- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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The NHL's all-time American leader in goals and points will be back for a 20th season.
Mike Modano will be 39 next fall when he takes to the ice yet again for the only organization he's ever played for. The veteran center says his body can still take it.
"I think physically I probably felt better than I ever have the last three-four years," Modano told ESPN.com Monday. "I think it's been more mental, trying to keep that motivational level high, trying to keep that level of competition in you and all that stuff, those are the toughest things that you battle with.
"But as far as the body and everything, it felt pretty good."
Modano's name is splattered all over the Dallas Stars' record book -- games played (1,400), goals (543), assists (786), and points (1,329). No U.S.-born player in NHL history has more goals or points.
But a big reason he's coming back is for playoff hockey, which he didn't get to enjoy this season after the injury-riddled Stars missed out.
"Yeah, I think that's probably a big part of the decision," said Modano, who is enterting the final season of a five-year deal that pays him $2.25 million next season. "I've talked to other guys around the league who have gotten older, and I think the most joy we get out of playing now is playoff time. That's what you've played for all your life and some of us fortunately have had long runs and we've won.
"As you get older, that's what kind of fuels your energy to come back and play. That's the most exciting part about being in hockey is playoffs. And it seems like as you get older you go through the grind of the regular season but you really kind of mentally look forward to playoffs and being in that type of environment; being on the road and playing in a hostile atmosphere and all those battles that you go through. That's always been fun."
Another carrot is the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Modano is a three-time Olympian and was also a key member of the 1996 Team USA that upset Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey. He hopes to catch the eye of Team USA Olympic GM Brian Burke and head coach Ron Wilson come decision-making time early next season.
"The timing of that is probably right up there as well," Modano said of the February 2010 Games. "Being that you've had some history there and been part of some of the other teams, enjoying some of the past Olympics that we've had, that was probably the last factor [in his decision]. And certainly having the chance of playing with some of the young guys are that playing in the game right now around the league.
"So yes, that's a bit of motivational thing as the season starts to hopefully make it difficult for Brian and Ron to make a decision on me."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
13hDanny Knobler, Special to ESPN.com