The Dallas Stars are counting on Patrick Sharp’s Stanley Cup-winning experience to help put them over the top.
“Going back two seasons ago, we sat down and we’re trying to figure out our organizational depth chart,” GM Jim Nill said Monday, per the Dallas Morning News. “We knew we had a young core coming along, but the one missing piece we knew was going to be, how do you find these experienced guys that have won Cups, who do things right?”
In Sharp’s case, they found him in a trade with the cap-crunched Blackhawks.
“I’m all about resumes and the resume that he has, that’s what we need,” Nill said. “We’ve got some great young players here that are going to learn from him. I think the young players are going to energize him also.”
Sharp didn’t disagree with that last point. The 33-year-old winger said that “coming to a team like Dallas, with so many young players and so much enthusiasm, it kind of reignites the passion to play hockey.”
The Stars also added Cup-winning experience in free agency, signing both defenseman Johnny Oduya and goalie Antti Niemi.
Sharp won three Cups in Chicago, Oduya two, and Niemi one.
“The Chicago Blackhawks have not won three Cups in the last six years because they have played the way they wanted to play,” Nill said. “They all bought into playing the right way and that’s how we’re going to play.”
Stars coach Lindy Ruff is already thinking about how he’ll use Dallas’ latest additions and there’s no shortage of possibilities.
Dallas recently acquired Patrick Sharp from the Blackhawks and then inked unrestricted free agent and former Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya to a two-year, $7.5 million deal. Combined with the earlier signing of goalie Antti Niemi and the Stars have added plenty of playoff experience.
“It’s really important for us to take that next step. These guys have been winners and know how to win. They should help us get there,” Ruff told the team’s website. “Ownership has really stepped up and said we can make this team better. I’ve got to give Tom [Gaglardi] and his family a lot of credit for making this team better with the last couple of pieces here. It’s been tremendous.”
Ruff could see Sharp being paired up with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the top line, but he’s also considering going with more of a one-two punch with a top line that features Benn and Seguin followed by a second unit that includes Sharp and Jason Spezza.
Whichever route he decides to take, the potential is certainly there for the Stars to have two significantly more balanced lines than they did last season. Spezza meshed well with Benn and Seguin when the trio played together, but whenever Ruff opted to employ that star studded line, it came at the expense of the team’s offensive depth. That trio were the only Dallas players to record more than 40 points last season while just Benn and Seguin surpassed the 20-goal mark. The addition of Sharp could expand both of those lists.
As for Oduya, Ruff would like to see him play alongside Jason Demers, which would keep the John Klingberg and Alex Goligoski pairing from last season intact.
Dallas fell just short of making the playoffs last season, but even before these additions, there were reasons to believe that the Stars could do better in 2015-16. It certainly didn’t hurt that they finished with a 14-5-0 run.
Related: Lehtonen, Niemi see benefit in splitting goalie duties
The Dallas Stars continued to make waves by signing Johnny Oduya, and from the sound of things, GM Jim Nill is convinced that they now have the makings of a winner.
And not just “winners of the offseason.”
Nill goes as far as to call the 33-year-old the “missing piece” of the Stars’ defense: a steady hand, puck-mover and fitness fanatic who could be a good influence for the many young blueliners in Dallas:
Indeed, on paper, the Stars look awfully scary.
They’ve added Patrick Sharp to an offensive mix that includes Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza. Nill didn’t flinch in spending on goaltending, as the Antti Niemi – Kari Lehtonen combo costs a whopping $10.4 million. Now their blueline adds some experience to a group that’s heavier on potential.
Of course, there’s another reason Nill believes that the picture is near-complete: Dallas doesn’t have much money left.
With Oduya’s (quite reasonable) $3.75 million cap hit in mind, the Stars only have about $2.3 million in space remaining, according to General Fanager. For a team that plays in a somewhat erratic hockey market and missed the playoffs entirely in 2014-15, the pressure is on.
At least Oduya is used to big-time pressure though, right?
From Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News:
Everyone knows that Johnny Oduya’s first choice is to remain with the Chicago Blackhawks. But the 33-year-old defenseman can’t wait around forever for GM Stan Bowman to clear the cap space.
If it’s not the ‘Hawks, the Stars — with a young, inexperienced defense that doesn’t have veteran Trevor Daley anymore — may make sense. Dallas has a ton of talent up front, and after GM Jim Nill signed Antti Niemi to address the goaltending, the blue line is the one area that could perhaps be improved.
The Buffalo Sabres are another team that’s interested in signing Oduya. There are undoubtedly a few others.
For those teams that lose out on Oduya, other UFA d-men include Cody Franson and Christian Ehrhoff.
Related: Ehrhoff will take another one-year contract
Kari Lehtonen ranked eighth among goaltenders in total minutes last season while Antti Niemi was ninth. If everything goes according to plan, neither of them will be in the top-10 next season and that’s something the 31-year-old Finnish goaltenders are comfortable with.
“My year was disappointing, so I want to fix that, and I’m open to doing anything I can to do that,” Lehtonen said, per the Dallas Morning News. “We are adults and we are older in our careers, so I think we can work through anything that comes up. Goalies have a certain friendship and Antti and I are friends, and I think that helps a great deal.”
He added that he thinks he plays better when rested, so he sees the advantage to his playing time being reduced.
Niemi was obviously aware of the situation before inking a three-year, $13.5 million contract on Monday, so it’s no surprise that he’s open to it. He did point out though that this will provide him with more time to recover between starts and work with goalie coach Jeff Reese.
It should help that the duo is familiar with each other. Lehtonen still remembers splitting ice time with Niemi for a game when they were both 10 years old. Much more recently, they were roommates during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
This will be an expensive experiment for Dallas as the two netminders have a combined $10.4 million annual cap hit for the next three seasons. That means the Stars will be paying more for its goaltending than even the New York Rangers, which carry the current cap hit leader among netminders in Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million annually).