley Cup champion and three-time US Olympian. Modano also ended his career as the number two all-time U.S.-born player in the GVT rankings, trailing only the Ancient
Mariner Defender himself, Chris Chelios.
Modano had a very unfortunate end to his career, as he suffered a fluke traumatic injury last November, severing a tendon and damaging nerves in his wrist. Some thought that would be it for the legend, but he was able to return to game action three months later. Playing on the bottom six of the mighty Red Wings, he rarely eclipsed 13 minutes of ice-time per game, contributing only two goals and five assists over his last 20 regular season games. Adding insult to injury, Modano was a healthy scratch for most of the Wings' playoff run, appearing in only two of his team's 11 games, one in each round, before the Wings were knocked out by the San Jose Sharks. Scheduled to be a free agent following the conclusion of their season, the quatrogenarian hinted that his career may be coming to a close, as the Detroit News quoted him as saying "If we go that far, if we get to the Stanley Cup Finals, it would be it for me." As it turned out, even without reaching that milestone, Modano hung 'em up anyway.
Selected as the first overall choice of the 1988 draft out of the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders, Modano can be counted as one of the great successes of the popular amateur distribution system. He quickly grew into the team's leader, joining the then North Stars for the playoffs one year later, after posting a phenomenal 105 points in only 41 games for the Raiders in his CHL send-off. He had an excellent rookie season in 1989-90, tallying 75 points in 80 games and a 8.9 GVT, but lost the Calder Trophy to Sergei Makarov, a 31 year-old Russian emigre. The voting led to a change in the rules governing the award, forever after limiting it to players aged 26 or under. In only his second full season, Modano played a key role in helping the Stars reach the Stanley Cup Finals for only the second time in franchise history, where they fell in six games to the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins. Soon to move to Dallas, the North Stars /Stars, led by Modano, would make the playoffs in 12 of the next 16 seasons, winning the Cup on a controversial goal (off the skate) by Brett Hull in the late spring of 1999.
Although he never topped 100 points in a (regular) season, Modano was a consistent first line center, ten times surpassing a point-per-game. Along with Mark Recchi, who retired after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup this past June, Modano should sail into the Hockey Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible in 2014.
Placed D Shaone Morrisonn and RW/LW Ales Kotalik on waivers (Sep. 24, 2011)
When Terry Pegula took over the Sabres organization, he proclaimed that his goal is nothing less than a Stanley Cup Championship. Of course, that is the goal of most teams. Unfortunately, many have the annoying tendency to damage their own chances by handing out (or acquiring by other means) multi-year contracts to mediocre veterans. Instead of seeing the cost as sunk, banishing the expensive misfits to the AHL, or to Europe, in most cases the teams carry the player until they are able to find another gullible GM who sees their own trash is his treasure. It takes a rare GM with both the fortitude and job security to sink a big cost into the nether regions of the sport. For every Bryan Berard or Jeff Finger, there are ten others like a Rick DiPietro or a Nikolai Khabibulin, a Chris Phillips or a Matt Stajan, in whom too much had been invested to simply discard, no matter how poorly and for how long they have been playing.
The Buffalo Sabres, in their first offseason under Pegula's ownership, had already made a few big splashes in the way of trade acquisitions and free agency. In early June, they re-signed RW Drew Stafford, coming off his first 30-goal season, to a four-year, $16 million deal. On the second day of the NHL Entry Draft, the Sabres helped the Calgary Flames lighten their payload, acquiring D Robyn Regehr and winger Ales Kotalik and their combined cap hit of $7.02 million, in exchange for a couple of spare parts totalling only $1.25 million in guaranteed income. For their troubles, the Sabres also walked away with the Flames' 2012 second round draft pick. Just before the start of the July 1st free agency frenzy, the Sabres traded for the negotiating rights to D Christian Ehrhoff and subsequently signed him to a monster front-loaded 10-year pact that will see Ehrhoff earning $10 million in 2011-12 while taking up $4 million in cap space for the next decade. The organization then made their July 1st mark by inking former Flyers forward Ville Leino to a four-year deal worth $4.5 million per year. The rest of the summer was spent in dishing out smaller contracts to lesser lights, leaving the team $3.087 million above the cap number in guaranteed money before the season was underway.
Removed individually, neither Kotalik ($3 million cap hit), nor Morrisonn ($2.075 million cap hit) were enough to get the Sabres under the cap. Kotalik, projected to be a depth winger at best, will be 33 years old by midseason, and has not been appreciably above replacement level since 2008-09, when the Sabres initially dealt him to the Edmonton Oilers for a draft pick. Last year with the Flames, Kotalik lost his spot on the team and was sent back to the AHL, successfully passing through waivers in both directions without a bite from another NHL team. Expect him to pass through waivers again, giving him another season in the AHL, if Europe is not an option. Morrisonn, a stay-at-home defender, has been scarcely above replacement level for each of the past two seasons, and only once in his entire career did his GVT pass the number three. Presuming good intangibles, he is not a bad guy to have as a team's seventh defensemen, but he will never be confused for a difference maker at the NHL level. A former first round draft pick, Morrisonn was out of place as a top four defender and only marginally more useful on the third pairing. He only appeared in one of the Sabres' seven playoff games last spring. While Kotalik may never see the NHL again, Morrisonn, especially on a re-entry waivers cap hit of just over $1 million, could find himself playing for another employer by the time the regular season begins, if not shortly afterwards, when the first team suffers a blue line injury stack.
Never expected to really make the team out of camp, Kotalik's excision does not affect any other job hopefuls, beyond improving the chances of meaningful fourth-line action for Cody McCormick and super-pest Patrick Kaleta. Cutting Morrisonn, who had designs on a third-pairing, or seventh-defenseman role, increases the likelihood that both Marc-Andre Gragnani and Mike Weber make the team. Weber, five years younger than Morrisonn, had more than double the GVT last year than his former teammate had in the best year of his life. Not only are the Sabres a better team today for making these cuts, but they now have $2 million of cap room to play with in case of emergency down the road. VUKOTA projected great things for the Sabres even with these two dead weights dragging down their overall level of play. Now, they are the "it" team of 2011-12.
Ryan Wagman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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