No one is a winner: Thoughts on today's Mike Modano news

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Modano7.jpgI’ve held off from commenting on this subject today, because I feel
that perhaps I’d be too emotionally vested in the story to be as
objective as possible.

That didn’t last very long, however, as I
have to share my thoughts on the subject. I’ll be as brief as I can, and
try not to let my emotions get in the way.

There’s no doubting that Mike Modano is the reason I became a
hockey fan. When hockey first came to North Texas, Modano was the face
of the franchise and the player used to sell the sport to the locals. He
was good looking, he was charismatic, and he was an incredible player.

I’m
not going to go into a Mike Modano career retrospective, but there are
countless moments throughout his moments that will always stick in my
mind.

After watching how the Dallas Stars fans gave Modano such a
great send-off at the end of the season, I internally hoped with all I
had that Modano would decide to retire. That it would be his decision,
that he would make the decision as quickly as he could, and that moment
at the AAC is what we all remember.

Instead, Modano took his time
making a decision and the Stars were forced to act. It wasn’t the most
desirable outcome, but one we all knew was coming. The sense coming from
the Stars at the end of the season and the past few months was that
Dallas would be moving on without Modano, and now that the day is here
it’s a tough, tough pill to swallow.

Fans are wont to blame Joe
Nieuwendyk or the ownership situation, but there’s plenty of
responsibility for this to go around — including with Mike Modano. He
certainly deserves the chance to make his own decision on whether to
return to playing hockey or not, but he put the team in a tough
situation by not making a decision over the past few months. With free
agency looming, Nieuwendyk was forced to make the hardest decision of
his short tenure and be the first to act.

We knew this was coming,
but today the Stars made it official — no matter what, Mike Modano
will not be with the Dallas Stars next season.

Talking
to ESPN Dallas
, Modano said that he’s disappointed in the decision
finally being made:

“I always thought there would be an outside
chance of something
happening here,” Modano told ESPN Dallas on Tuesday afternoon. “The
dialogue that Joe and I have had going on for about a month and a half
led me to believe I needed to prepare for things not happening. But when
it’s here and reality sets in, it’s disappointing. I didn’t think it
would happen. I was told some years ago that I’d be able to decide when I
wanted to stop playing. But that was verbally and things change.”

He would go on to say, that even now, he’s still unsure of
whether he wants to play next season. With the ownership situation in
flux and the team facing tough financial restrictions, Joe Nieuwendyk
had to be the first to act.

Brad
Gardner at Defending Big D
called it a “lose-lose” situation, and
there’s no other way to put it. The Stars at some point had to move
forward, even if Mike Modano is still a capable player. Nieuwendyk is
having to do some incredible spin-control with this, doing his best to
publicly praise Modano and invite him back. This is one of those cases
where it was purely a business decision, but one that felt entirely too
personal for every Stars fan out there.

Some fans were calling
today’s decision “classless” by the Stars, and that there was a better
way to go about it. The team put together an incredible tribute to
Modano at the end of the season and spearheaded perhaps the best final
game with a team a player has ever had. Short of launching a parade and
unveiling a Mike Modano statue in Frisco, there wasn’t going to be much
the team could do to make this look any better.

No matter how you
feel about, there is no doubting this: this is truly the end of an era
as Mike Modano, after 20 years with the team that drafted him, will no
longer be with the Dallas Stars as a player. As a hockey fan and a Dallas Stars fan, that thought makes me incredibly sad and emotional.

No more one-timers from the circle.

No more jerseys waving in the wind behind him.

No more of that customary smile we see when he scores, or the determination we see on his face when things get tough.

No more #9.

James Neal could return to Predators lineup tonight

DENVER, CO - MARCH 05:  James Neal #18 of the Nashville Predators celebrates his goal against the Colorado Avalanche to tie the score 2-2 in the third period at Pepsi Center on March 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Predators defeated the Avalanche 5-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Nashville Predators lineup could be getting a big lift on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche with the possible return of winger James Neal.

Neal, who has been sidelined since Nov. 25 with an upper body injury, returned to practice on Tuesday for the team’s morning skate and has been activated from injured reserve according to Adam Vingan of the Tennessean.

The original diagnosis for Neal was to be sidelined on a week to week basis, but it appears he is on the verge of making a return to the lineup after just 10 days.

If he returns on Tuesday he is expected to skate on a line with Colin Wilson and Mike Fisher, according to the team.

Prior to the injury Neal had been on quite a scoring tear for the Predators with 10 goals and four assists over a 13-game stretch. It was during that stretch that the Predators had started to turn their season around after a slow start and were quickly climbing the Western Conference standings. They were then hit by a series of injuries that took both Neal and Ryan Ellis out of the lineup. Since Nov. 25 the Predators have now lost three out of their past four and sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, two points behind Winnipeg for the second playoff spot (the Predators, though, still have four games in hand).

Neal’s 10 goals are still tops on the team. Nobody else has scored more than seven.

Scheifele injury not long-term, but he’ll miss his third straight game tonight

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele celebrates after scoring against the Toronto Maple Leafs during first-period NHL hockey game action in Toronto, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)
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Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg’s No. 1 center and the NHL’s eighth-leading scorer with 26 points through 26 games, will miss his third contest in a row this evening when the Jets host the Red Wings at the MTS Centre.

But fear not, Jets fans. Scheifele won’t be out much longer.

“He’s getting better,” head coach Paul Maurice said on Tuesday, per the Jets’ Twitter account. “He skated this morning and felt incrementally stronger each day. This is not a long-term injury.”

Scheifele, 23, hasn’t played since a 6-3 loss to Edmonton on Dec. 1. His absence is, quite obviously, a big one — in addition to the offensive production, Scheifele averaged over 20 minutes per night and led the team in faceoffs taken.

He’d also developed terrific chemistry with rookie sniper Patrik Laine, who sits second in the NHL in goals right now with 16.

To their credit, the Jets have done well without Scheifele in the lineup. They beat the Blues 3-2 in OT on Saturday, then followed that up with a 2-1 win in Chicago on Sunday.

Eichel is good to go against McDavid and the Oilers

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  Jack Eichel #15 of the Buffalo Sabres looks on during the second period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on February 24, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres played the Washington Capitals close last night, giving themselves a chance to beat one of the best teams in the NHL — on the road to boot.

Though the Caps eventually won in overtime, it was another encouraging performance by the Sabres, who’ve been a much better side since Jack Eichel returned to the lineup.

Buffalo (9-10-6) has gone 2-1-1 in the four games Eichel has played. Tonight, another big test, as Connor McDavid and the Oilers pay a visit to KeyBank Center.

“We have to try and fight our way up the standings,” Sabres winger Kyle Okposo told reporters last night. “You might have some lulls in the season, but we already had ours. We have to make sure we’re pushing forward and doing everything we can to get two points. Getting a point is OK, but we had the lead in the third.”

Eichel will indeed play tonight. He confirmed that this morning, after there was concern he’d tweaked his ankle against the Capitals.

“I’m fine. I’m good,” Eichel said, per the Buffalo News. “Going through an injury like this, you know it’s going to come back and bother you at times, but it’s fine now.”

With Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly, the Sabres have a formidable one-two punch down the middle. When Eichel was out with his ankle injury, it was a serious challenge to fill his spot, and the Sabres just couldn’t manage it very well.

Now, with Eichel back, it’s about finding that belief — a belief that the Sabres are good enough to compete, that they don’t need to go into a shell as soon as they get the lead.

That’s what seemed to happen last night in Washington, where the Caps outshot the Sabres, 16-9, in the third period and Marcus Johansson‘s goal at 13:42 sent the game to sudden death.

“I mean give them credit, they’re a good team, but I think we’re starting to sit back and they have speed, you know?” said goalie Robin Lehner. “I think we see that we can play. We’ve just got to stop changing, changing how we play.”

The Ottawa Senators are getting tested

Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson stands in front of his bench as the hats are cleared off the ice after a hat trick by Pittsburgh Penguins' Bryan Rust in the third period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. The Penguins won 8-5. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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We’ve gotten pretty good at identifying vulnerable hockey teams these past few years as the analytics movement has taken hold. The 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs were due for a regression, and regressed. Ditto for the 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche and 2014-15 Calgary Flames.

Sometimes, teams can survive an entire season while bucking the odds. Which is why the Ottawa Senators will be interesting to watch the rest of the way in 2016-17.

Under new coach Guy Boucher, the Sens are an impressive 15-9-2, good for second place in the Atlantic Division.

But the Sens also have many of the statistical markings of a vulnerable team:

— A score-adjusted Corsi that ranks 27th out of 30
— A 9-0-2 record in one-goal games
— A goal-differential of minus-3

After last night’s 8-5 loss in Pittsburgh, the Sens head to California with just one win in their last four, and without their starting goalie, Craig Anderson, who’s taken another leave to be with his wife.

Anderson has been brilliant this season, going 12-6-1 with a .924 save percentage. He’s been a huge key to their success, twice earning the NHL’s first-star-of-the-week honors.

The starting duties will now fall temporarily on Mike Condon, who’s gone 3-1-1 with a stellar .943 save percentage since coming over from Pittsburgh. The Sens’ No. 3 goalie, Andrew Hammond, has been recalled for the road trip, which starts Wednesday in San Jose, continues Saturday in Los Angeles, and wraps up Sunday in Anaheim.

“It’s a good test to see where our team is at,” forward Derick Brassard told reporters prior to last night’s defeat. “We’re going to play four of the best teams in the league. It’s good for the team to get together and battle through this.”