Modano's 22-year run with Stars ends
Nieuwendyk said the club decided it was time to move forward with a younger group and that Modano doesn't fit into those plans. Modano has not decided whether he's going to play next season.
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"This decision doesn't come easy, but it's something I've been talking to Mike about for quite some time," Nieuwendyk said Tuesday, two days before free agency begins in the NHL. "It's a difficult decision for fans and our entire organization. I feel it's necessary for us to move forward under these trying times. We have young players that I believe have to be put in a position where they can be successful and unfortunately the depth of our team is at the center position. I didn't anticipate Mike's role moving forward from a fourth-line position and, in fact, we need to incorporate a different look there as well."
Nieuwendyk said he's talked to Modano about a place in the front office, though the role remains undefined.
"I'll be the first guy knocking on the new owner's door to have Mike as part of the organization," Nieuwendyk said. "We've talked about it at length. The league said this is an issue that has to be handled by a new ownership group coming in. Again, I think we're all beating the same drum: We want Mike Modano as part of the organization."
Later at a news conference, Nieuwendyk said he realized Modano's popular standing within the franchise but felt it was time to move on.
"My job is on the ice," Nieuwendyk said. "I realize the impact Mike has on this franchise from a selling point. You're not going to replace Mike Modano. He's been a special person and a special player for so many years in Dallas. But like all great players, at some point you have to turn the page. I feel like it's time we turn the page."
Modano told ESPNDallas.com last week that he figured if he was going to play next season, it would not be in a Stars uniform.
"The more and more I look at the situation here, I come to believe I'm not in the scheme of things here," Modano said then. "If I had to play, I may have to look at going elsewhere."
Modano has spent his entire 22-year career with the Stars organization. He holds a gaggle of club records -- he's the franchise leader in 15 statistical categories -- and is the all-time points (1,359) and goals (557) leader among U.S.-born players. All of them were collected as a member of the Stars organization.
He was drafted first overall in 1988 by the then-Minnesota North Stars, and became the face of the Stars franchise when the club moved to Dallas in 1993.
He helped the team win a Stanley Cup in 1999, when Nieuwendyk, then his teammate, was the Conn Smythe winner as playoff MVP.
"I realized taking this job [as GM] I was going to be faced with difficult decisions. I've had to face some very tough decisions because I've played with some of these guys," Nieuwendyk said. "They are my friends. I have to do what I feel like is necessary. The strength is with our young players. We have to find the next Mike Modano. We won't find the same Mike Modano, but we have some young players that want to push it to the next level."
Modano, who turned 40 earlier this month, played part of last season on the fourth line. He had 30 points, including 14 goals, in 59 games. His final home game was a memorable one, as Modano scored to tie the game late in regulation and then in the shootout in a Stars win, and was given several rousing ovations in an emotional farewell.
His last game of the season was against the Wild in Minnesota, where he skated off the ice after the game wearing his old North Stars jersey.
Modano becomes an unrestricted free agent Thursday. He said physically he believes he still can play but has to decide if he wants to go through the grind of another season. Modano said last week that he's continued to work out as if he's playing again, and that he wanted to wait and see what the market bears for his services.
Stars forward Brad Richards said he understands management's decision to move forward with younger players, but they are going to miss Modano's presence.
"The NHL is getting younger because of budgets and I would imagine if we were on the cusp of a Stanley Cup, things might be different," said Richards via text. Richards led the Stars with 91 points last season. "I think Joe needs to see what these young guys can do and with the ownership problems, he has tough decisions concerning the budget."
Another forward, Steve Ott, added that Modano's departure impacts more than just the fans.
"Mike was a wonderful teammate, always happy, always joking round and having a good time," Ott said. "He brought that fun attitude to the rink. Those are the type of guys you can go to war with and battle with. He made it fun. That's why we play this game."
"Those were two veterans I could lean on," Morrow said. "Marty was a vocal guy that others listened to. Mike provided so much with his presence. And when he did have something to say, it carried weight."