Elliotte Friedman is a reporter and commentator at The Score, Canada's 24-hour sports highlights and information network. He has covered the Leafs extensively for a number of years and has a birds-eye view of what's going on with the Leafs and the NHL.
On one fan's Web site devoted to Alexander Mogilny, the Maple Leaf forward is quoted as saying, "Don't try to be somebody you're not. You have to find out who you are."
Thirteen years into his NHL career, the hockey world is still trying to find out who he is.
Mogilny doesn't reveal much about himself, but he is extremely perceptive and intelligent. He doesn't enjoy talking to the media, but rarely turns down an interview request. He has incredible skill, but routinely takes nights off. He never gives you the impression that he loves hockey. In fact, it looks more like he plays the game simply because it's something he excels at.
It's possible that attitude came from two decades of life under the oppressive regime in the former Soviet Union. At 17, Mogilny played for the powerhouse Red Army club team. In 1988, he was the top forward at the World Juniors and became an Olympic gold medallist as a member of the Russian National Team. He was to be joined by Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Bure on the next great Soviet forward line.
But it never happened.
After the 1989 World Championships in Sweden, the 20-year-old Mogilny made headlines by defecting to the United States. He scored a very respectable 84 goals in his first three years, then seemingly broke through on the road to superstardom with a 76-goal season at the age of 24. He also had seven goals in seven games during the playoffs.
It's ridiculous to expect anyone to consistently score at that rate, but Mogilny's dropoff to 51 goals over the next two seasons established his career pattern: One great year, followed by several mediocre ones. It's led to several battles with coaches and/or management seduced by his talent then aggravated by his indifference.
Buffalo captain (and Mogilny centreman) Pat LaFontaine compared his winger to a wide receiver who sulks when the quarterback doesn't keep throwing him the ball. Mogilny was traded to Vancouver on Draft Day 1995 for Mike Peca, Mike Wilson and a pick that turned out to be Jay McKee. The consensus was that Pat Quinn should be arrested for grand larceny, especially when Mogilny scored 55 times in his first year with the Canucks.
"This has been like a new life for me," Mogilny responded at the time. "I needed a change. When I scored 76 goals in Buffalo, I was allowed to go on offence. The past two years they wanted me to stay home and play defence. They yelled at me if I left the defensive zone before the puck. That's not hockey. That's soccer."