CHICAGO -- He's 38 years old now and the phone just wasn’t ringing when the season started.
So John Madden kept training three days a week and also watched a lot of hockey while he patiently waited for some team to call about him playing center for them. That team was ultimately the Florida Panthers, who signed him on Jan. 4 to man the middle of their third line -- but not before the silence of his phone got him thinking about his career.
Madden won the 2010 Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks and then signed last season as a free agent with the Minnesota Wild before heading out into the open mark again last summer.
Did he think his playing days might be over at any point?
"Oh, for sure," Madden said. "It's a new game and a lot of teams are going with young, talented kids and seeing what they've got. Reluctantly I thought it might be the end of the line, but I told myself it wasn't and tried to stay in shape the best I could -- even though I thought the writing was on the wall, so to speak. I was glad to get a phone call from (Panthers GM Dale Tallon)."
While he waited for that call, Madden worked out three days a week on the ice and several days a week off ice -- also watching a lot of hockey and wondering why certain teams hadn't called his agent.
"I think that's the part that hurt the most," Madden said. "I'm not being conceded or anything like that, but having watched a lot of the hockey games this season -- and for some reason I've watched more hockey this year than I have my entire life, at least two or three games a night and possibly seven a week -- yeah, those thoughts went through my mind. I was thinking, 'I know I could still play,' and I still wanted to play. That's the biggest part. You know you've had enough when you don't want to play anymore."
Madden hadn't reached that point yet, but he was getting close after busting his tail in workouts and not having a guarantee that it would pay off at all.
"It's hard to just go at it by yourself," said Madden, who only spent one season in Chicago and won two other Cup titles with the New Jersey Devils. "I never really thought it would be that hard, but the motivation has to be there within yourself in order to get up and do it every single day. There was no guarantees. It's not like you're going to training camp. That was a hard thing I had to fight though on most days, but I stayed with it somewhat."
Madden has yet to register a point for the Panthers in the five games he's played, but he's won 52.1 percent of his faceoffs and logged 14:33 of ice time per game.