Modin striking offensively again

Updated: May 6, 2004, 3:58 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | Special to ESPN.com

Maybe it was a moment of clarity, an epiphany of sorts.

Maybe it was just a plain old-fashioned, air-clearing rant.

Fredrik Modin
Fredrik Modin is tied for fourth in playoff points with 11.
Regardless, if you happen to be an avid follower of the Tampa Bay Lightning, you might have had occasion at one midseason practice to see coach John Tortorella and forward Fredrik Modin engaged in an animated on-ice discussion.

The discussion, which lasted much longer than player and coach had imagined, appears to represent those oh-so-rare moments of great import for a team in uncharted Stanley Cup waters and a player whose sudden arrival is a key component of that journey.

Tortorella begins to laugh as soon as the meeting is brought up.

In some ways what began as an innocuous on-ice chat has taken on mythic proportions, a kind of summit at Mount Olympus.

"The conversation I had with him, it wasn't intended to be a long and lengthy one. It certainly ended up that way," Tortorella said. "I think it just got to the point where he wanted to get a few things off his chest. I got a few things off my chest. It really turned out to be a very positive thing. I understood his thinking a bit more, and he understood mine. Whether that propelled it, I don't know. Who knows when it kicks in."

"He has just been terrific. He's really gone unnoticed."

After a regular season that saw Modin produce a career-best 57 points and finish fourth in the NHL with a plus-31 rating, the native of Sundsvall, Sweden, has blossomed in these playoffs, registering 11 points in nine games, one off the playoff scoring lead, and averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time a night.

When the Lightning struggled early on against the New York Islanders, it was Modin who delivered with three multiple-point games, including three assists in the series' fifth and deciding game, the last assist in overtime.

In the sweep of Montreal, Modin scored the winner in Game 2 and added a helper in overtime in the series' pivotal third game.

"I think it was a good discussion for both of us," easygoing Modin told ESPN.com this week. "That's the really good quality that John has. You can talk to him and tell him how you really feel, and he's not going to hold it against you."

Implied is that the discussion wasn't about where the Lightning rookie dinner should be or the best place to catch marlin after the morning skate. At the heart of the discussion was where did Modin fit in with a Lightning team that had much to prove this season. Indeed, did he fit at all?

A former 30-goal scorer, Modin had suffered through injury and seen his production decline while being pressed into a more defensive role last season and at the start of the current campaign. Gone were the power-play minutes and the high-scoring linemates. But in their place, a more complete hockey player was ready to emerge, a player that wanted to do more.

"You want to make sure the coach knows what you want," explained Modin, 29. "The bottom line is it's up to yourself as a player to prove yourself."

As he did with the team's other top players -- Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Cory Stillman and Martin St. Louis -- when the team was struggling, Tortorella heard Modin out and then gave him the chance to be not just the offensive contributor with the booming shot but the man that makes the smart play in the defensive zone with the game on the line.

Modin, like his teammates, has more than seized that moment.

Modin's evolution is further proof that the notion of success many fans and media have bears little resemblance to how players and coaches assess it.

Even though I wasn't getting the offensive ice time a 30-goal scorer usually gets, a lot of the media was expecting me to score 30 goals. It was kind of tough. I'm glad I'm back getting the ice time I was getting a couple of years ago.
Fredrik Modin
At the beginning of the season, Modin was playing a defensive role alongside Martin Cibak and Ben Clymer. Still, people wanted to know why he wasn't putting up the numbers he did in 2000-01, his second season with the Lightning, when he tallied 32 times.

"The hard part for me, and some of the stuff I thought was not maybe fair, was that even though I wasn't getting the offensive ice time a 30-goal scorer usually gets, a lot of the media was expecting me to score 30 goals. It was kind of tough," said Modin.

"I'm glad I'm back getting the ice time I was getting a couple of years ago," he added.

"He has a great defensive presence about himself. He's a big man," Tortorella said, explaining the decision to start Modin off in a "grinder" role at the beginning of the season. "We wanted to give him some time in grinding it out a bit to try and find his offense.

"He's always been one of the hardest workers on the team, right on through some of his struggles offensively."

Selected by Toronto in the third round, 64th overall, in the 1994 entry draft, Modin played for a time with countryman and national hero Mats Sundin. But faced with holdouts by two defensemen, Bryan Berard and Dmitry Yushkevich, Toronto general manager Pat Quinn was anxious for defensive help and dealt Modin to the Lightning for Cory Cross on Oct. 1, 1999. Modin was coming off a disappointing turn in the playoff, having played in only eight of the Leafs' 17 postseason matches as they marched to the Eastern Conference final the previous spring, but Quinn's former assistant Bill Watters suggested it's a deal Quinn would like to have back.

"Freddie was one of the most popular guys on the team," Watters said. "And you'd like to think that one day he'd be a good player. And he has. He's really come a long way, and I'm happy for Freddie."

Modin admits there have been unsettling times in Tampa Bay. Even though the team turned the corner a year ago with its first division crown and first playoff series victory, there were rumors Modin was on the trading block. Those rumors persisted this year, as well. His confidence suffered as his offensive numbers fluctuated; the 32-goal campaign followed by an injury-shortened 14-goal effort, then 17 last season.

"I think you always go through stretches like that through your career, where you're trying to figure out what's going on," said the eight-year veteran who tallied 29 times this year. "You wonder if coaches and management still believe in you, and whether they're really trying to move you."

Finally, a visit from GM Jay Feaster during the season confirmed that Modin wasn't going anywhere, and he settled into a routine that has seen him thrive. Under the tutelage of assistant coach Craig Ramsay and following the lead of veteran captain Dave Andreychuk, 6-foot-4, 220-pound Modin has become that coveted big man who commands respect at both ends of the ice.

Former Lightning GM Rick Dudley, the man who acquired Modin, said the big left winger may be one of the most gifted defensive forwards in the league.

"I think his work along the wall and in the defensive zone now is elite," Dudley said. "I think he's taken the step from being a pretty bright player to a very bright player. And he was always a pretty good thinker."

Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

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