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Nieuwendyk happy with free-agency haul

by Adam Kimelman
The Dallas Stars took their first steps in the post-Brad Richards Era on Friday by signing six players, a list topped by a pair of forwards with Stanley Cups on their resumes and a two-time All-Star defenseman.

"We knew we had the amount of money we had to spend," Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk said on a conference call. "We identified the players that we liked, that we wanted to go after and spend with that money. And we did that. It was delicate in the sense that we didn't want to be left in a situation where you're sitting around and at some point, whether it's today, tomorrow, the next day, and you have this money and everybody that was on your list that you liked was gone and you're forced to spend it on the players you don't necessarily want. It worked out that we targeted these players and we got them."

Atop Nieuwendyk's list was Michael Ryder, who the Stars signed away from the defending Cup champion Boston Bruins with a two-year, $7 million contract.

Ryder had 18 goals and 23 assists in 79 regular-season games, but the 31-year-old right wing shined brightest in the playoffs. He had 8 goals and 9 assists in 25 games, including 3 goals and 3 assists in the Stanley Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks.

In seven NHL seasons with the Canadiens and Bruins, Ryder twice has scored 30 goals. He has 162 goals and 172 assists in 549 games.

"He's a proven goal scorer," Nieuwendyk said. "That's his biggest asset. He thinks about scoring goals and has that quick release and I think he will be a good complement for a number of our forwards that play on top."

One of them could be Mike Ribeiro, as the pair played against each other in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and were teammates on Canada's 2000 World Junior Championship team as well as for two seasons as teammates with the Canadiens.

"I think that's a factor," Nieuwendyk said. "They know each other from junior. We all know the gifted playmaker Ribby (Ribeiro) is, so there could naturally be a fit there. But Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson have great playmaking ability, as well. Ryder will have lots of opportunities to put the puck in the net."

That same level of familiarity worked toward the Stars signing Jake Dowell, who received a one-year, $800,000 contract. He was a part of the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup championship team in 2010, where one of his teammates was Stars forward Adam Burish.

Dowell, 26, had 6 goals, 15 assists and 63 penalty minutes in 79 games last season, his first full NHL campaign. In 109 NHL games spread across parts of four seasons, the 6-foot, 199-pound center has 9 goals, 17 assists and 80 penalty minutes.

"Jake is a player who gives everything he has every game," Nieuwendyk said. "We were impressed with his work ethic as a rookie with Chicago last season and feel he will bring the same effort and intensity to our team. We're excited to have him."

That same pre-existing level of familiarity was part of what brought veteran forward Radek Dvorak and defenseman Adam Pardy to Dallas. Dvorak played for the Panthers when Nieuwendyk worked in that team's front office, while Pardy played for new Stars coach Glen Gulutzan when both were with Las Vegas of the ECHL.

Dvorak, 34, signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract. He had 22 points in 66 games last season with the Florida Panthers and Atlanta Thrashers. Three of his 7 goals were game-winners. A veteran of 1,118 NHL games over 15 seasons, Dvorak has 215 goals and 341 assists with the Panthers, Rangers, Oilers, Blues and Thrashers.

"He brings an element of size and speed and is a terrific penalty killer, and has proven he can score 15-20 (goals) in this League," Nieuwendyk said.

Pardy, 27, signed a two-year, $4 million deal. He played just 30 games last season with the Calgary Flames due to a shoulder injury.

"Adam Pardy has been on our radar for quite some time as an up and coming (player), with an arrow pointing up in his game. He's had some injuries, but he's feeling good and healthy," Nieuwendyk said.

He didn't know much about defenseman Sheldon Souray, who hasn't played in the NHL the end of the 2009-10 season, but believes signing the 34-year-old veteran to a one-year, $1.65 million contract is worth the gamble.

A two-time All-Star and veteran of 11 seasons, Souray has 96 goals (47 on the power play), 166 assists and 1,020 penalty minutes in 650 games.

However, he spent all of last season with Hershey of the American Hockey League after being waived and demoted by the Edmonton Oilers. In 40 games, he had 4 goals, 15 assists and a plus-10 rating. The Oilers bought out the final year of his contract, making him an unrestricted free agent.

"I sense an unbelievable amount of motivation in him," Nieuwendyk said. "I had a good, long talk with him (Friday) … and I was really impressed. I realize some people may view this as a gamble, but I believe it's a gamble worth taking. He's motivated; he wants to show the NHL that's he's still a top defenseman in this League. And the element that really helps us as well, we haven't had that point presence on the power play for a few years, since Sergei Zubov left, and that cannon he has will be a really good complement for what we're trying to do on the power play."

The Stars also signed veteran center Vernon Fiddler to a three-year, $5.4 million deal. He had 22 points in 71 games last season with the Phoenix Coyotes. He won 53.9 percent of his faceoffs and was the top forward on the team's penalty-killing unit.

"He's a guy that's a meat-and-potatoes guy that is just a player you win with," Nieuwendyk said. "That's what we tried to do here. We tried to add guys that we feel add to the culture and character of what we're trying to do and Vern Fiddler exemplifies that. He's been a well-liked teammate wherever he's been. He's a versatile player in that he's a great faceoff guy and a tremendous penalty killer. He's just a warrior in that bottom grouping of players that you win with."

Nieuwendyk admitted that taking Brad Richards and his team-leading 77 points out of the equation will make things difficult, but said he's happy with the mix of players he's added as well as the holdovers from last season's team that missed the playoffs by just two points.

"I realize that by taking Brad Richards out of your lineup you're losing a lot there," Nieuwendyk said. "But I've gone with the direction that we're going to be a hard-working team and added to that culture in the locker room. With the size we've added in the back end with Pardy and Souray and the experience of Souray, the depth we've added up front, we're going to be a more well-rounded team."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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