Those who thought the Dallas Stars were currently in the middle of a full-blown youth movement might have been a bit taken aback when the club announced early on Sunday afternoon it had inked Ray Whitney, a 40-year-old veteran winger who spent his last two seasons playing for ex-Stars coach Dave Tippett in Phoenix, to a two-year deal to the tune of $9 million.
Of course, this signing might fly in the face of what Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk and new owner Tom Gaglardi have been saying over the last few months, about the best way to return the club to NHL relevance is to do so by building from within. But the addition of Whitney is a solid move for several reasons.
Maybe the biggest reason the Stars pulled the trigger on bringing this savvy veteran to Big D for the next two seasons is that arguably the biggest area where he has the most impact is on the power play, a group that after ranking dead last in the NHL last season needs all the help it can get. Whitney had eight power play goals and 12 power play assists for the Coyotes last season, solid numbers from the veteran. And during his successful career which dates back to the 1991-92 season, he has had 20 or more power play assists on seven occasions.
For most of last year, he skated on Tippett’s top line, appearing as a left winger alongside center Martin Hanzal and right winger Radim Vrbata. But another great thing about this experienced NHL forward is that not only can he play at either right or left wing, but the Saskatchewan native also has 103 games of playoff experience, including being a part of a Stanley Cup-winning squad in Carolina back in 2006. And not to state the obvious but for a club like the Stars that has missed out on the postseason for the last four years, adding someone with as much playoff experience as Whitney is never a bad thing.
While it remains to be seen whether or not the newest Star will be a first-line player with the Stars, one thing is definitely for sure. Whether or not he’s skating on the same line alongside Jamie Benn, a 2012 NHL All-Star and/or Loui Eriksson, an All-Star for the first time in 2011, there’s no doubt that every member of what figures to be a fairly young roster can learn a thing or two from just being around a guy like Whitney no matter whether it’s on the pond or in the room even if those lessons are as simple as seeing how a guy who has been in the NHL for most of the past two decades handles his business on a daily basis.
And getting back to the Stars adding someone who is no spring chicken at age 40, not to sound cliché but age can oftentimes be merely a number and a state of mind. It should be noted that besides his prowess on the power play and impressive NHL resume, another of Whitney’s more endearing qualities is that he’s pretty durable, which is saying something in a sport where even the toughest players can miss a game here or there due to injury.
Last season, he appeared in all 82 games for the Coyotes and finished the year with a solid 77 points (24-53-77) and over his last six seasons in the league, he is averaging 78 games played per year. For a club in the Stars that only had three players-Eriksson plus newcomers Vernon Fiddler and Michael Ryder, not miss a game last season, adding someone who has a reputation of being durable is definitely a big plus.
Whitney will most likely only be with the Stars for two seasons and in that time, not only can he play a mentoring role with the club’s current young players like Benn and Eriksson, but it’s also highly likely that he’ll also play an integral role in helping some of the up-and-comers in the organization acclimate more quickly to the NHL so that when his current contract is up after the 2013-14 season, those youngsters will be ready to accept the torch and handle the considerable responsibility that accompanies being an everyday player at this level.
Others might add that $4.5 million per year for two years might be a bit steep for a guy at age 40, but remember that Whitney played a key role in Phoenix’s success last season, not just during the regular season but also in the playoffs. And it’s not like the Stars didn’t have money to make this deal, so why not? On the surface, it looks like a solid move that brings a guy who can help the power play and also provide another veteran voice in the room to the Stars, never bad things to have.
With this move coming just over a week after Dallas traded Mike Ribeiro to Washington on draft night, the addition of Ray Whitney should also help ease the mind of Stars fans and media who wondered how the club was going to replace Ribeiro’s offensive production next season. Well, those concerns have now been addressed and it will now be interesting to see what the next move will be for Nieuwendyk and Company because the entire group deserves high marks for their first signing of free agency even if adding a 40-year-old winger with a solid NHL resume flies in the face of the Stars’ current philosophy of building from within.