Center Mike Modano was talking about the dangers of playing in
the NHL last month when he readily admitted, "If I had the chance
to play [pro] golf, I would hang my skates up as quickly as
possible. You can play golf for the rest of your life and not
have to worry about someone running across the green and
two-handing you with the putter."

Modano, who in 1998-99 led the Stars to the Stanley Cup despite
playing most of the finals with a broken left wrist, is entering
his 13th season, and if he seems weary of the NHL's grind, you
can hardly blame him. In Dallas that grind has been more taxing
than anywhere else. The Stars lost a staggering 395 man-games to
injury last season, and over the past three years they've played
a league-high 63 postseason games--the last of which was a
grueling double overtime loss to the Devils in Game 6 of last
year's finals. To those demands add the mental exhaustion that
comes with the Stars' close-checking style: Last season Dallas
played 58 games that were decided by one or two goals, more than
any other team. "It's been a long road, but I think we still have
a lot left," says coach Ken Hitchcock. "We have to be careful
though. We have to keep the wind in our sails."

Hitchcock believes an influx of youth will help them do that.
Defensemen Richard Jackman, 22, and Brad Lukowich, 24, will join
the superb veteran core of Derian Hatcher, Richard Matvichuk,
Darryl Sydor and Sergei Zubov. Plus at least three young
forwards--including chippy left wing Brenden Morrow and fluid
center Roman Lyashenko, both of whom are 21 and saw limited
action last season--will be called on to support Dallas's aging
all-stars. Right wing Brett Hull, 36, remains an extraordinary
clutch scorer, but he had a career-low 24 regular-season goals
last season and says he's "not worth" his $7 million salary.
Brittle second-line center Joe Nieuwendyk, a former 50-goal
sniper, scored just 15 in 48 games last year. Says one Western
Conference general manager, "For Joe, the reality of being 34 has
set in."

The Stars employ the best goalie in the West, Ed Belfour, and the
best coach south of Detroit's Scotty Bowman, and they will be a
force in the postseason. But they're just too worn to overcome
the sprightly Avalanche and the bright-eyed Blues. That's why,
come the first week in June, Modano should have plenty of time to
practice his golf.


Fast Fact
Last season the Stars allowed a league-low 33 power-play goals
while getting nine shorthanded scores. Their 24-goal differential
was tops in the NHL.



FORWARDS 8 Lots of talent on first two lines

DEFENSE 5 Deep; can stifle NHL's top offenses

GOALTENDING 7 Belfour among elite; Turco talented

SPECIAL TEAMS 9 Still tough despite losing Carbonneau,

MANAGEMENT 5 Hitchcock has to lighten the atmosphere