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Modano Plans Return for 19th Season
By Ken Sins
Mike Modano will mark his 38th year on the planet in June, and for most professional athletes, that’s geezer status.

Not for the Stars’ center, however. Modano still looks at least 10 years younger, and that’s how he performed on the ice this season.

Modano is all but assured of returning for a 19th season with the franchise. He has two years left on his five-year contract, and the NHL’s all-time leading U.S.-born scorer with 528 goals will again center one of the team’s top three lines.

He avoided the injuries that reduced his contributions to 59 games in 2006-07, registering 21 goals and 57 points in 82 regular-season games while averaging almost 20 minutes of ice time. Then he chipped in with five goals and 12 points in the playoffs.

“It’s a year-at-a-time thing right now,’’ Modano said. “It’s been that way for a while. When I signed my five-year deal, I thought I’d finish my five years out and then really take a look at where I’m at.

“Once the fun’s gone and once the repetitive part of coming in every day to get that level up of competing, being motivated, gets old, that will have a lot to do with it. But this is a good bunch of guys, I’m having fun, I feel good health-wise. I feel that the game’s not passing me by, so I’ll hang around.

“Sometimes the game feels easy, sometimes it doesn’t. That happens with age. There’s a pride factor that goes into it. When it is time to say goodbye, you cut the cord and let it go. You hope that you’ve drained every last ounce you had in you and you have no regrets, no doubts about leaving the game.’’

Modano spent much of last season centering the checking line, which reduced his scoring changes. He also filled in on the wing when needed, and he manned a slot on the power-play and penalty-killing units.

The Stars integrated a number of younger players into the mix last season, with Modano taking on more of a secondary position. But that shouldn’t diminish his importance to the team.

“Obviously the role changes a little bit,’’ Modano said. “There’s an up-and-coming nucleus of guys who are gonna continue the tradition with the organization and the value that we’ve put into this team for a long time. If I’m a supporting part of that, I’m fine with that.’’

Even if Modano had any serious thoughts of retirement, Brett Hull, his close friend and the team’s co-general manager, would talk him out of it.

Asked about Hull’s input into his decision, Modano smiled and said, “Brett wouldn’t let me do it.’’

“He’s too good a player to leave,’ Hull said. “He’s still one of the top five best all-around players in this game. Being able to play defense, being able to provide offense, the way he can skate and run a power play and kill penalties, name guys who can do all that in our game today. Even though he’s 37 years old, he’s an asset that I’d bet 30 teams would take.’’

Of his friendship with Hull, Modano said, “He’s been a real big fan. I’ve enjoyed working with him. Our relationship is very close. If they still think of me that way and if I can somewhat play to that level, I’ll hang around.’’

Dallas’ lengthy playoff run was a sign of progress for the franchise, which had lost its previous four post-season series. Brenden Morrow, Mike Ribeiro, Stephane Robidas, Niklas Hagman, Loui Eriksson, Trevor Daley and Antti Miettinen all enjoyed career-best seasons.  Marty Turco made progress as a money goalie with two series wins and then extending Detroit to six games in the Western Conference finals. Young defensemen Daley, Nicklas Grossman, Matt Niskanen and Mark Fistric got valuable experience, and veteran blueliners Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher are expected to return to health after injury-plagued seasons.

The Stars also added Brad Richards at the trade deadline, with Richards and Ribeiro projected as the team’s top two centers in 2008-09.

“There was a series of ups and downs and a lot of changes, but to be able to put it together at the end and have the run we had is pretty rewarding,’’ Modano said. “Going into the playoffs, we probably weren’t thought of too highly because of the way March ended. But we came back and surprised a lot of people and made it a hockey town again and brought some fans back with a playoff run that’s been long overdue.’’

Winning the first two playoff games of the opening round in Anaheim gave the Stars a spark, and after completing the upset of the Ducks, they went on to knock off another Cup favorite, the San Jose Sharks, in six games.

“The series against Anaheim was a real eye-opener to what this spring could mean to us and what we’re capable of doing and the level we’re capable of playing at. That got us going,’’ Modano said. “That woke us up to the situation that this could be a fun spring.’’

The Stars still lack a pure goal-scorer in the mold of Hull, a commodity Modano thinks could push the team to another level. But the players trusted in coach Dave Tippett’s tight-checking style, and the results were impressive.

“Our game plan allowed us to play very competitively even though we were missing (a big-time scorer),’’ Modano said. “Dave did a good job of understanding the personnel we have, applying a game plan that suited those players. It does change when you have those types of offensive players that Detroit or Pittsburgh has.’’

Tippett is pleased that Modano will apparently be back.

“The older players on our team are still great players who still have a lot they can contribute to our team and Mo is part of that,’’ Tippett said. “He still has an impact on the game. When he stops doing that, that’s when you’ll probably see him (retire).’’

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