– Former Little Caesars coach Chris Coury vividly remembers the first time he saw Mike Modano play — 26 years ago.
“I remember his first exhibition game … I was thinking to myself, ‘Wow. This kid’s a surefire NHLer,’” said Coury, who coached Modano during the 1984-85 season in the Detroit-based program. “I had no doubt in my mind from the first game he played with us. In practices, you could tell he had ability, but really, when he played the game you could see his ability to jump out at you.”
It’s this Michigan connection that makes the Red Wings’ courtship of Modano intriguing. During his tenure with Little Caesars, he skated at Joe Louis Arena — it would be fitting for him to finish his career on the same sheet of ice he started on.
“I think it would be amazing,” Coury said. “He would be in the limelight here with friends and family, which might be difficult on him, but the fact is I think it would be great for him to finish here, playing for the Red Wings, considering he really got his big start in the Little Caesars program.”
Modano hails from Westland, Michigan – about 30 miles west of Detroit – and his parents still reside in the area. But returning to his roots isn’t the only reason the Wings would be a fitting choice for the 40-year-old unrestricted free agent.
The Wings are known for their veteran leadership in the locker room, consistently ranking as one of the NHL’s oldest teams in terms of average age. Yet that hasn’t slowed them down. They won the Stanley Cup in 2008 as the NHL’s oldest team, with an average age of 31.8.
“It’s a veteran team, he’d have no problem fitting in,” said Larry Murphy, who played with Modano for two seasons on the Minnesota North Stars, which later became the Dallas Stars. “It’s a team whose goal is to win the championship, and I know that would be one of the driving forces for him to continue on playing.”
Modano, drafted No. 1 overall by the North Stars in 1988, has spent his entire 20-year NHL career with the franchise. It’s enticing to think he could join the likes of Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux, who retired after spending their entire storied careers with one organization.
But former Wings forward Basil McRae, Modano’s teammate from 1989-92, says joining another team won’t tarnish Modano’s accomplishments.
“Mike’s up there with those elite players that have played their whole career with the team that drafted them,” McRae said. “But then again, on the other hand, you’ve got Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr, who all played for different organizations. I think that’s a sacrifice Mike will have to make, but to me, it’s the benefits of maybe changing teams and changing your environment and having a chance to win a Cup. ... In this day and age, like I said, it is a nice thing (to play one’s whole career with one team), but Mike has accomplished so many goals and milestones that I don’t think it would bother him too much not to have that feather in his hat.”
An eight-time NHL All-Star, Modano is the all-time points leader among U.S.-born players with 1,359 points in 1,459 career games. The three-time Olympian is one of only six American-born players to be selected first overall in the NHL draft, and he even won a Cup in 1999. His elite resume would fit nicely beside Nicklas Lidstrom
, Pavel Datsyuk
and Henrik Zetterberg
And those who have played with Modano say he is the consummate teammate.
“As great of a player he is on the ice, he’s a great guy off the ice,” says McRae, who made a cameo appearance alongside Modano in the 1992 film “The Mighty Ducks”.
Murphy agreed, saying, “I see him during the season, and he’s just a terrific guy.”
Modano’s no longer in the prime of his career, but he still has a lot to offer if he chooses. And Murphy hopes Modano chooses to round out his career with his hometown team.
“He’s still going to be an impact guy, and he’d make the Wings a better team,” Murphy said. “So it’d be exciting for him to come home and play. ... I would sure try to convince him to join the Wings.”