Mike Modano admits he ‘kind of gave up’ on last few seasons with Dallas Stars

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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.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.