Mike Modano talks about Babcock benching him: ‘It was a bitter pill’

Hockey Hall of Famer discusses how his career ended with Red Wings one game shy of 1,500 games

Detroit Red Wings center Mike Modano (90) during an NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Detroit, Saturday, March 26, 2011. Detroit won 4-2. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski) (Rick Osentoski, AP2011)

Hall of Famer Mike Modano joined the “Cam and Strick” podcast this week to discuss his career, and you bet they asked him about how things ended with Babcock in Detroit.

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, top left, talks with Red Wings' Mike Modano, far right, during Game 4 of a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs series against the Phoenix Coyotes Wednesday, April 20, 2011, in Glendale, Ariz. The Red Wings defeated the Coyotes 6-3 and earned a 4-0 sweep in the series. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) (AP2011)

‘I knew this is the end for me’

It turns out, Mike Babcock’s mental games were enough to crush the 40-year-old Modano near the end of the 2010-11 season. Remember, Modano decided to sign a one-year deal with the Red Wings, his hometown team, that year with the hope of making a final playoff run in what was to be the last season of his illustrious career.

The top U.S.-born goal scorer of all time ended up missing a significant portion of that season due to a freak wrist injury, but he was healthy toward the end and ready for the playoffs. He was approaching 1,500 career NHL games, an exclusive club of just 21 players in the history of the league. He needed just one more game, just one more, before the season ended and the playoffs started -- the Red Wings were a shoo-in that year with 104 points, mind you.

But Babcock decided to healthy scratch him, making sure Modano never reached that milestone. The coach had other plans for the fan favorite that would keep him at 1,499 career games played and out of the lineup for the majority of the post season.

“It just happened to come down to one of those last couple games that I got healthy scratched, so I would have hit that 1,500 right on the nose in our last game in our Chicago, but I got healthy scratched a couple games before against Minnesota at home in Detroit, so I ended up with that 1,499. Yeah, it was a bitter pill, still to this point it would have been nice to finish at some type of high note after that season I went through in Detroit, so yeah it’s a tough one. I’m kind of torn on that one.”

Modano said his teammates, particularly Kris Draper and Nicklas Lidstrom, were not pleased with the coach’s decision. Moreover, he said Red Wings GM Ken Holland did not know it was happening or he would have stepped in.

“Yeah, Drapes (Kris Draper) was (upset) ... you know, it was really kind of last second. No one really knew until they got to the game and saw what was happening. And then word spread through the locker room, you know, ‘He would have got 1,500 the next game,’ so Nick (Lidstrom) was a little upset. Kenny Holland didn’t know about it actually until he got to the game. He says to this day he probably would have stepped in and told Mike, ‘We need to have him get to this milestone.’ So yeah, the older guys were frustrated, and I think some of them were already frustrated with Mike at the time way before that. They were all feeling for me at the time.”

He didn’t confront Babcock about it. Modano said he stayed calm, but of course he was upset.

“You know, you’re little bit of both, I think you just know that you could have been out there, feel that you still could contribute, still add to what they’re doing, as far as this team at the time. I felt I was probably in the best shape of my life that particular year in Detroit, in a long time. So yeah, it was a little bit of both. I’m not confrontational, so I didn’t really say anything at the moment. I think it just kind of reiterated to me that this is probably it. I’m just too mentally worn out to do this anymore. We went into the playoffs, got to the second round. I played a game, Game 4 in Phoenix (in the first round) when we clinched that, and then that was it. So I knew this is the end for me.”

Modano did appear in two games in those playoffs, somehow notching an assist over the course. He announced his retirement in the summer.

If you want to hear more from Modano, take a listen to the full episode of that podcast (the Babcock comments start at the 43-minute mark). But before they even get to that, he talks about everything from growing up in Metro Detroit, why he decided to ignore Ron Mason and Red Berenson’s requests to stay in Michigan to play college hockey, and what it was like to bring the NHL to Dallas.

In case you missed it: Babcock on Franzen: ‘I thought we had a really good relationship’

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Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.