NEW PLAYERS 7
NEW RULES HURT
ETTER THAN '03-04? NO
Since he last played, Mike Modano has celebrated two birthdays, passing the time like a retiree--fishing, playing golf, traveling. After the most dismal season of his NHL career (14 goals, 30 assists and a -21 rating), he needed the break. But while many critics called for the 35-year-old center to call it quits, he never intended to settle into a life of ease, re-signing with Dallas in August for $17.3 million over five years. Can he bounce back and become a 30-goal scorer again? "[My age] has been brought up, but it's tough to say who are the comparables. Steve [Yzerman] and Mark [Messier]?" says Modano, noting two stars who remained productive into their late 30s.
Though the Stars added gritty blueliners Trevor Daley, 21, and Martin Skoula, 25, their success this season will largely depend on Modano, 35-year-old defenseman Sergei Zubov and the nine other thirtysomethings on their roster. "Experience playing with one another is huge," says 30-year-old center Jason Arnott. "Our core players and top lines have all played together. We have that chemistry."
Perhaps, but all that familiarity has yielded just one playoff series victory in three seasons. Goaltender Marty Turco, 30, shined in the 2003--04 regular season with 37 wins and a 1.98 goals-against average, but his average ballooned to 3.32 in the Stars' first-round loss to the Avalanche in the playoffs, and his career postseason record is 7-10. Forward Bill Guerin, a 40-goal scorer with Boston in '01-02, has only one assist in his past two playoffs with Dallas. And Modano, who admitted that being distracted by bad investments that cost him millions partially contributed to his poor performance last season, scored only one goal in the '03-04 postseason.
"Maybe that year off helped," says coach Dave Tippett. "[Mike] is a very motivated player, partly because he has a lot to prove. I think you will see the best of Mike Modano." --Y.Y.
There's heavy pressure on coach Dave Tippett. This team has underachieved in each of his two seasons.