If you ask me, rather than being a huge shame, Mike Modano leaving the Dallas Stars was at least a few years coming. There’s no doubt that Modano is the most important player in the franchise’s history by a country mile, but it took a long time for the team to choose on-ice results over the pangs of nostalgia.
However you may feel about the unsettling sight of Modano wearing the Winged Wheel as a Detroit Red Wing, it’s pretty difficult to question Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk’s decision to let the face of the Stars franchise walk.
You could argue about the 40-year-old center losing more than a few steps or his presence casting a shadow on a dressing room that needed to move on from the late 90s squad that won a Cup.
Yet after reading some of the comments he made to Yahoo’s Nicholas Cotsonika, it’s pretty difficult to avoid questioning Modano’s efforts over the last few seasons.
“I just stopped doing what I was doing,” Modano said. “I got heavier. I didn’t eat very well. I kind of gave up on it. I thought the end was coming, was looking me in the face. I was like, ‘You know, I’m just going to have some fun and do what I can out there.’ I knew there was a transition happening, so I was like, ‘I’ll just try to hang on.’ I thought I was done, and these guys call.”
Modano went through his usual offseason routine, but not with the usual urgency, unsure of whether he would play again. He didn’t sign with the Wings until Aug. 5.
“I got here, and I was like, ‘Whoa, I’m way behind,’ ” Modano said.
Modano said he took vitamins to “get some things back in my body that 40-year-olds don’t produce anymore,” and he did extra work on off-days to shed about six or seven pounds, bringing him down to about 208 or 209. He started to feel better by late October, and after an eight-game stretch in which he didn’t record a point and was minus-8, he had a seven-game stretch in which he recorded six points and was plus-6.
Perhaps at Modano’s age and considering all of his accomplishments, he can be comfortable to make such comments without too many worries. His overall 2010-11 season stats (two goals and six assists for eight points in 19 games for a .42 point per game pace) are actually a bit inferior compared to the numbers he put up the last few seasons in Dallas, so in the grand scheme of things, it’s probably not that big of a deal.
That being said, it did cause some people to ask questions. Art Middelton of Defending Big D couldn’t help but wonder: “What if Modano actually gave 100 percent?”
But the real troubling fact about this revelation of Modano’s is that over the last two seasons the Stars have missed the playoffs by relatively narrow margins, so it begs the question: If Mike Modano had kept himself in shape and did more than ‘just try to hang on’ how much difference would that have made to the Stars in those seasons they just missed? Would he have been able to pick up another 20 goal season 08-09? Would he have been able to avoid injury and play a full season last year? Could have an in shape and fully focused Mike Modano helped give the Stars that last little extra push into the playoffs where all hockey fans know anything can happen once you get in?
Remember, one of the things that Modano said back in the fall when he joined the Red Wings was that he felt playing on the Stars didn’t give him that much of a chance to play for a winning team and that the previous non-playoff seasons had worn on him mentally. What if Modano had been in shape and as a result his improved play would have helped the Stars perform better over the last two years? How much different would things be? It’s almost a certainty that if this was the attitude Modano was pulling in the dressing room, then it’s little wonder Joe Nieuwendyk felt it was time to move on without the one time franchise player.
While I wonder how much of Modano’s production was really in his control, his comments open him up to some harsh questioning. Naturally, this situation will eventually blow over, but it’s pretty surprising to read such candid (and borderline flippant) comments from such a respected hockey player.