August 6, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Mike Modano happy to be home with Wings; Mike Ilitch is giddy

Red Wings introduce Mike Modano
Red Wings introduce Mike Modano: GM Ken Holland , owner Mike Ilitch and Modano speak about the veteran scorer joining the team.


Mike Modano found the right place, the place he left as a kid decades ago, the place where older -- excuse me, savvier -- hockey players often end up.

Modano didn't just come home Friday, signing a one-year contract with the Red Wings. It's a great low-risk move for the Wings, adding a skilled scorer at a relatively low cost. Modano also arrived to test one of hockey's maxims -- when you think you're close to done, go to the team that's never done trying to squeeze more out of the best.

I don't know how much Modano, 40, has left. He doesn't know how much he has left, and admitted he figured his career was over, until the Wings called. I do know this: Whatever remains in the future Hall-of-Famer, the Wings are likely to draw it out.

It's what they do under GM Ken Holland, owner Mike Ilitch and coach Mike Babcock. A ton won't be asked of Modano, who probably will center the third line after 20 years as a superstar in Dallas and Minnesota. The Wings' theory always is, you can get older and better at the same time.

They've reached the playoffs 19 consecutive seasons and won four Stanley Cups since 1997, so when they say a 40-year-old center will provide a boost, I believe them. More important, Modano believed them.

"I thought I was emotionally and mentally finished with the game after last year," Modano said. "But visiting with these guys, seeing the talent, talking to other guys that have come here (Brett Hull, Chris Chelios, Todd Bertuzzi) and gotten a second wind, it certainly does get you excited. Everybody in the league has been chasing the Detroit Red Wings for years, but no one has come close. I'm just elated."

He's not the only one. Holland was giddy. Ilitch looked like a proud father.

'Cuppy, Cuppy, Cuppy'

Back in 1985, Modano played on Ilitch's Little Caesar's youth hockey team that won the national championship. The kid from Westland went on to NHL stardom, before the Stars let him go after last season, when Modano had 14 goals and 16 assists in 59 games.

Can Modano be the piece that pushes the Wings back into Cup contention? That's not really the point. The point is, he's the type of scoring piece the Wings needed, after injuries and fatigue sapped their depth.

"It's kind of unreal, seeing him come back," Ilitch said. "I'm very, very happy. I don't want to talk too much, but Cuppy, Cuppy, Cuppy, I do feel it."

From the man who invented Pizza-Pizza, Cuppy-Cuppy-Cuppy sounds pretty good. After winning the Cup in 2008 and losing in the Finals in 2009, the Wings wheezed into the playoffs and were eliminated in the second round by San Jose.

The longer rest for the Wings' experienced roster will help, no doubt. The return of a young scorer, Jiri Hudler, will help. And the possible rejuvenation of Modano should help.

This is the NHL's all-time leading American-born scorer, and he won the Cup with Dallas in 1999. He still skates well and has a wicked shot, and should fit comfortably into the Wings' puck-possession style.

Where others see age, the Wings see a player who knows what to do when the puck comes his way, and they wooed Modano diligently.

"I'm optimistic he's going to play very well for us," Holland said. "We sold him on playing in the city he grew up and playing on a team that could be real good. Let's face it, if people didn't think we had a very good team, Mike Modano and Nicklas Lidstrom wouldn't be here."

Chance to win

Lidstrom, 40, came back for one more year (at least). Modano is here for one year (at least). In hockey, 40 is the new 32, and it works for the Wings. Chelios played here until he was 46, and I guarantee, if Steve Yzerman didn't have a shredded knee, he'd still be playing.

Modano brings a few other assets too, and I'm not even talking about his actress-singer wife, Willa Ford. They were headed out Friday to hunt for a house, so there's an economic benefit. (Well, there is).

You can bet a few more fans, and not just Modano's parents, will buy Wings tickets too. And it should be a dangerous third line, with Modano between Hudler and Dan Cleary.

Again, Modano isn't over-stating what he can bring. In fact, after leaning toward retirement, his return -- to the game and to his home -- is a tad scary.

"I'm going to be as nervous as I've been in years," he said. "Hopefully, I can live up to the hype. And quite frankly, if we didn't have a chance to win, I probably wouldn't have come. Watching the way (the Wings) skate and move the puck, the game looks effortless, and you don't waste a lot of energy. And at 40, I don't want to waste a lot of energy."

Modano smiled, his teeth still straight, his hair still full, his face still mostly uncreased. It's amazing how many older players come here and find new energy and different roles, from Larry Murphy to Igor Larionov to Luc Robitaille to Chelios to others.

The Wings are taking another shot, and so is Modano. It's a good one, absolutely worth taking.">

Mike Modano and team owner Mike Illitch share a laugh Friday at Modano's introductory news conference. / Steve Perez/The Detroit News
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