DALLAS — If Mike Modano plays a 21st season in the NHL, it won't be with the Dallas Stars.
The face of the franchise that proved hockey could thrive in the South will not be offered a contract by the Stars when free agency opens Thursday. That difficult decision had to be made by Modano's teammate-turned-boss, Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk.
They won a Stanley Cup together 11 years ago – the only title in franchise history — but the Stars have missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since moving from Minnesota in 1993. Nieuwendyk said the team needs to make room for younger players in trying to rebuild, and has too many players who need ice time at center.
"We have to try to find the next Mike Modano," Nieuwendyk said Tuesday. "We aren't going to find the same Mike Modano."
The 40-year-old Modano said last week he wasn't sure if would play for another team or retire if the Stars opted not to re-sign the NHL's highest-scoring U.S.-born player. He said he felt good and was keeping up with summer conditioning work like he would if he were planning to play.
There was no immediate word from Modano on Tuesday.
Nieuwendyk said Modano has been "terrific" as the team tried to decide whether to bring him back. He said their friendship is the same, punctuated by a 30-minute phone conversation Monday night even after Modano knew he wouldn't be back as a player.
"I know exactly what he's going through," Nieuwendyk said. "He's got a lot of emotions. He's been an icon in this city for a long time."
Nieuwendyk said he made the decision before free agency opened to give Modano the chance to talk to teams. The Stars have made it clear they want Modano in their front office, but that scenario is complicated by the team being up for sale.
The top pick in the 1988 draft by the Minnesota North Stars, Modano had 557 goals and 1,359 points in 1,459 games more than 20 full seasons. He helped Minnesota on a surprising run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1991 before winning the title in 1999 in Dallas and returning to the finals a year later. He is an eight-time All-Star and three-time Olympian.
"You're not going to replace Mike Modano," Nieuwendyk said. "Like all great players, at some point you have to turn the page."