Jere Lehtinen was drafted a Minnesota North Star in 1992, but never played a single game there. He broke into the NHL in 1995, in Dallas. In only two seasons of work (less, really) he was nominated for the Selke trophy for the first time in 1997, then won his first of 3 in 1998. By that time, he had quickly earned his way up the ladder to play on the first line with none other than Mike Modano himself.
He was only 25 years old when those things started happening fast and furious. Loui Eriksson will be 25 next year, should you need a comparison.
It's hard to watch him now and remember him ever being that young. The unfortunate running joke around Stars-circles these days is that the aging Finn is so fragile he can barely survive the odd hit every now and then. Yet so proud and accomplished his he.
He's known erroneously as "The King of Little Things," because Jere knows: The devil's in the details. He never possessed world class scoring skill and panache. He'll be remembered as a relentlessly hard worker; Well prepared and meticulous. He's run around Dallas ice for a very long time cleaning up the mistakes of others and very rarely making any of his own.
When is the last time you said to yourself "Oh, terrible play by Jere there." It doesn't happen.
We haven't spent much time on Lehtinen during all the farewell wishy-washy-ness. In part because Mike is Mike. There's no doubt where the attention naturally drifts to.
And in part it's because I think Jere Lehtinen will be back next year, and here's why...
When this subject comes up, I hear people saying that Lehtinen fills a role on the team. Modano might not, depending on the way that works out. Fans of the team have a hard time processing that.
The general perception out there is that Mike is still the better player, right? A lot of night's that's completely true. A lot of others it's not, and it's because of what the two men have going on upstairs in their heads, and what their very different jobs are. Mike Modano's role on this team this year is that of a 3rd line center (at times 4th) that supplements low ice time with special teams.
Jere Lehtinen, while not scoring much these days (largely because of the linemates with which he's placed) is perhaps a closer approximation to his former self than Mike is. To me anyway, Jere is still more classic Jere than Mike is classic Mike, if that makes any sense at all. That's not to say Mike can't play. He can, and I'd love if it he would, it's just that Jere's role as mr. fix it-defensive forward might be (might be!) a more useful one on this team going forward.
After what we saw last night, they're both capable of being quite useful, obviously; If healthy, which is the real gamble in extending Lehtinen if I'm Gm Joe.
Also, Lehtinen is a right handed right wing, which is all but an endangered species in the Stars locker room. Before the very late season addition of Brandon Segal, Lehtinen was the only right handed shot in the entire forward group. That counts for something. If you watch this team as religiously as we do, you can't help but notice the lack of right handed shots and how the offense occasionally suffers.
And obviously, Jere is three years younger than Mike. I don't know if that counts for much, as Jere is undoubtedly the more fragile of the two, and notoriously slow at returning from injury, but it's got to count for something.
I wrote a piece about Lehtinen a few weeks ago, and I wrote it primarily with money in mind. More recent examinations of the workings of Joe Nieuwendyk actually make a Lehtinen signing a pretty reasonable possibility.
He's a quiet man, and he's had little or nothing to say on the subject one way or the other. If he's going to call it quits, wouldn't we be hearing more about it from the man himself? Or will he slip quietly into the night, in lock step with Mike Modano as the two have been for all these years?
It would be fitting, sure, but I feel like he's got a good chance at coming back. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: If Jere is brought back because he fills a role, and Mike isn't because he doesn't, can we stomach that? Can Jere?
I just hope each of them is allowed to leave on their own terms (and that neither one ever, EVER wears another uniform).