Mike Modano Talks to Unfair Park About Why Tomorrow May -- or May Not -- Be His Last Game at AAC in a Stars Uniform

Categories: Sports
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A brief history of Mike Modano's career as assembled by the Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars' season ends Saturday night as it did last year: with a whimper, as once again Tom Hicks's hockey club fails to make the playoffs. Yet it's hard to believe tickets remain for tomorrow night's final game of the season at the American Airlines Center. There is, after all, the very real chance chance this will be the final time you will ever see Marty Turco, Jere Lehtinen and Mike Modano skate the AAC ice, at least in a Stars uniform.

All three have been Stars and nothing but their entire professional careers -- perhaps the most amazing stats among all their estimable career numbers. And they are estimable, especially Modano's: Twenty-two years after he was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars, he is the franchise's all-time leader in most of the offensive categories, among them games played (1,456), goals scored (556), assists made (801) and total points (1,357). And, of course, he is the greatest American-born player in the game's history, at least on paper. And, as Bob Sturm wrote today on his Stars blog, "He is hockey in Dallas."

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McFarlane Toys
Modano got his own limited-run action figure in '07
There are myriad reasons to attend tomorrow night's game. The team will give away signed pucks and game-worn jerseys, travel tix on American Airlines and season ducats for next year, among assorted other prizes. But all that pales compared to the on-ice drama: Will this be it for Modano, who turns 40 on June 7?

I spoke with him this afternoon, and the truth is, he says, he is not sure -- his return or retirement depends on any number of things, from who winds up owning the team to how he feels come training camp. This much is certain: There will be no announcement before July.

On the other side, Modano talks about how he's feeling and what he's thinking. He's got a lot to say. Is he ready to retire? Absolutely. Does he want to keep playing? Absolutely. Should you jump? Absolutely.

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Modano as a member of the U.S. Olympic team in 2006
You certainly feel as though you can still contribute -- here or, I would assume, somewhere else, should it come to that. But how do you balance your expectations against those of the outsiders you speak of, be it current or future team ownership or your coaches or general managers? How do you keep others from making the decision for you?

That's kind of tough. People who have the authority and make the decisions can steer you in a direction that can make that decision. Ultimately, you'd like to have it your own -- when I'm going to be gone, how I'm going to be finishing. But at this point in your career, at this age, the practices wear you out, and there's nothing more you can possibly learn, I don't think. You just want to play the games and have some fun and have a chance to win. The process of going through it is a lot more grueling than actually playing the games and whatnot.

And then the other factors are: how I'm used, who I'm playing with and in what situations. There are a lot of variables to it: how it plays out with ownership, who's around, who's not. You hate to make the choice and then you have new guys come in and say, "We'll let you make that choice whenever you want."

I spoke with you more than a decade ago, when Hitch was trying to make you more of a two-way player -- more like Steve Yzerman. At the time -- and this was before you guys won the Stanley Cup -- you weren't having too much fun playing the game. But you found new life, new energy, new joy in hockey at that time for whatever reason. I assume there are moments during the course of a career -- especially with a career spent with one team -- during which there are those inevitable ebbs and flows when you love the game, you hate the game, you wanna play forever, you wanna quit yesterday.

Right. Right.

Do you feel substantially different today than you did yesterday? A year ago? Ten years ago?

Even two years ago, I said, "I can play two and maybe two, three more." But now I'm looking at it like, "This could be it. I may not play anymore. Or maybe I can. Or maybe I won't fit in here anymore with regards to the future and how they're trying to go forward here." I think it was '96, '97, after that World Cup, we had a great tournament there, we won it, then there was a lot of excitement going into the season, and our team was doing well, so ...

Ya know, it all depended on how well our team was doing. When our team's kinda fluctuating and has no direction and is inconsistent, then it's not really fun. But when our team was rolling and it was just like a machine year in and year out, when we rolled through those division titles and the conference and the Finals, then you feel like, "Man, I could do this for a long time." But those feelings come and go, and some days I feel like, "This is it. I'm done." Some others I feel like, "Maybe I'm not quite there. I don't know if I've drained every ounce out of me." I don't know.

But is that how you want to leave -- completely spent, the proverbial husk? Or do you want to walk away while you can still, ya know, walk away?


Yeah, that's kinda what it's coming down to. Mentally, I'm at the point where ... At this point, on this day, I can make the decision: I'm done. But then you'll be sitting around for three, four months with nothing to do, and July comes around and you think about working out, and then you think, "Maybe I could muster something up again" and look forward to getting back to hockey. I guess when July comes and I don't have that, then I will know then that I'm done.

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Patrick Michels
Modano and wife Willa Ford at the Dallas Observer Music Awards last year
Is that when you've sort of given yourself a deadline -- the summer? Because I assume there will be no decision or announcement made for several months.

Yeah, probably that time. I could make the decision tomorrow: "I'm done. Checked out physically and mentally. Done." But that's a knee-jerk decision because it was such a shitty year and we didn't accomplish anything and we were categorically one of the worst teams in the league. You make the decision based on that, and you say, "Yeah, it's over."

So if the playoffs loomed, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. But it does appear the emotions  tied to such a disappointing season drive the retirement talk -- sort of, Well, he might as well give it up.

Exactly. That's where my thought process is at. If we'd been in the playoffs these last two years, then I'd really say, "That was fun, I enjoyed it." You always want to go out with a playoff team. You got in there, had a couple of series, experienced that excitement again, rather than being the first time in Dallas we hadn't make the playoffs in two years -- two years in a row. We never even won three games in a row. There are a lot of negative things you think you wouldn't want to end a career on.

Does it enter your mind: I just don't want to play one more year somewhere else? Because for every Favre resurrected, there's an injured Tony Dorsett ending his career in a Broncos uniform.

Well, seems to happen a lot with players getting older and not wanting to let it go and walk away from the game. Then I look at Favre's situation with the Jets. Everyone thought he was done, over with, then he goes to Minnesota and he's in a great offense with young studs around him. All he has to do is drop back and hand off to Peterson or pass to one of those wide receivers. He doesn't have to run anymore. That's how I feel.

If I was in a situation ... It's tough to do all that grunt work like you used to when you were a center -- where you're down low, always stopping and starting, then you get the puck and have to carry it up the ice, get in the zone, cause some turnovers, this and that. Those days are long gone. There needs to be a combination of a lot of things to help that out.

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Do you and Lehts and Marty talk about what tomorrow night's game means to all three of you -- three guys who played their career with one team, which still boggles the mind even at this late date.

I talk to Lehts a little bit. He's not really sure what his deal is. Marty's situation is ... the writing's on the wall for him, unfortunately. So, ya know. There are a lot of guys I've played with looking at that situation. Keith Tkachuk, Darryl Sydor, Doug Weight, Bill Guerin -- a lot of us who were kinda caught in this situation of, "What are we going to do?"

But it's rare for us to have played together for so long, and there are other guys who could have been on that list too. It's pretty rare. Lehtinen was a real treat to play with, obviously, and what he brought. He played hard and sacrificed his body, and I don't know how much more he has left. And Marty was just, unfortunately, the scapegoat for how crummy we've been the last two years. You could have had any world-class goalie backing us up, but with the opportunities and the way we played, no one could have made us look good.

You've spoken in the last few days and weeks about getting into the business side of things -- about perhaps pursuing, somewhere down the line, a piece of an ownership opportunity should it arise. Does now that's all out there in some way, shape or form hasten your decision to walk away, whenever that should happen?

Yeah, I guess that's where time comes into play again. Hopefully, if that takes some direction by the end of the summer, then I think that decision's pretty easy. I would go into that direction of the game and  voice my opinion on what needs to be done or changed and find the right people to full those jobs. I've been around, I've watched some great guys handle and manage this team, so I've been fortunate enough to see what works and what don't work, so I can help people find the right guys for the job.

Obviously, tomorrow night's Fan Appreciation Night. But it's also the fans' chance to appreciate you guys as well -- especially you and Lehts and Marty. You prepared for the rush of emotion that is likely to happen at a moment like that?

Moments like that have come a few times in my career. Like, when I had Neal Broten at the game at Reunion and was chasing his record. Five-hundred goals was OK. The other records would have been really hard to deal with if I'd done them at home. The one I did in San Jose ...

But, yeah, tomorrow and Minnesota will be a little tough to handle.

I see you invited your family to the game in Minnesota.

Yeah, I'm gonna try to get as many people as I can there. Friends of mine from up there, people from Dallas are flying up. There will be a nice group of people up there for that one.

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