Newest Stars bring plenty of talent to the ice
FRISCO, Texas-- After the Dallas Stars found themselves missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season thanks to dropping their final five games of last season, new owner Tom Gaglardi and other organizational brass knew some changes had to be made.
So, it wasn't a shocker to see longtime stars like Mike Ribeiro, who was traded to Washington on draft night, and Steve Ott, who was dealt to Buffalo in the early stages of free agency last summer, head out of town. Dallas picked up center Derek Roy in the Ott trade from the Sabres while also adding Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney, both 40, via free agency.
All three were brought in to give the Stars some stability and consistent scoring in their top six and they were also acquired or signed to help bolster a power play that ranked as not just the NHL's worst last season but was also the worst in franchise history.
Jagr, who is set to turn 41 early this season, clearly brings the most impressive NHL pedigree of this talented trio. In 1,346 games, he has 1,653 points. The fifth overall pick in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, he had 54 points (19-35-54) with the Flyers last season in 73 games and also scored eight power play goals. Stars fans might even see the talented Czech hit yet another career milestone this season as he is just 35 assists away from 1,000 for his career, a mark only 11 other players have attained in league history.
And should he be able to accomplish such an impressive feat, it would put him in very elite yet deserving company, alongside names like Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and former Penguins teammate Mario Lemieux.
He could have opted to sign with several suitors during the off-season, but when it boiled down to it, Dallas felt right for one very simple yet powerful reason. "Well, when I decided to sign here, I felt like they were interested. They wanted me here," Jagr said. "At the end of my career, I just wanted to be somewhere where I feel like the team wants me there. On the other side, it's kind of extra motivation to prove to the people that they made a right choice."
Gulutzan knows it's not every day that a coach at any level gets the opportunity to work with one of the top players in NHL history like this talented Czech, so it's fair to say he's pretty stoked about what Jagr will bring to his Stars this season.
"Simply just a presence in our locker room. When you have a guy of that stature and that ability in your locker room, it makes people think that they can win every night and that can be infectious for the rest of your group because at any given moment he can make that play," Gulutzan said. "So our power play's certainly going to be better with him running the half wall on one of the units, just the size and ability to puck protect and puck possession for our club. The tangible things are there but those little things, just the amount of possession time that we'll have I think you're going to see a shift in what we've had here previously."
At 29, Roy is definitely the young pup of the bunch but he comes off a season where he had 44 points (17-27-44), including six power play goals in 80 games for Buffalo. And despite having shoulder surgery this off-season, he's been in Dallas for some time and is now raring to go with his new club.
"I was cleared last week. Doctor saw me, thought I was good enough to play, sustain hits and play in an NHL game. I worked really hard to try to get back. I was hoping the lockout was going to end and the fact the lockout just ended is perfect timing so I can go do my training all through these months, not push it and work hard at it," he said. "Now I'm ready to go and play some games."
While it remains somewhat unclear as to exactly whether Roy will skate on Dallas' first line or second line, Stars second-year head coach Glen Gulutzan sees a skill set that will help his team no matter which line he decides to put him on.
"Derek's going to open up a whole new can of worms for us because he's a real good two-way centerman. We can put him out there against the other team's best lines. We probably right now think he's going to be with Loui [Eriksson] for sure and those two can go play against anyone," Gulutzan said. "So it opens the door here once we get Jamie Benn signed that we have two lines that can play against anybody at anytime. It's a little harder for teams to match up when you have two lines like that. He's going to provide us with a little different dynamic."
Whitney might be the third member of the group but he's far from the least important. The veteran comes off a season in Phoenix where not only did he skate in all 82 games for Dave Tippett's Coyotes, but he also led them with 77 points (24-53-77) as he eclipsed the 1,000-point mark last season in the desert.
His prowess when his team has an extra attacker, along with a strong positive presence in the room, are two of the main reasons why Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk decided to add him to the fold over the summer and this seasoned veteran knows exactly what's expected of him.
"I've looked at the stats. It's not so much the power play was 13 percent, I think what was the problem was the lack of power play opportunities, which meant a couple of things," Whitney said. "First thing, you don't have the puck enough five-on-five to generate power plays, having people being called for penalties. Either you're not forechecking well enough or you're not playing with the puck long enough to establish the power play. The biggest thing to have a better power play is to get more of them."
And not surprisingly, his new head coach likes the peace of mind that comes with knowing that a successful veteran like Whitney will be making big contributions all year.
"Whitney's going to give us a real leadership boost in that locker room and support for a guy like Brenden Morrow, Stephane Robidas and those types of guys. He's going to help our young guys. He's going to help Brenden in getting the message across as well. Already they [he and Brenden] are driving to the rink and doing all these things together, so you can see there's a bond there," Gulutzan said.
Of course, the second-year Stars head coach also likes what he'll bring on the ice. "We looked at Ray Whitney and he provided around 30 percent of all the five-on-five offense for Phoenix last year. That's a pretty amazing stat," Gulutzan said. "We're getting a great two-way player, a guy you can put on the ice against anybody. If you look at his minutes, he doesn't play easy minutes. He plays hard minutes. We can put him on the ice against anyone and I think the leadership is going to come forefront and the points on the power play are going to help us tremendously."
With the Stars having just six days between the start of training camp on Sunday and Saturday's season opener with Phoenix, it will be interesting to see how the top two lines shake out for this club to start the season. Of course, it doesn't really matter where Jagr, Roy and Whitney line up because Stars fans know that each of them is going to make a big contribution to moving this franchise forward and back where it should be, in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.