Patrick Sharp

Stars have ‘high expectations’ for Nichushkin after 2014-15 season disrupted with hip injury

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The Dallas Stars have been busy this summer. However, one of the players they seem to feel so optimistic about heading into the 2015-16 season comes from within their organization.

Valeri Nichushkin, 20, showed plenty of potential in his rookie season with the Stars two seasons ago, scoring 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games. But last season, he played in only eight games and recorded only a single assist.

A hip injury that required surgery greatly disrupted his sophomore season, keeping him out of the Stars lineup from early in November until the beginning of April, when he was recalled for a late push by Dallas to try and make the playoffs.

“We’ve got high expectations for him. He ended up playing in the last four games of the season and it was great to see the chemistry that him Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky,” said Stars GM Jim Nill, via the Dallas Morning News.

“They played together and it was amazing to watch. We’re excited. We think that they could be something special.”

Earlier this week, the Stars signed Johnny Oduya to a two-year deal worth $7.5 million. Prior to that, they acquired Patrick Sharp from the Chicago Blackhawks.

Ruff talks line options after ‘tremendous’ additions

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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

PHT Morning Skate: Seguin admits Sharp dethrones him as the sexiest Star

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Tyler Seguin on the burning question in Dallas: is Patrick Sharp better looking than he is? (Dallas Morning News)

Former NHL-er (and Calder Trophy winner) Bryan Berard’s story keeps getting sadder. (National Post)

The case for signing Brad Boyes. (TSN)

Enjoy this spirited Q & A with NBC’s beloved Doc Emrick. (Sportsnet)

Update: Frederik Andersen still loves Legos. (The Hockey News)

What it was like for one fan/blogger falling in love with the Detroit Red Wings. (Winging It in Motown)

The AHL provided this handy guide of NHL affiliations, in case you’ve (understandably) had difficulty keeping track of the changes.

This seems like the perfect thing to stare at while you’re not really working on Friday morning.

Duncan Keith on ‘extremely difficult’ year off the ice, from divorce to Sharp rumors

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From a hockey standpoint, this past year was incredible for Duncan Keith. The same can’t be said for the Chicago Blackhawks defenseman’s off-the-ice life, though.

Keith spoke candidly about raising his son after going through a divorce – and the rumors that surfaced regarding former teammate Patrick Sharp – in an interview with the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh.

“I’m not going to lie: It has been a long year and extremely difficult,” Keith said. “I know there was a lot of talk throughout the year regarding Sharpie and that was all a complete fabrication as well. My divorce had nothing to do with anything except what was between me and Kelly-Rae, and that’s where I’d like to keep it.”

The 32-year-old* explained that dealing with the tough situation meant finding a sanctuary in the form of “turning the switch to hockey.”

Just about anyone would agree that the results were stupendous: an All-Star Game appearance, that memorable Conn Smythe run and his third career Stanley Cup victory. Sometimes anecdotal accomplishments stand out to people as much as anything else, and Keith’s heavy-minute iron man routine in the postseason likely made many lasting impressions.

It’s not just about the personal glory, though, as the elite blueliner pondered the connections he’s made. Keith explained that Sharp ranks along with Brent Seabrook as “one of his two best friends in hockey.” He seemed wistful about the departures of Sharp, Johnny Oduya and Brandon Saad.

“Anytime you play with someone for a long time you’re going to develop chemistry, a bond and a friendship and I was really close with those three guys,” Keith said. “Sharpie, I played with for 10 years. It’s tough to say goodbye …”

These tough times serve as a reminder that summers aren’t always just for recovering from the physical turmoil of a long season; they’re also an opportunity for players to see their families when they need them the most.

The full article is a great read, so check it out here.

* – His birthday was on Thursday, when that Chicago Tribune story came out.

Is Oduya indeed ‘the missing piece’ for the Stars?

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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?