Stars' bad timing clocks Modano era

My first inclination when I think about the sad, untimely departure of Mike Modano from the Stars this week is to blame Tom Hicks.

Why not? He has totally screwed up the Rangers and, if their hands remain tied at the trade deadline, may well cost them a real shot at their first division championship in more than a decade.

He's put himself in position to be the No. 1 scapegoat for anything that goes wrong. Stock market crashes? Blame Hicks. Oil on Florida beaches? Blame Hicks. Water too tepid in the shower? Blame Hicks.

Truth be told, if Hicks hadn't messed things up so badly with the Stars that it cost him his decision-making power, Modano would still be with the Stars today, at least in the front office if not on the ice.

Cutting ties with Modano wasn't a Tom Hicks decision. He has no say anymore.

No, this was a Joe Nieuwendyk decision, and it was about what the Stars general manager feels Mo can -- and can't -- deliver on the ice. It was, in Nieuwendyk's mind, about moving the Stars forward.

While I concede that Nieuwendyk knows far more about hockey than I will ever know, I simply beg to disagree with that assessment.

"This was a tough decision that Joe Nieuwendyk had to make," Jeff Cogen, the Stars president, said Wednesday. "Whether you agree or disagree, give him credit for making the hard decision that in his mind will best help the Dallas Stars return to winning championships."

OK, kudos to Joe for making the tough call, maybe the toughest in franchise history, right up there with firing Ken Hitchcock and Bob Gainey.

But are you telling me Modano wasn't one of the Stars' top nine forwards? I'd argue that he was in the top six. In fact, while at age 40 he's not the player he once was, he can still outplay most of the 20-year-olds when it comes to helping out on special teams and in pure skating.

Nieuwendyk, a teammate of Modano's when the Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999, simply decided it was time for the team to move on without the face of the franchise.

He had to ask himself tough questions, I'm sure. He had to think about the chemistry in the locker room and how the 20-year-olds would take the special accommodations a player of Modano's stature and fame would obviously require. Could Nieuwendyk justify re-signing Modano to a new contract without even knowing who might own the club in another two months?

Whether he's right or whether he's wrong, it was the absolute worst possible timing to have to make such a decision.

You think Cogen -- whose own contract expired Wednesday, by the way -- is really looking forward to selling season tickets without Modano in a Stars uniform? Or with Marty Turco gone, too? Heck, the Stars' ice girls are probably more recognizable than most of the players on this team.

The saddest thing of all is that Modano might well have simply announced his retirement as a player if the Stars had been able or willing to offer him some sort of front office job, something that will almost certainly be available at some point in the future, once the ownership situation is settled. Unfortunately, no one in the Stars' organization was willing, or had the power, to make that offer -- the team is essentially in the hands of the NHL while three potential new owners are scrutinized.

Hicks, I'm told by those who should know, could and would have saved Modano, would have kept Mo's Stars ties intact, if he hadn't already let things spin out of control and out of his hands.

So now Modano moves on. For the first time ever, he doesn't know where he'll be playing hockey next season, or if he'll even be playing. He'd probably like it on the West Coast, or maybe in Detroit, which is essentially where he grew up.

But Dallas is his home now. He's adopted it, and we adopted him a long time ago.

I've always said that if there's anyone I know whose life I'd like to live, it was Modano's. Rich, talented, handsome, carefree and perpetually 16, he always seemed on top of the world.

Today? Not so much.

He'll be back, though, back on top and, my guess is, back at the AAC in a different uniform, wearing that mischievous grin, his long hair blowing back over his shoulders as he whirls down the ice. Will he score? Probably. I hope so … I think.

Sadly, most of us won't know whether to stand and cheer or to throw up.

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.