Yesterday the AP published a pretty typical "will he or won't he?" piece on Mike, taking advantage of his availability at Texas Motor Speedway when he was unable to drive the pace car for the rain delayed Drive-Cars-in-Circle 500 or whatever it's called.
You can see Mo pictured here, looking as cool as only Mike Modano can. I saw the images in our editor software yesterday afternoon and something just didn't feel right to me. Even after all the hoopla of the last several weeks, seeing Mike Modano AP images outside the realm of stick and puck was a little disconcerting. Is this is it? Is this the Modano we get now? He'll do "appearances," showing up here and there around town; Smiling for the camera. A celebrity. A face?
Then he started talking about how he was "on the fence" and I found that I'm pretty "on the fence" about all of this too.
The guy who really must be on the fence, though, is Joe Nieuwendyk. Mike's recent quotes are littered with little hints that he hasn't actually been told that he can come back next year if he wants to. This is something that some focused on during that last week of the season (Dan McDowell of The Ticket for instance) but I didn't want to talk about it then. I think everyone was a lot happier just celebrating the guy, just in case. But now that he's been celebrated and it's all over, it's fair to ask the question in this space:
Would they take him back? Or do they prefer that he retire?
We can't know what conversations they've had privately, but indications are that they've had only limited dialogue on the subject. The AP report says:
This time, Modano doesn't have a contract for the following season and has yet to discuss one with general manager and former teammate Joe Nieuwendyk.
"That will be something that's down the road as well. There's no rush to decide on that," Modano said. "I think Joe's kind of given me the leeway to kind of take my time and make a good decision and come back and talk to him a few times, see how they feel. ... I've known Joe for years and he's been really honest and open about the whole scenario, so that's been nice."
Which is kind of shocking to hear to some, because when you ask Modano about that, what you'd like to hear as a Stars fan is "The team would like to have me back, so I'll factor that into my decision." or at least "Joe has said he will support ANY decision I make."
Nieuwendyk (or Crawford?) specifically mentioned Jere Lehtinen in the exit interviews done last week in Frisco as someone who they would like to have back. There's been no such talk about Modano, and you'd think that if they were indeed willing to bring Mike back, they'd have mentioned it by now. Instead there's this very akward silence about the whole deal.
Now to be fair, Nieuwendyk probably doesn't want to tip his hand too early. He doesn't know how contract negotiations with Brad Richards will pan out, and that (along with any potential trades done over the summer closer to July) will have an effect on the teams needs at center. There's also money to consider and a blanket "Yeah, Mike can play if he wants to" statement would adversley affect GM Joe's financial bargaining position where Modano is concerned.
Still. It's MIKE MODANO. Even when you take all that into consideration, don't you have to make an exception for Mike-stinking-Modano?
I'm not saying that they don't want him back. I am only trying to read the clues and sift through the evidence. The aforementioned BaD radio talked to Mike about this very thing before the season is over and asked him point blank:
BaD Radio (Dan, I think): I'm asking you do you think that's a possibility this summer, that the Stars might say, ‘Hey Mike, it's been fun.'
Modano: Yea, yea. I'm sure that's on the list and that's a possibility. Certainly with the move of [Jamie] Benn to center and then you got [Tom] Wandell coming back from his leg surgery so there are your four centers there so you're kind of wondering...you're on the outside looking in at that point when those guys get healthy and they're back at training camp. So yea, that would probably be a decision they might throw at me.
I heard that live and it pained me to hear him answer it like that. Again, I expected him to say "No, that would never happen, I would never go anywhere else and they told me I can play if I feel like I can still be productive..." Blah, blah, blah.
What about the other side of the coin?
Are you a better hockey team next season without Mike Modano than with him? Joe has to consider the possibility. Pending off-season departures (I think we all feel certain the potential for Center movement involves departures, not arrivals) it's a hard question to answer, but think it through with only the players currently on the team. Is Jamie Benn ready to lead an attack and balance the offense as a third line center? Is the difference between Modano as a 4th line guy and Sutherby as a 4th line guy so small that you'd rather just save the money?
What about special teams? 10 power play points sure, but 13 total minutes on the penalty kill all season long. Seriously. He went from 2 minutes per game on the PK in 2008-2009, to an average of 13 seconds a game in 2009-2010. So they won't miss him there.
Still, call it nostalgia or "good old days" syndrome or whatever you want: But I wouldn't mind seeing Modano on the team next year.
He told the AP yesterday, regarding missing the playoffs: "That's the hard part. You leave on a real bad taste in your mouth about how we played," Modano said. "That too is a real motivating factor because you hate to end on that type of note. You like to go in the playoffs, make a good run and have some excitement. ... But then you have a type of run like that and you're like, 'Hey, let's do it again next year."
We talked on Defending Big D Live last week about how it might feel a little weird to see him come back after the tremendous goodbye's and emotions of the preceding days, but just a week later, seeing Mike in street clothes being "Mike the Celebrity" instead of "Mike the Hockey Player," I already miss him out there. The question is: Does Joe Nieuwendyk?