DALLAS – Mike Modano pulled phrases straight out of a standard retirement speech Wednesday, thanking everyone who came to mind for the “amazing time” and “unbelievable experience” of 20 seasons with the same franchise in Minnesota and Dallas.
Only he isn’t retiring. At least not yet.
Even though Modano said it “doesn’t seem right” to suit up for a team other than the Dallas Stars, the 40-year-old centre is tempted to try it anyway.
Modano says he understands why his friend and former teammate, Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk, decided to move on without the NHL’s highest-scoring U.S.-born player. But he’s not hiding his motivation to prove his old buddy made a mistake.
“I think that it does give me a little fire inside to go out play somewhere and really have a great going-out year,” Modano said. “That’s obviously now my thought process if I do go forward and play is to get in great shape and get ready for camp and see what type of year I could put together.”
The question is whether teams will be interested in someone who was nothing more than a fourth-line centre on a team that missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993.
Modano says he doesn’t know, and he won’t specify his interest in teams beyond saying he would prefer to stay in the Western Conference.
Modano came close to leaving in free agency once in his career, but re-signed when owner Tom Hicks asked him to stay. Modano says he was assured in those days that he alone would decide whether to retire or keep playing, but he isn’t getting hung up on broken promises.
“I think you like to believe all those things you hear, but sometimes things do play out differently,” Modano said. “You just have to deal with that. There are different people here now than there was then. Opinions change.”
The top pick in the 1988 draft by Minnesota, Modano had one of the best rookie seasons in franchise history a year later, then helped the North Stars on an improbable run to the Stanley Cup final in 1991. The next improbable move was the franchise relocation to Texas, but Modano’s talent and personality on one of the NHL’s elite teams helped make it work.
Asked for his most vivid memory, Modano didn’t first mention hoisting the Stanley Cup in Buffalo in 1999 after the franchise’s only championship. He instead remembered getting off the plane for the first time in Dallas, “not expecting where I was and what was going to happen here.”
Within a decade, the Stars had their first Stanley Cup, another trip to the finals and a booming youth hockey movement fuelled by the franchise building ice rinks in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Modano said he was equally surprised at how minor league hockey blossomed around Texas.
“We found new hockey fans here in Dallas,” said Modano, who plans to live in the Dallas area even if he plays elsewhere. “We really created a fan base here that frankly I didn’t think was ever going to be possible leaving the state of Minnesota, where hockey is like football in Texas.”
Hockey eventually returned to Minnesota, and Wild fans gave Modano an affectionate farewell in last season’s finale that almost rivaled his send-off in Dallas a few days earlier. Stars fans seemed to offer a simultaneous “thank you” and “please come back,” and now they’ll await word on whether Modano will return wearing their jersey.
“It’s a tough thing for them, too,” Modano said. “They’ve grown up with me and the game and the Dallas Stars. There will always be that recognition between the two of us. Time will tell to see how it pans out. If they’re in first (place) after Thanksgiving, no one will be upset.”