Ah, you're right. I did leave Hull off. That does push Modano out of the top five.
And btw, Frank Brimsek was one of the top two goaltenders in the NHL in the first eight of his ten seasons, missing two years during that span because of Coast Guard service. Modano is not even CLOSE to that.
Modano scored more points than LaFontaine, but LaFontaine's career ended early due to concussions. LaFontaine was considered among the top few centers in the league for a long time when Gretzky, Lemieux, Yzerman, and Messier were all in their primes. Modano didn't have competition nearly that stiff, and still spent less time near the top. His peak was also not as high. The only thing Modano might have had on LaFontaine is defensive play. And even that only came in a short five or six year span of Modano's career in the late 1990s and early 2000s; he was terrible defensively early on and for the last few years of his career.
Howe played at the same level through the 80s as Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey, both generally considered top-ten all-time defensemen and both in their prime.
Chelios won multiple Norrises and contended for many others, and was considered one of the league's top defensemen for fifteen years.
Hull actually has more 17 points in 230 fewer games, but is not American-born so Modano is still technically the leader in that category. Hull also has a Hart trophy and a Pearson award, while Modano has a Calder trophy.
So depending on whether you include Hull, Modano is either the fifth or sixth greatest American hockey player.
Longevity is a part of the game. LaFontaine did have his career end early, while Modano played on and continued to excel. That gives Modano a notch over LaFontaine in my book, whether it's partially luck related or not. Also, you have to remember that LaFontaine padded his stats somewhat from playing in the 80's, where guys scored more often. Modano in his prime in the 80's would have put up similar numbers.
And Modano did have stiff competition at his position. Sure, he didn't have Gretzky or Lemieux, but he had Sakic, Fedorov, Lindros, Yzerman, Forsberg, Sundin, etc. Those are some pretty damn good centers and will all likely be in the HOF someday.
You say defensive play is all he had over LaFontaine? How about skating? Modano could skate as well as any player in hockey history. He also had a cannon for a wrist shot, slap shot, one-timer and one of the best backhands in the game ever. Also, he was the face of a franchise for several decades and was usually their most feared offensive player.
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