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Star Burst Can struggling Mike Modano return to form in time for the playoffs?

When Mike Modano was voted a starter in the NHL All-Star Game
last month, it was for lifetime achievement rather than for the
best performance by a center in the Western Conference this
season. The best U.S.-born player ever to play in the NHL, the
Stars' Modano is having the worst season of his 15-year career,
and his puny stats--12 goals and 22 assists through Sunday--are
just part of the story. Normally the league's most complete
two-way forward, Modano has been mysteriously subpar in all

"When Mo is at his best he does so many little things--face-offs,
penalty killing, playing against other teams' top players," says
Dallas coach Dave Tippett. "He's done those things on and off,
but not consistently."

Modano has picked up his game a little since returning from a
groin injury that sidelined him for six games in January, but the
franchise leader in goals (456) and games played (1,081) is still
trying to regain his confidence. "You expect good things to
happen the way they have throughout your career," says the
33-year-old Modano. "When those expectations aren't met, you have
to battle a little bit between the ears."

Some observers believe Modano has buckled under the weight of the
team captaincy he inherited when free-agent defenseman Derian
Hatcher signed with the Red Wings last summer. The soft-spoken
Modano rejects that notion and says that being captain of such a
veteran team carries little extra pressure. He also points out
that several other Stars started slowly, an indication that it
took longer than expected for a team that started the season with
three new faces on defense to jell.

Modano also had to play much of the fall without his usual right
wing, Jere Lehtinen, who missed 16 games with back spasms. The
absence of Lehtinen, a three-time Selke Trophy winner,
contributed to Modano's -17 rating.

What's more, he has been distracted by financial woes. After
agreeing this summer to a one-year, $9.5 million extension of the
six-year, $43.5 million contract he signed in 1998, Modano
learned in October that he had lost millions in failed business
ventures. He won't get into specifics about his investments or
exactly how much he lost, but the situation was dire enough that
he went to Stars management for advice and help in lining up
attorneys and finding a new business manager. Modano says that
ordeal is behind him.

Despite the drop-off by Modano and their winning just 11 of their
first 29 games, the Stars had worked their way up to second place
(30-22-10-0) in the Pacific Division at week's end, and they held
the fifth playoff spot in the Western Conference. With his team
turning things around, Modano hopes to do the same. Says Tippett,
"He can be the difference between us just getting in [to the
playoffs] and being a very good team."

COLOR PHOTO: DONNA MCWILLIAM/AP A loss of confidence and financial woes have been factors inModano's poor play.