Future's so bright, gonna need shades
The question dominated the hockey world the moment Wayne Gretzky took a tearful final lap at Madison Square Garden in April of 1999 -- "Who's the ‘Next One?'"
Gretzky immediately dismissed the notion that he was leaving a void that couldn't be filled.
"We have great players, from [Jaromir] Jagr to [Teemu] Selanne," Gretzky said in 1999. "These guys are all great players, and as you all know following these guys, they are all great people. The game is better than it was 20 years ago. I don't mean it in any disrespect, but I tell these guys that in 20 years it will be better than it is today. That's what we want. We want to progress. We want to [grow] stronger. I see the game getting bigger and getting better worldwide."
Sports are cyclical in general and hockey is no exception. The Montreal Canadiens make that clear to their players by marking on their dressing room words from the poem "In Flanders Field" by John McRae -- "We pass to you the torch from our failing hands. May it be yours to hold up high."
Giants come along, make their impact and pass the torch. Younger players carry the torch as far as they can and the cycle begins again. Need proof? Check out the names enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame: Howie Morenz passes to Eddie Shore, to Rocket Richard, to Gordie Howe, to Bobby Orr, to Wayne Gretzky, to Mario Lemiuex, Jaromir Jagr and Patrick Roy all the way to the "Next Generation" that began shoving its way into the spotlight in a big way during the 2001-02 season.
Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames won the Rocket Richard and Art Ross trophies after leading the NHL in goals  and total points during the 2001-02 season. Iginla also was named the winner of the Pearson Trophy, presented to the player judged to be the most valuable in the NHL in voting among the players. Not too shabby for a 25-year-old budding star.
Montreal goaltender Jose Theodore, who just turned 26, was another big winner at June's NHL Awards Special. In addition to winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender in 2001-02, Theodore also was named the Hart Trophy winner as the League's MVP.
Theodore, who signed a multi-year deal with the Canadiens during the summer, led the NHL last season with a .931 save percentage and had a 2.11 goals-against average. He also had career highs in games (67), victories (30) and shutouts (7).
Theodore played a huge role in getting the Canadiens back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There, he helped engineer an upset of the Boston Bruins in the first round and took the Canadiens to six games in the second round before falling to the eventual Eastern Conference champs, the Carolina Hurricanes.
"I have a job to do -- stop the puck," Theodore said. "It's important to know the money is there, but the main thing is that I love playing hockey. It's still a game. I go to practice every day with the same feeling I had when I was making $35 a week in junior hockey."
As for his treasure trove at June's awards, Theodore said he was "just happy getting invited."
Iginla, another rising star signed to a new contract during the summer, is regarded as one of the best people in the game. He works tirelessly for charities year-round and is one of the most popular people in the League. For him, topping the NHL in scoring in 2001-02 was unbelievable.
"I couldn't ask for more of a dream season, except for making the playoffs and winning the Stanley Cup," Iginla said. "There are more dreams, but a lot of them have been delivered this year."