October 14, 2010
Watching a franchise player skate into his former home arena wearing an enemy uniform for the first time is like going to a wedding with your ex in attendance. The recollection of nostalgic memories is unavoidable. The reaction when you bump into each other is determined both by the terms of the separation, whether it was amicable or painful; and whom the ex decided to bring to the reception as a date.
Simon Gagne(notes) was a victim of circumstance in his divorce from the Philadelphia Flyers: a salary cap casualty with an impending summer of unrestricted free agency, "forced" to waive his no-movement clause. He returns to Philly as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the first time Thursday night.
Mike Modano's(notes) divorce from the Dallas Stars was a bit more acrimonious. He wanted to play this season, and he wanted to be a Dallas Star. GM Joe Nieuwendyk didn't feel Modano fit, as he told ESPN Dallas:
"I feel it's necessary for us to move forward under these trying times. We have young players that I believe have to be put in a position where they can be successful and unfortunately the depth of our team is at the center position. I didn't anticipate Mike's role moving forward from a fourth-line position and, in fact, we need to incorporate a different look there as well."
So Modano returns to Dallas as a member of the hated Detroit Red Wings; a new reality that Stars fans have been slowly coming to grips with, but have yet to witness inside the arena where Modano was a local legend and the face of the franchise.
What will the reactions be for Gagne and Modano Thursday night? And what do these old faces in new places expect to hear?
Simon Gagne isn't Donovan McNabb. In the sense that his departure from the Flyers wasn't the contentious, franchise-future-shaping event McNabb's departure from the Eagles was.
And because Donovan is Chunky Soup and Gagne is grilled (American) cheese:
McNabb was cheered in warm-ups and then booed in the game for the Washington Redskins a few weeks back. What does Gagne expect? Here's the Tampa Bay winger with the Tampa Tribune:
"I think it will be good; in 11 seasons there I don't think I got booed,'' Gagne said. "I had a great time there, the fans were great to me. I'm looking forward to seeing them. ... I've had time to settle in and I'm with a new team now, but the deal went down in the summer and I don't think a lot of people were expecting that, so it will be a chance for me to say goodbye to them. So I think it should be good, I hope so, I hope I don't get booed but you never know.''
Fortunately, one thing there has not been and will not be is a discussion on whether the knuckle-dragging Philly fans will cheer or boo Simon Gagne when he takes the ice.
There isn't much debate when it comes to the Gagne trade. The vast majority of fans were unhappy to see him go. The only variance in opinion seems to be the degree to which fans feel the team is better overall right now than they were when they left the ice after game 6. It's simply too early to know.
Nearly every Flyer was and is a Gagne fan. Every single Flyers employee seems to have been one too, and the local media has praised him as a man and player throughout his career. We all hate to see the good guys go. It brings out our sentimentality and obscures those times when even some of Gagne's fans thought it best that the team deal him. Those comments popped up every time Gags would get hurt. But when the trade actually happened, even after we all knew it was coming, there were very few voices siding with the team's difficult decision.
Modano's return to Dallas is, of course, the bigger news. (And we'll be talking with Daryl "Razor" Reaugh of VERSUS about that on Puck Daddy Radio Thursday at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT.)
Does Modano expect a positive reaction? From the Detroit Free Press:
"Well, you never know," Modano said. "They always boo the Red Wings, so I'm guilty by association now. Obviously it's a little salt in the wound that I'm in Detroit. ... I think for the most part it will be pretty positive."
[Detroit coach Mike] Babcock said Modano would be in the starting lineup -- to give fans a chance to acknowledge him at the start of the game.
"He's been a great player for them for a long time," Babcock said. "Didn't finish there the way he wanted. That's life. They've moved on and so has he. I think they're going to cheer him like crazy initially, and then they may boo him after that. There will be a ton of respect for him."
"A lot of season ticket holders will probably be in shock and awe for the first ten minutes looking for him on the other side -- more mesmerized than anything - watching him flying around. It's going to be a lot different," said forward Steve Ott.
Said Ott: "Personally, it's tough any time a brother moves on to another team. It's awkward. But we've got a game at hand and we need points. That's where our mindset is. We're not playing Mike Modano; we're playing the Detroit Red Wings. They have a very solid team. We've got to focus as much as we can on that and put all the other distractions aside."
What to expect from the fans? D'ann Faught from Inside Hockey is unsure:
Rumor has it there will be a tribute to Modano during the first intermission tonight, but when the puck drops, it is uncertain how the sold-out crowd will react. Certainly there is a lot of respect for a guy who sits atop the leaderboard for most of the Dallas Stars history.
Let's just leave it at this: He is and will be the face of the Stars' franchise for a long, long time. But, Father time doesn't wait for any man. Roger Staubach and Nolan Ryan came to the end at one point no matter how immortal we hoped they were. I wish it was always 1999, but it is now 11 seasons later. It was awesome. But, it ended. Some ended their runs in 2000. Some a few years later. And then there is Mike, still skating in 2010-11.
I wish it didn't have to be this way. And, maybe it didn't. But, remember -- Dallas Stars Hockey is about the crest on the front of the jersey. Not the nameplate on the back. We have our favorites, but the only agenda that should really consume us is how this organization can get back to being feared across the league. With that being the case, I need all priorities directed to that end.
Predication on Modano: Raucously cheered at the start, and then booed every time he touches the puck, cheered during the tribute. In true hockey tradition.