Stars' Modano mulls retirement

Among all the accolades, Modano holds the record for career points (1,233) by a U.S.-born player. Kyle Terada/US Presswire

DALLAS -- Mike Modano knows he's going to feel a rush of emotion as he skates onto the American Airlines Center ice on Thursday for the Stars' final home game of the season.

After all, that could be the last time he skates in front of the Dallas fans after 22 years with the same organization. He remains the face of a franchise that moved from Minnesota to Dallas in 1993.

"This could be it for me," Modano said this week. "I'll be thinking about that."

The 39-year-old hasn't decided what he's going to do next season. He could retire from the game he's played nearly his entire life and do so as a lifelong Stars legend. Few business professionals these days, let alone athletes, work for the same employer their entire careers. He has an interest in becoming a minority partner in whichever new ownership group may take over the Stars. But beyond that, he isn't sure what he'd do if he didn't have a dressing room locker or a sweater to wear.

He could end up wanting to return to the ice, but might not be a proper fit in Dallas. If he played elsewhere, it would be a similar ending to the career of former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, who finished his playing days with the Arizona Cardinals.

Or maybe Modano decides to hang it up with his final game in Minnesota on Saturday in front of his parents, wife and plenty of Minnesota fans who remember him fondly.

"That will be emotional for me," Modano said. "It's a hard decision to make."

And it's one that will require some more thought on Modano's part and for general manager Joe Nieuwendyk and the Stars organization.

"I want to be open and honest with him and I want him to be a part of the process," Nieuwendyk said. "That's what he deserves. He needs time to digest everything. There aren't any quick decisions right now. He has to take some time and think about things. When you finish a season in your late 30s, you have to reflect and look at it."

Nieuwendyk and Modano had breakfast together last week and discussed the various possibilities.

"I think health is one factor and I think mentally is another one," Modano said. "It's also where I would be slotted as a player here -- what am I going to do, where am I going to play, how am I going to be used? I've got to renegotiate my deal if I'm going to play again too."

Modano said physically that he feels good, though travel wears on him more than it used to, especially back-to-back games. But that can be monitored and even this past season he didn't participate in certain morning skates or practices just to rest his body.

"You also pull back a little bit in the summer," Modano said. "You don't want to beat yourself up in the summer like you could to when you were younger. You could recover and train hard and longer, now it's shorter and it's fewer days."
Modano said it's more the mental part of the game that has taxed him this season. The Stars failed to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year, something that hasn't happened since Modano was drafted first overall by the North Stars in 1988.

Modano said the daily grind is something that "chips away at you slowly." He acknowledged that this was one of the tougher seasons he's endured.

"I was really excited with Crow [head coach Marc Crawford] and I was looking forward to it," Modano said. "We discussed a few things prior to the year how I would be used. Then I get hurt with 30 seconds left in the first game and I miss a month and now it's catch-up and now our team is trying to catch up throughout the year and make up points to get back in the race.

"Then we get back and we kind of tail off. For me, mentally, there was no good flow. You're in and out and don't play well. There were constant start and stops."

If Modano feels that he can mentally and physically withstand another season, which would be his 21st full one in the NHL, he and Nieuwendyk must figure out if the then 40-year-old Modano fits on the club.

The Stars have plenty of depth at center with the emergence of Jamie Benn, along with Brad Richards, Tom Wandell, Mike Ribeiro and Toby Petersen.

Modano played much of the 2009-10 season as a fourth-line player with some power-play time. But the Stars want to see what Benn and others can do on the power play next season, which would cut into Modano's time on the ice. He said he'd consider playing on the wing, but the Stars have plenty of talented forwards searching for more responsibility.

Nieuwendyk is putting together a plan based on building a team around the foundational pieces of the club, which includes younger players with upside. That also means asking some other players to become leaders in the dressing room. Does that get easier if Modano isn't there?

It might. By no fault of his own, the presence of Modano has probably kept some in the dressing room from fully embracing leadership roles. Younger players, as they should, defer to Modano in that room. If he's not there, maybe they would feel a little more freedom to express themselves.

So Modano and the Stars have many questions that need answers. Certain trades and possibilities in the summer could alter the thinking for both sides.

Modano said he doesn't want things to end with him watching the playoffs from his couch or a lounge chair in Cabo and knowing he won't be back on the ice.

"We'll just have to see how things play out and how I feel about it once the season is over," Modano said.

For now, he'll soak up every minute of the final two games and try to enjoy himself.

"I want to have fun," Modano said. "I want to play well for the home fans and then it should be interesting to finish the season up there. It is kind of rare and ironic that it ends in Minnesota if it does."

Richard Durrett covers the Stars for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.