During the Detroit Red Wings-Calgary Flames game last week, play-by-play analyst Ray Ferraro discussed a conversation he had with Mike Modano about his adjustment to a new team. The long time Stars forward explained how he’s only just starting to feel comfortable with the Red Wings on-ice systems, plays, breakouts etc…
In a recent interview with the Edmonton Journal, Modano said “It’s been a big change, getting used to the environment and community and [coach Mike Babcock]‘s expectations of how he wants me to play.”
As someone who’s played some pretty good hockey back in the day, I couldn’t understand where Modano was coming from. In my opinion hockey is a game of mistakes and no matter how planned and prepared you are, you need to anticipate and react to anything that happens on the ice. That’s what separates great players and regular players, at any level.
In saying that, how long should it take a pro athlete to adjust to a new team? I had (and have) a ton of respect for Modano and what he has achieved in his career, but I kept feeling like he was making this sound tougher than it really was, especially considering the kind of skills he has and the team he just joined.
Modano entered a rock-solid organization with arguably the best coach in the NHL. I didn’t see how learning Babcock’s systems would be that difficult. We’re talking about an Olympic Champion and Stanley Cup winning coach. I have to assume a coach of this caliber would have a really easy way to show and teach his team the systems, plays and breakouts Modano alluded to with Ferraro.
To add to this, Modano is one of, if not the best American-born player of all time. And it’s not like he hasn’t had to adjust to new linemates and coaches throughout his career. Any new coach would make changes to a team’s style and system. You’d think this transition would be pretty straight forward, right? That was what I figured. Oh, and Modano’s new linemates, Jiri Hudler and Dan Cleary, aren’t exactly bad hockey players either. That helps.
Prior to last week’s game in Calgary, Modano had registered just one goal (on his first shot of the 10/11 season, no less) in nine games. I was confused by Modano’s low production as I felt he’s had plenty of time to adjust to the Red Wings style and system with training camp, pre-season and the first nine games of the regular season. I figured he was set up pretty well for success. I started ranting to my brother that this transition can’t be that hard. That I or anyone else could easily do it.
Yeah… pretty naive, I know.
The reality is I didn’t try to understand the magnitude of what Modano was going through. I can’t imagine what it’s like to play 20 years in one organization and then when you are 40, with your best days behind you, getting up and signing elsewhere. Especially with the way the Stars organization broke up with Modano.
Later that evening during the Red Wings-Flames game, after I settled from Ferraro’s report, Modano scored a key goal against the Flames. He then added three assists over his next three games. Perhaps this four game point streak of Modano’s is suggesting he’s adjusted to the Red Wings after a bit of a slow start. And maybe, just maybe, these transitions are far tougher than I was willing to acknowledge.
I started trying to see things from Modano’s perspective. While I still don’t fully appreciate the situation (and really, how could I?), if a great player like Modano and an organization like the Red Wings can’t make it work instantly, then maybe my expectations were completely out of whack to start with. And besides, if it took around nine or ten games for Modano and the Red Wings to synch, is it really that long?
So let’s be honest hockey fans, did/does anyone else think this kind of transition would be easier and smoother than it’s been? I’m starting to take back my words now. Maybe it’s harder than I thought!