HALIFAX – One year after stepping back onto the ice at a frigid university arena, Mike Danton is dreaming of a bigger return to the game of hockey.
The former NHLer says he still wants to rejoin the fabled league, more than five years after he was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the United States.
“I would obviously (like to return),” he said after practice Wednesday with the Saint Mary’s Huskies. “I think anybody at this level would want to play at the highest level possible for them. For me, that would be the NHL.
“I’d like to get back to playing there. To be honest with you, yeah, it’s in my mind. It’s something I’d like to do.”
Danton was released from a U.S. prison in March 2009 following his 2004 conviction in a failed murder-for-hire plot.
He returned to Canada and his parole ends Friday, lifting restrictions on his travel within Canada and freeing him of regular checks with corrections officials.
The end of his legal obligations raise questions about his future in hockey and whether the 30-year-old forward sees a place for himself again at the highest level of the game.
Danton recognizes it would be a long shot to make it back to the NHL, not only because he’s been out of the league for more than six years but also because of the baggage associated with his crime and controversial past.
It’s also not clear if he will even be allowed into the U.S. again given his record—an obvious requirement for playing in the NHL.
A spokesperson with U.S. Customs and Border Protection didn’t return calls Wednesday.
Danton, a baseball hat perched on his head that reads Hockey Boy, conceded that his uncertain status in the U.S. could be a hindrance to playing again.
“But I think I bring some unique skills to the table and I think I could still bring those.”
Some pundits aren’t so generous.
David Shoalts, who covers hockey for The Globe and Mail, said Danton doesn’t stand a chance of making a comeback in the NHL.
“I would be amazed if someone even gave him the time of day,” he said from Toronto. “Even if he didn’t have all that baggage, he would be a long shot in the extreme to the make NHL. … He wasn’t that great a player to begin with.”
U.S. prosecutors said Danton’s intended target in the murder-for-hire plot was David Frost, a controversial figure who was his agent at the time. However, Danton suggested to the National Parole Board in 2009 that the target was his father, with whom he has been estranged.
The target wasn’t identified in the agreed-to facts that were part of the court record when Danton pleaded guilty.
Danton, who scored nine times in 87 NHL games with the St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils, has done well at Saint Mary’s, helping the school win its first national hockey championship last year.
He was also just named an academic all-Canadian for sport because of a straight-A average he’s maintained as he works toward a degree with a major in psychology.
Huskies coach Trevor Stienburg said that while Danton’s age and history could make a return to the NHL unlikely, he has exceeded expectations in the arena and the classroom.
“Are the odds in his favour? No, they’re not,” he said. “What stacks them more in his favour is the fact that people are telling him he can’t do it. … He’s overdone it with all of his naysayers.”
And if not the NHL, Stienburg believes Danton could play professionally elsewhere, possibly in Europe.
Danton, who was born in Brampton, Ont., and played in the OHL with the Barrie Colts, wouldn’t say if there’s anything in the works, but said he is keeping all options open.
“I need someone to take a chance on me at the professional level,” he said.
“I’m not a pessimist. I’d like to say that if I had an opportunity that I’d make the best of it.”