Diminished role wore on Modano
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General manager Joe Nieuwendyk called Modano on Monday evening and told him the club was headed forward without him and that he would be making that decision public.
"I always thought there would be an outside chance of something happening here," Modano said Tuesday afternoon. "The dialogue that Joe and I have had going on for about a month-and-a-half led me to believe I needed to prepare for things not happening. But when it's here and reality sets in, it's disappointing. I didn't think it would happen. I was told some years ago that I'd be able to decide when I wanted to stop playing. But that was verbally and things change."
Nieuwendyk said Modano has been "terrific" as the team tried to decide whether to bring him back. He said their friendship is the same, punctuated by the 30-minute phone conversation Monday night even after Modano knew he wouldn't be back as a player.
"He said to me, 'Joe, I'm not mad at you. Our relationship's not going to change,'" Nieuwendyk said. "I think at the end of the day they realize that it's difficult for me, too."
Modano now has to determine if he wants to retire, ending his career as a player with only one franchise. He was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars in 1988, made his NHL debut during the 1989 playoffs and has become the all-time leader among U.S.-born players in points and goals, collecting all of them in a Stars uniform. He moved with the organization to Dallas in 1993 and has been the face of the franchise.
Modano said he's still "up in the air" about whether to play again. If he does, he probably would go somewhere west of Dallas, staying in the Western Conference if he can.
"I have to think about it," Modano said. "And if I have to think about whether I want to play or not, that scares me into thinking I might not play. It would be different if I were to say, 'I do want to play, there's no doubt.' That would mentally give me a different feel than saying, 'I'm still thinking about it.' I'm not really committed one way or the other about that."
Nieuwendyk said he made the decision before free agency opened to give Modano the chance to talk to teams. The Stars have made it clear they want Modano in their front office, but that scenario is complicated by the team being up for sale.
"I'll be the first guy to knock on the new owner's door and pump the tires for Mike Modano, how important he is to our franchise," Nieuwendyk said. "If he decides to go play for another team, I'll support him on that, too. I think everybody agrees that when he is done, he's always going to be a Dallas Star and the door's always going to be open for him."
Modano said he believes he still has the ability to play.
"I think if I'm put in the right situation, I think I still can," Modano said. "I've been slowly pulled away from my role here. Then I look around at other places and see guys still playing my age and who they play with and who they are on the ice with and I still feel I'm capable."
Modano said that role, which had turned into primarily as a fourth-line center with some power play time, was "starting to get old."
"That was not my thing," Modano said. "I think the previous two or three years, I was kind of accepting it. I enjoyed being with Stu Barnes or whoever, we had a good time doing what we were asked to do. But it wears on you."
Modano and Dallas won a Stanley Cup together 11 years ago -- the only title in franchise history -- but the Stars have missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since moving from Minnesota in 1993. Nieuwendyk said the team needs to make room for younger players in trying to rebuild, and has too many players who need ice time at center.
"We have to try to find the next Mike Modano," Nieuwendyk said. "We're never going to find the same Mike Modano, but we have some good young players that are going to push it to the next level."
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."
Modano said Nieuwendyk was up front with him about the organization's plans for the future.
"Our friendship is our friendship and that won't change," Modano said. "Sometimes business is business and that's just part of it. It's too bad the two have to coincide with each other."
Modano said he has a lot of fond memories of his time in Dallas and he thinks back to all the teammates he's had and the success. He said he's most happy about the growth of hockey in Texas.
"That's one of the top things we accomplished," Modano said. "The fan base and the winning seasons and how Texas embraced us. I never thought in a million years I'd be calling Dallas home, but I do. It's been great."
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