Hockey has taken a back seat for former Dallas Stars captain Mike Modano.
The 44-year-old Hall of Famer and his wife, professional golfer Allison Micheletti (daughter of former NHLer Joe Micheletti), recently celebrated the birth of twins Jack and Kate.
But even while juggling a pair of newborns, Modano has time to get excited about the changes underway for a Dallas Stars team building toward the future.
Last summer, newly hired general manager Jim Nill acquired Tyler Seguin via trade with the Boston Bruins, a move that was met with some skepticism because of questions about Seguin’s character.
Seguin, however, thrived and helped make the Stars one of the most exciting young teams. And the club made the playoffs for the first time in six years.
This summer, Nill added another elite center, trading for Ottawa Senators captain Jason Spezza to give the Stars a formidable one-two punch down the middle. Nill also signed skilled winger Ales Hemsky to a three-year, $12 million deal.
"I think it’s been very positive, a kind of piece-by-piece process, but that pretty much goes with a lot of teams rebuilding. Bits and pieces become available, there are big trades to acquire the personnel you want and Jim did that with the Seguin deal," Modano told ESPN.com in a phone conversation. "Energetic youth comes in and kind of has a lot of work ethic, and obviously this summer [Nill] gets that No. 2 center, so taking care of Spezza was a big deal.
"They have the pieces and the personnel, it’s just a matter of whether it will come together."
Trades for top playmaking centers like Seguin and Spezza don’t come by often and they aren’t easy to make, but Modano — who helped bring Dallas a Stanley Cup in 1999 — wasn’t surprised Nill was able to pull it off in consecutive offseasons.
Modano, regarded as one of the best U.S.-born centers to play the game, has known Nill for a long time and knows he has a savvy hockey mind. Nill understands how to treat his players, as well as the business side of the game.
"I think it says a lot about Jim Nill. Good GMs around the league have a way of luring good players to play for their organization," said Modano, who had 561 goals and 1,374 points in 1,499 NHL games. "That comes with his history with the [Detroit Red] Wings, working with [GM] Kenny Holland, [owner Mike] Ilitch.
"You create some opportunities for individuals getting a second chance or reinventing themselves as players. He’s kind of got that asset to him that he’s able to do that and get them excited about being here. The stability with ownership here, that does a lot, too."
Nill and the Stars’ ownership can’t really afford to sit back and be patient, though. Given the absurd level of competition in the stacked Central Division, teams feel tremendous pressure to make themselves better with each offseason.
"The division is fast, skilled, big, a lot of those components," Modano said. "You try to keep up with the Joneses or you get passed by."
But he doesn’t see that happening. He thinks the Stars should be able to earn another postseason berth in 2015.
"If they can get out of the gates strong the first few months, they can give themselves some breathing room," Modano said. "Though they still might have to scratch and claw down to the last week."
Just this past year, Modano has taken on the role of executive adviser and alternate governor with the Stars. It allows him to be around the team and help out more than he did immediately after retiring in 2011. He might become more involved in the future, but for right now he is happy with how things are going.
After all, having two newborns doesn’t leave him much free time. Or sleep, for that matter.
"As time goes by, there are little niches I enjoy doing that hopefully evolve into something, a bigger responsibility going forward, down the road," Modano said. "But for right now, I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing."
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