The Dallas Stars signed defenseman Johnny Oduya to a two-year contract on Wednesday. The average annual value of the contract is $3.75 million, according to ESPN.com.
With Oduya under contract, Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill feels his team is ready to move into contender status after failing to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.
Dallas acquired forward Patrick Sharp and defenseman Stephen Johns in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks last week for defenseman Trevor Daley and forward Ryan Garbutt. The Stars signed goalie Antti Niemi to a three-year contract on June 29, two days after acquiring his exclusive negotiating rights in a trade with the San Jose Sharks.
"We have to start moving up," Nill said Wednesday. "Jamie Benn just won the Art Ross for the scoring race. Tyler Seguin just turned 23. He's starting to come into his own. Cody Eakin's just had success over at the World Championships. Jason Spezza was a top forward at the World Championships.
"We're in the beginning, of I think, where we should be starting to make the jump."
Oduya was the final piece of the puzzle that Nill was looking for, the GM said.
Nill said he went into free agency on July 1 hoping to improve the Stars' back end by adding a veteran defenseman if he could. That became a paramount need last week, when Nill traded Daley to the Blackhawks and got back Johns, a 23-year-old prospect who has never played in the NHL.
In Oduya, the Stars are getting a two-time Stanley Cup champion who turns 34 before this season gets underway. Oduya becomes the Stars' oldest defenseman and their most experienced with 664 games played in the regular season and 89 in the playoffs.
He was part of the top-four defense group that the Blackhawks rode to the Stanley Cup last season. Oduya averaged 24:45 of ice time per game and had five points in 23 games.
Oduya has 152 points, including 31 goals, and a plus-58 rating in his NHL career, which spans nine seasons.
"We knew that it was important to get one more experienced guy if we could, and Johnny was on the top of our list," Nill said. "He's an important piece for us. He's a steady influence. What I love about Johnny Oduya is the way he lives his life. Johnny Oduya does all the right things. He prepares right. He's a fitness fanatic. His preparation, his workouts, I know that that's going to be huge for our young guys in the dressing room. Any time you have somebody that has that pedigree, and it's not him coming out of the box, it's just him being himself, that's the most important part for me."
Oduya said the Stars appealed to him because of their up-tempo style of play. He likened it to the way the Blackhawks play, and indicated that it should help him find his comfort quickly.
"I think it's a very, very fast team, a team that wants to play hockey, a similar style I think as Chicago; wants to have the puck, create things," Oduya said. "I think the speed is the thing that stands out the most. It's a new challenge, a new chapter. It's going to be a lot of fun for me. I think I'm pretty comfortable with the role that I play and the things I can bring. It's not really going to change a whole lot for me, and that's something that I like."
Oduya also seems to be intrigued at the chance to be a mentor, especially to fellow Swedish defenseman John Klingberg and Patrik Nemeth.
Oduya said Klingberg, who made the NHL's All-Rookie team last season, reminds him of Ottawa Senators captain and two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson when he was coming into the NHL.
"He has the potential to be a great defenseman," Oduya said of Klingberg.
He also said he has skated and worked out with Nemeth in Stockholm.
"Any time you come into a situation like I do now … of course you approach it maybe a little bit differently," Oduya said. "Obviously, I have to worry about what I have to do to perform and help the team as much as possible, but also try to be there with whatever little things I picked up through the years and help out."
That's another big reason why Nill said he targeted Oduya even before July 1, when unrestricted free agents became eligible to sign with other teams. It's the same reason why he was so intrigued with Sharp and Niemi.
There are six Stanley Cup championships, all won with Chicago, between the three main additions to the Stars' roster for this season.
"We're trying to get to where Chicago is, we're trying to get to where Detroit's been," said Nill, a former assistant GM with the Red Wings. "How do you get there? They do things right. I can't make them do things right; it's the players inside the dressing room that have to do it right. And the more guys you get like that, the more success you're going to have."
Nill now feels the Stars are positioned to start experiencing that success this season.
"To win you've got to know how to win, and that's a process," Nill said. "These guys (Oduya, Sharp and Niemi) have been doing it all the time. Our core is young, and I know they're going to be like sponges. They're going to feed off this."