Stars com­plete check­list for one of NHL’s best off sea­sons

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS -

The Stan­ley Cup isn’t won in the off-sea­son. If it was, start en­grav­ing the tro­phy for the Dal­las Stars.

With the sign­ing of de­fence­man Johnny Oduya on Wed­nes­day, the Stars put the fin­ish­ing touches on an off-sea­son that didn’t trans­form the ros­ter but filled the kind of holes that should put them back in the play­off pic­ture.

“We’re in the be­gin­ning of, I think, where we should be start­ing to make the jump,’’ gen­eral man­ager Jim Nill said.

Dal­las ac­quired and signed Antti Niemi to a deal that strength­ens its goal­tend­ing, even if it’s at a hefty price of US$4.5 mil­lion over three years. The Stars then traded de­fence­man Trevor Da­ley and bot­tom­six for­ward Ryan Gar­butt to the Chicago Black­hawks for scor­ing winger Pa­trick Sharp and de­fen­sive prospect Stephen Johns.

Sign­ing Oduya, who won the Cup with the Black­hawks last month, to a $7.5-mil­lion, twoyear deal was “the last piece of the puz­zle,’’ ac­cord­ing to Nill. What it did was ef­fec­tively re­place Da­ley and make the Sharp trade look even sharper.

Oduya is 34 now, per­haps a step slower than he was as a teenager when Nill scouted him. But he’s an im­me­di­ate up­grade on the Dal­las blue line.

“Once we knew we were go­ing to make that trade, los­ing Trevor Da­ley, I knew (adding a de­fence­man) was some­thing we wanted to look at,’’ Nill said on a con­fer­ence call Wed­nes­day. “Any time you can add a player of Johnny’s stature, some­body that’s has won, a guy that does ev­ery­thing right, you can’t go wrong with it.’’

In Niemi, Sharp and Oduya, the Stars added three play­ers with Black­hawks Cup rings. That pedi­gree was some­thing Nill con­sid­ers im­por­tant, but he made each move for a dif­fer­ent rea­son.

Send­ing a sev­enth-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for Niemi’s rights and sign­ing him took care of what Nill called his big­gest need. He cited the Stars’ bru­tal travel sched­ule — which ac­cord­ing to On the Forecheck in­cludes the third-most kilo­me­tres in the NHL and 12 back-to- backs — for want­ing Niemi and fel­low Fin­nish vet­eran Kari Le­hto­nen to split the goal­tend­ing work.

“I re­ally think it’s be­com­ing a two-goalie league now,’’ Nill said at the draft in Sunrise, Fla. “It’s hard. You look around the league at the teams that had a lot of suc­cess, it’s be­cause of two goalies.’’

In the ab­sence of an elite goal­tender, it’s a sound strat­egy in the Western Con­fer­ence, which fea­tured five play­off teams that had two goalies each start 30plus games. Le­hto­nen started 65 in what Nill called a “tough year.’’

Sharp gives the Stars another top-six for­ward to com­ple­ment Art Ross Tro­phy-win­ning cap- tain Jamie Benn, cen­tres Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza and young winger Va­leri Nichushkin. Nill said the 33-year-old Sharp brings good vet­eran lead­er­ship to a young team.

In that trade, Dal­las also got Johns, who at 23 pro­vides even more depth on the blue line. Af­ter sign­ing Oduya, the Stars have a de­fence corps of Alex Goligoski, all-rookie John Kling­berg, Oduya, Jason De­mers, Jyrki Jokipakka, Jordie Benn, Pa­trik Nemeth and Jamie Olek­siak with Johns and Julius Honka and oth­ers knock­ing on the door.

Oduya be­comes the wily vet­eran the Stars hope can men­tor fel­low Swedes Kling­berg and Nemeth. Nill sees it as a bal­anced blue line.

“We’re sit­ting good,’’ he said. “We’ve got some good young pieces com­ing. Po­ten­tial’s just a word, but as history has shown you, if some of these guys get bet­ter and be­come bet­ter than what you ever dreamed of, we’re go­ing to wake up one of these days with a pretty solid core of de­fence­men.’’

“Once we knew we were go­ing to make that trade, los­ing Trevor Da­ley, I knew (adding a de­fence­man) was some­thing we wanted to look at.”

Jim Nill

AP PHOTO

Johnny Oduya cel­e­brates af­ter de­feat­ing the Tampa Bay Light­ning in Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal se­ries.

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