FRISCO, Texas – Mike Modano wants to help the Dallas Stars through some of their worst times since the franchise moved south from Minnesota 17 years ago. He’s just not sure if it will be as a player or part owner.
The 39-year-old Stars centre must first decide whether he will retire after 21 seasons and a Stanley Cup title. In the meantime, he has gone public with his interest in joining a group that wants to buy the team from financially troubled owner Tom Hicks.
Whatever he decides, there’s work to do.
The Stars have missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since relocating from Minnesota and 10 years after back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup finals.
“I’ve been through the bad and the good and the bad again,” Modano said Tuesday. “We feel like missing two years of playoffs in a row is unacceptable. We built a real high pride factor here for the last dozen years with the playoff situations and the types of runs we made.”
Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk, Modano’s former teammate and the playoff MVP when the Stars won their only Stanley Cup in 1999, has made the first of several tough decisions. He said Tuesday the team would not re-sign goaltender Marty Turco after nine mostly successful seasons in which he also emerged as a fan favourite.
Next up is the delicate issue of whether there’s a place for Modano if he wants to play another season. Nieuwendyk mostly avoided that question Tuesday, but he left no doubt that his first season in the team’s front office fell far short of his expectations.
“There is a cloud hanging over us. There’s no question about it,” Nieuwendyk said. “It’s my job to help move that cloud out of here and return this franchise to the pride that I certainly felt as a player here for so many years.”
Nieuwendyk said he felt that pride again in the final home game last week during a raucous standing ovation for Modano, who wept openly on the bench with 5:28 remaining in the game and then scored the tying goal and the first shootout tally to help Dallas win.
Lost in the drama was the same retirement question facing Jere Lehtinen, another key Dallas forward the past 15 years. Like Modano, Lehtinen said he hadn’t made a decision.
“It’s tough. I’ve been with some of these guys for 10 years now,” said captain Brenden Morrow, who will have to help reshape the team’s leadership if all three players are gone next season. “My best friend, my neighbour (Turco) is probably not going to be back here. But we’re professionals. We know it’s a business.”
Modano and Lehtinen had already handed the scoring load to the likes of Brad Richards, who was seventh in the NHL with 91 points, and Loui Eriksson. Young forwards James Neal and Jamie Benn showed some scoring punch, and Mike Ribeiro could be the veteran presence that Modano was for years.
They all might be playing next season for Modano. He said Monday that he and former Stars president Jim Lites are part of a prospective ownership group headed by Dallas-area natural gas magnate William J. (Billy) Quinn, who is a minority partner in a bid to buy baseball’s Texas Rangers from Hicks. The sale of the Rangers is nearly complete, while any possible deals for the Stars are just getting started.
The thought of Modano as an owner intrigues Morrow.
“We’ve been to a lot of team dinners and he’s never picked up the check, so he should have a lot of money laying aside,” Morrow joked.
“He’s made this franchise what it is. He sold hockey in Texas,” Morrow said. “Any position he’s in, I think he’ll succeed.”
Nieuwendyk said he remains committed to coach Marc Crawford a year after he fired Dave Tippett, who led financially strapped Phoenix to the playoffs this season. The Stars struggled on defence and penalty killing, phases that were generally among their strengths when the team made long playoff runs.
“Each of us has to look in the mirror,” Nieuwendyk said. “I know I’m going to be a better general manager. The coaching staff will be better. The players have to look at themselves and ask themselves what they can do better.”