Ilitch reminisced about a similar situation eight years ago, when the Wings signed two prolific players nearing the end of their careers.
“As you all recall, we had (Luc) Robitaille and (Brett) Hull come,” Ilitch said, “and they came here to want to win a Cup, and they won a Cup. That’s a good omen.”
Robitaille, then 36-years-old, and Hull, then 37-years-old, both wanted to play for the team that had the best chance to win, and signed deals with Detroit—and they ended up capturing the 2002 Stanley Cup.
Although Modano initially felt that his playing career was, “emotionally and mentally” finished, meeting with Wings general manager Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock in July changed his mind.
“I guess coming in here to visit those guys and talking with them certainly does get you excited about the opportunity that is here,” Modano said. “Having the talent and the players that they have here, and of course the organization — the way they’re operated, everybody in the league has been chasing the Red Wings for years, but no one has come close. I’m just elated, I think it’s exciting to come home.”
Modano was raised in suburban Detroit and grew-up playing for the Little Caesars AAA hockey program, but until now had spent his entire 20-season career with the Dallas Stars’ organization, the franchise which drafted him No. 1 overall in 1988. So when Holland saw Modano’s name on the list of unrestricted free agents on July 1, he knew the 40-year-old Michigan native and the Wings would complement one another.
“We thought it was a perfect fit to bring Mike back home,” Holland said. “We’ve had a lot of success with older players playing really good hockey for us. ... We’ve had a lot of success here through the years with players coming back and playing great ... And to be here with everybody today and to introduce that Mike is a Red Wing, it’s a very, very exciting day for me and it’s a very, very exciting day for the franchise.
“Obviously, Mike knows that his role is probably going to be a little different here than it was in Dallas, but I think we have a lot of different weapons in the locker room that on different nights can give us a chance to win. I think Mike is going to be one of those guys.”
Modano agreed, saying that at his age and with what he’s already accomplished as a player, the opportunity to win has become his main priority. He is the NHL’s leading American-born scorer with 1,359 points in 1,459 games, and has one a Stanley Cup and an Olympic silver medal on his resume.
“I think the opportunity to win is something you are always chasing after when you get older,” he said. “You know, quite frankly, if (the Wings) probably didn’t have a chance to win, I probably wouldn’t have came. I would have been finished and retired. I think at this age, you want to have fun and you want to win. I think there was, really for me personally as far as my career went, there wasn’t much more to obtain except for winning and having fun. I think the last few years have been draining, and they haven’t been as successful as we hoped they would be in Dallas, and I figured I was done. But certainly, to have the chance to play with some world-class players and this team certainly changed that.”
It helped that he could use Hull as a sounding board before making his decision to sign with Detroit.
Modano has a long history with Hull. They were teammates on the Stars for three seasons before Hull departed for Detroit for the 2001-02 season, and now that Hull is in Dallas’ front office as the executive vice president, they see each other constantly. So Modano went to him for advice, along with Chris Chelios and Todd Bertuzzi
. All three told him that coming to Detroit would be the best fit for him.
“I had long talks with Brett, I see him every day in Dallas,” Modano said. “And with (Chelios) as well, I had a lot of talks with him. I called Todd Bertuzzi
, I’ve known Todd for years. Just thoughts on that, just those three guys were a big impact. I know Brett had to make a big decision to leave in Dallas, but everybody has always said the same thing, it’s a great opportunity, great organization, great team. An opportunity to win, and have fun, and enjoy it. They’ve all said the same thing.”
Hopefully Modano can repeat the success that Hull had eight seasons ago, and win a Cup with his friends and family in Hockeytown cheering him on.