Last Tuesday, as he was about to begin a conference call with media to discuss what had been a busy and productive day for the Dallas Stars on the opening day of NHL free agency, Stars general manager Jim Nill said almost as an aside that the club’s final move of the day was that they had signed veteran winger Patrick Eaves to a one-year deal.
Eaves, 30, had of course spent the bulk of his nine-year NHL career in Detroit, which is why Nill, a former assistant GM with the Red Wings before being hired as Dallas’ new GM in May 2013, was quite familiar with him.
And Eaves’ relationship with Nill indeed played a role in him deciding to come to Big D.
"Yeah, absolutely it was a huge factor, from knowing Jim from my time with the Wings. He’s got a real good thing going down there. I know they’re a hard team to play against and yeah, they’re making moves. They’re going places and I want to be a part of it," Eaves said on Monday.
Eaves spent most of last season in the Motor City, playing 25 games for the Wings before he was traded to the Nashville Predators prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on March 5, 2014. With the Preds, he appeared in five games before becoming an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
He wanted a destination where he would have a chance to again play for a winner like he had in Detroit, so he took the one-year deal and signed with the Stars.
"Yeah, we’ll see what happens. It’ll start with a one-year deal and hopefully I can come in and yeah, have a good year and help the team make the playoffs and then go from there," Eaves said. "I’m looking to help out and have a good year myself and then we’ll see what happens."
As someone who has been playing against the Stars over the course of his first nine seasons in the League, he has seen both the perception and reality of Dallas’ identity change, especially over the past few seasons.
In fact, Eaves has seen the Stars’ reputation around the NHL take on a profound shift even over the past season under year one of the Nill and Lindy Ruff regime where Dallas ended a six-year playoff drought.
"Yeah, they seem to play a lot faster. Everyone can skate on their team front to back and then obviously, they have really solid goaltending," Eaves said. "So, I think the league is going fast and to be able to play four lines and go deep. Yeah, just from playing against them, that’s what they do. That’s what they bring every night. Hopefully I can add to that"
A big reason why the perception of the Stars around the League by fans, media and players themselves has changed is because of what a strong impression Dallas’ two biggest offensive cogs in captain Jamie Benn and top-line center Tyler Seguin have made on all who follow the NHL closely.
So, it’s not surprising to hear Eaves say of all of his new teammates, No. 14 and No. 91 are two he is especially looking forward to possibly skating alongside in the near future.
"They were fun to play against who I think it will be even more fun to play with on the same team. They have a lot of firepower and speed. Those two players especially make you have to be your best to compete with them and I think they have a lot of players like that," Eaves said.
His reasons for wanting to play with the likes of Benn and Seguin are simple, because he feels that skating against some of the top young talent in the league every day in practice and only make him better in games.
"They’re going to bring out the best in me every day and that’s what I want. I want to be challenged on a daily basis. Yeah, you get challenged by your own teammates and then you go and challenge yourself in games, so I think it’s a good spot," Eaves said.
Of course, it remains to be seen exactly which line Eaves will fit on for his new employer, but he’ll more than likely be on Dallas’ third or fourth line. But no matter which line he is penciled into by Ruff, another reason why he will be a solid and productive addition to the Stars is because he can also be a consistent contributor on both the penalty kill and power play.
"Yeah, on the ice I can play an up-tempo game and I hope add to the speed that they already have and then I can play in all situations. If they need me to PK, I can do that. Five-on-five’s fine and power play’s good too. They can kind of plug me in wherever and I think I can contribute. So yeah, what’s what I’m looking to do," Eaves said.
Besides knowing Nill from their time together in Detroit, one of the newest Stars also knows fellow newcomer Jason Spezza as the two were teammates with the Ottawa Senators earlier in their respective careers.
And Eaves is clearly ecstatic about skating with the veteran centerman who will wear No. 90 in Dallas.
"Yeah, well I played with Spezza up in Ottawa for two and a half years when I first started out and played on his line a bit. He’s a special talent. For Jim (Nill) to go out and get him is huge for the club. I just played against Ales Hemsky for a while now and he’s a dangerous, skilled player," Eaves said. "Yeah, they just made really good signings and obviously (Anders) Lindback is a great goalie. Yeah, I think the changes that were made were only great changes and I think they’re part of Jim Nill’s blueprint."
During his time as an NHL defenseman and as a head coach in the League, Ruff has always liked blue-collar players who have a strong work ethic. He also likes versatility and veterans who can be a strong voice in the room.
And judging from what Ruff has to say about Eaves, it appears he will fit the bill on each of those fronts.
"He’s a jack-of-all-trades really. He can play a lot of positions. He can play both sides of special teams. He’s been a power play guy. He’s been a penalty killer. He’s got the ability to score goals," Ruff said. "Jim [Nill] knows a lot about him. I know a little bit less, but from what I’ve heard he’s a guy you can use in almost any situation and can play in a lot of different positions."
Eaves has never played for Ruff before, but he’s played against enough of his teams during his first nine seasons in the league to know the hallmarks of Ruff-coached teams, experiences which have shown him exactly what it will be like to play for him, something he is clearly looking forward to.
"Yeah, I’ve never played for him but I’ve played against him a lot. He has his team prepared and I think that’s one thing that he does really well and he gets veterans in the locker room to take care of the rest," Eaves said. "So, I’ve only heard good things about their locker room and yeah, I’m looking to jump in there and contribute. Yeah, I’m excited to play for him. He’s a coach you want to play for and a coach you want to play hard for. I’m looking forward to that."