Skip to comments.Modano: 'Over time, the pain goes away' (barf alert)
Posted on 02/08/2004 10:45:47 AM PST by Texas Federalist
FRISCO The face of the Dallas Stars still has the familiar stubble, but now, more often than not, the jaw is clenched.
The luminous smile flashes less often. And those smiles seem to be forced through gritted teeth.
Mike Modano is having a poor season. But his nine-goal output in 50 games isn't what family and friends find most disconcerting.
Nor is it the several million dollars he lost in bad investments, a jolt he says contributed to his slow start this season. Although Modano appears to have put the personal issues and a groin injury behind him, as evidenced by his recent play, people close to him are concerned.
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More Stars What is most unsettling to Modano's loved ones is what has happened to his general outlook, his affability, his faith in people.
"You don't trust a single soul anymore," says Modano while sitting in the players' lounge at the Stars' practice facility, his tone and expression as cold as the nearby rink.
"Mom and Dad are easy, but anybody else, no."
Mike Modano Sr., who came to Dallas last fall for separate, two-week moral-support visits, is disheartened to hear his son talk so cynically.
"And at that young age, too," he adds ruefully.
Modano, 33, says that for legal reasons he cannot discuss specifics of his financial losses or what he did in October and November to remedy the situation.
"I just eliminated some people that I trusted. That took advantage of the situation," he says, referring to former business manager Bob Murray and two of Murray's associates. "I eliminated all those people from my life."
Murray, whom Modano hired in 1999 after firing longtime agent Howard Gourwitz, has an unlisted home phone number and could not be reached for comment through any of the businesses registered in his name.
The way Modano sees it, the less said by all involved, the better. He says that reports of his financial problems were "so blown out of proportion it was scary," emphasizes that the issue ceased being an on-ice problem two months ago, and adds that he is thrilled with his restructured business and personal life.
"You heard rumors going through town that, 'Oh my God, it was $20 million, $25 million,' " says Modano, adding that the losses were less than $5 million.
"But the money wasn't such a big thing as trust. That was the killer. It's like getting punched in the gut for three months, every day."
Still a chance Difficult as it is at times, Modano's focus and energy seem trained on the present.
Certainly, and perhaps fortunately, there are plenty of incentives.
He is the team captain, a role he assumed this season after Derian Hatcher signed with Detroit last summer.
Above all, a season that seemed all but lost for the team and Modano two months ago now is more than salvageable on both fronts.
The Stars are 9-2-1-0 in their last 12 games and have surged to within five points of first-place San Jose in the Pacific Division. Modano has scored 14 points in his last 17 games, but he's still sheepish about playing in Sunday's NHL All-Star Game in St. Paul, Minn. He actually considered not going until his father told him that it would be disrespectful to fans who voted for him.
"It's tough to accept the fact that I'm an All-Star this year," Modano says.
He is thankful that the media and Stars fans have, in effect, cut him slack, perhaps not unlike the way Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman rarely was harshly criticized during his final injury-filled, less productive seasons.
Modano, like Aikman, has skins on the wall: two Stanley Cup finals, including the 1999 title, and eight All-Star team selections.
"Good things happen for continuous years in a row, you have some things back in the bank," Modano says.
"I think fans just more or less want to see an effort. That's basically what they're asking. They can tell when they're watching if it's not there, and they'll let you know."
Frustrations on the ice His past success, however, has made this season all the more difficult. Modano says he was in a comfort zone of typically producing about 30 goals and 80 points per year. He describes this season as a shock to his system.
"It's the last thing you think about when you go to bed and the first thing you think about when you get up," he says. "It's constantly on your mind, one way or the other, throughout the course of the day.
"That's draining, more than anything. When so many good things happen to you, when they suddenly don't happen, you really don't know how to handle that."
Everyone knows that Modano isn't a rah-rah guy.
He doesn't have the forceful personality of Hatcher, the Stars' captain of nine seasons. But Modano's close friend and former Star Brett Hull scoffs at any suggestion that the captaincy is weighing on Modano.
"That's the biggest farce in the world," he says. "All a captain does is talk to the coach once in a while and talk to the refs. In this day and age, teams have so much leadership, tons of guys are capable of being captain."
This is Hull's third season in Detroit, and he and Modano talk by phone a couple of times a week. Hull still lives in Dallas, and they are off-season golf buddies.
"To me, he's still one of the top three players in the NHL," Hull says.
"Your career goes through ebbs and flows. Maybe this is just a little ebb for him."
Modano says being the captain has had no bearing on his performance. He served as interim captain previously, notably during the 1999-2000 season, when a leg injury sidelined Hatcher for eight weeks. Modano had 38 goals and 81 points that season.
"I think it's just people digging for reasons why we came out of the gate so bad and why I came out of the gate so bad," Modano says.
What, then? How could a player of Modano's caliber have a plus/minus ratio of minus-16, especially after being plus-34 last season, sixth-best in the NHL? Plus/minus is determined by team performance when a player is on the ice. He receives a plus when his team scores an even-strength or short-handed goal, a minus if the opponent scores an even-strength or short-handed goal.
Modano says that the groin injury interrupted his progress but that for the last three weeks he's felt strong physically.
"I'm beyond asking questions anymore, 'why this?' or 'why that?' If I did, I'd probably be in a straitjacket, sitting within padded walls."
Modano credits Stars coach Dave Tippett, general manager Doug Armstrong, president Jim Lites and his teammates for their support and understanding while he worked through his off- and on-ice issues.
"The easy thing to do is jump on Mike and say, 'You're not doing this, you're not doing that,' " Tippett says. "But you have to realize that he's doing that way more than we are. So there has to be some kind of support system."
The night after sitting down with The Dallas Morning News, Modano scored a key power-play goal in a comeback win over Ottawa. Two nights later, he assisted on the game-winner against San Jose, perhaps confirming Tippett's belief that his most important player is breaking through.
In one sense, it's a positive sign that less heralded players have been instrumental in the team's surge. But everyone in the organization knows that in the long run, a team is only as good as its best players.
"The ability to overcome situations that sometimes are in your control and sometimes out of your control can be tough," Tippett says. "But that's what makes star players star players. At some point in their career, they've battled adversity and come out on top."
Another new start This isn't the first time Modano has been forced to restructure his life.
It isn't the first time he has been kicked in the gut. Or the first time his early-season play suffered because of it.
In 1999-2000, he suffered a concussion and broken nose in the season's second game, broke off his engagement to Kerri Nelson and came to the sobering realization that "I was paying too many people for not doing anything."
That led him to hire Murray and others to look after his $43.5 million contract. On the eve of the playoffs that April, he talked excitedly about impending technology and Internet ventures.
"It's taken me 11 years to get the right people around me," he remarked. "Over time, the pain goes away."
Late last summer, the pain returned.
"When I heard that he was having financial problems, it was kind of devastating, to be honest with you," says Lites, who signed Modano in August to a one-year, $9.5 million extension for the 2004-2005 season. At the time, Murray, who is not a licensed NHL player agent, still oversaw Modano's business affairs.
Aside from contract negotiations, sports franchises as a general rule separate themselves from players' personal financial affairs. The exception is when the player asks for help. Modano asked.
The Stars pointed Modano in the direction of attorneys and financial consultants, although they were careful to stay out of his decision-making.
When Lites or anyone else in the organization talks of Modano, it is never in neutral terms. They talk about everything he has done for the organization, on and off the ice.
They talk about what an intent listener he is, how sensitive he is to others' feelings, how averse he is to confrontation.
"Anything that's bad for Mike is bad for our organization," Lites says. "In that sense, some of that [helping him] is selfish, but a lot of it isn't. A lot of it is, we really like him. Helping Mike Modano out, for me, is a privilege."
Modano's father says his son's loyalty to friends and his trusting nature probably made him vulnerable.
Because he grew up in Boston, Modano Sr. vividly recalls agent Alan Eagleson steering Bruins superstar Bobby Orr to near-bankruptcy during the late '70s.
"There's other people who got hurt a lot worse than Mike, but that was years ago, and you figure that's not going to happen anymore," Modano Sr. says. "But every once in a while, it pops up again."
Modano, like many hockey players, left his hometown, Livonia, Mich., at age 16 to play junior hockey in Canada, then jumped straight from junior hockey to the professional ranks.
"We're not college graduates," he says. "We don't have a business degree. We kind of trust people to help in those situations."
Fortunately, Modano says, the financial damage this time wasn't nearly as bad as he initially feared.
Of course, he knows that the public is skeptical. He knows the fact that his six-bedroom, seven-bath, 11,435-square-foot Highland Park home is on the market for $7.99 million will stoke speculation that he is in financial straits.
Actually, Modano is in the process of purchasing what his real estate agent Eleanor Mowery Sheets describes as a "very exclusive, architecturally significant multimillion-dollar" home in Dallas that will give him more privacy and better suit his lifestyle.
Hockey skeptics, too, should know this about Modano's resiliency: In that tumultuous 1999-2000 season, he got off to a horrible start but caught fire in late January and scored 22 goals and 46 points during the final 35 games.
This season is still recoupable and, Modano is glad to report, so is some of his money.
"It's not all forgotten," he says, his jaws clenching again. "It's not all just a wash."
Trade Modano. Keep the real hockey players like Bill Guerin and Marty Turco.
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