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Stars hope changes pay off in return to playoffs

by Adam Kimelman

During a 20-year, Hall of Fame career, Joe Nieuwendyk missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs four times. He's missed the playoffs each of his first three seasons as general manager of the Dallas Stars, but Nieuwendyk spent the offseason reshaping the team's roster to prevent him from matching his years of disappointment in two decades as a player.

In a flurry of moves that started at the 2012 NHL Draft and carried through the first week of free agency, the Stars subtracted forwards Mike Ribeiro, Steve Ott and Jake Dowell, as well as defensemen Sheldon Souray and Adam Pardy, while adding forwards Derek Roy, Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney, and defenseman Aaron Rome.

"We've been able to remake our team a bit and we like it," Stars owner Tom Gagliardi said after the early-summer flurry of moves. "It fits very well with our long-term direction. We had to give up a couple of assets to get there, but we like who we've brought in and the deals we made. We feel fortunate we got done what we wanted to get done in pretty short order. We're a better hockey team today."

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The addition of a pair of 40-year-old forwards is the most striking change, and Whitney and Jagr will be expected to play major roles at advanced ages.

Last season was Jagr's first back in the NHL after three years in Russia, and he responded with 54 points in 73 games for the Philadelphia Flyers, helping linemates Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell have career-best seasons. In addition, Jagr's leadership and work ethic was cited as a major reason the Flyers got so much out of their young players.

The Stars signed Jagr to a one-year, $4.55 million contract with the hope he can do for Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson this season what he did for Giroux and Hartnell a year earlier.

"You look at Jagr and the kind of success he has had working with younger players, which is what we are," Gagliardi said. "You look at the season that Claude Giroux had, and I think Jagr deserves some credit for Giroux's year and the way he improved as a player. I am excited about the kind of effect Jagr can have on our young players, the Jamie Benns, the Loui Erikssons, the Matt Frasers and all the way down the line. He's a lead-by-example guy, extremely hard-working. What he can do on the ice and in the locker room is something we'll be able to measure for a number of years."

With a possible top line of Benn (an unsigned restricted free agent) between Eriksson and Jagr, the second line likely will feature Roy centering Whitney and Michael Ryder.

Whitney, who led the Phoenix Coyotes with 77 points last season and was a Second-Team All-Star, chose Dallas because the Stars offered a two-year contract.

"He's still one of the premier offensive players, even at that age," Nieuwendyk said. "I think with Ribeiro going out we were in need of replacing some of that production, some of that skill. I think he is the type of player that makes players around him better."

Ribeiro was traded to the Washington Capitals at the draft for forward prospect Cody Eakin and a 2012 second-round pick. To replace him on the second line, the Stars traded Ott and Pardy to the Buffalo Sabres for Roy, who had 17 goals and 44 points last season.

"Having the opportunity to acquire a player like Derek Roy, who is only 29 years old and is a proven point producer in this League at a position that is very rare to find, it seemed like it was a really good fit for us," Nieuwendyk said.

Roy is healthy after offseason surgery to fix a shoulder problem that hampered him during his final season in Buffalo. He'll brings speed, skill and faceoff ability to a team that needs all of those traits.

The hope is the additions not only improve the Stars at even strength, but lift a power play that was 30th in the League at 13.5 percent. They do allow captain Brenden Morrow to slide to the third line; coming off an injury plagued 2011-12 season, less ice time could make Morrow more effective.

The big question mark lies on defense, where Souray signed with the Anaheim Ducks and Pardy left in the Roy trade. The top pairing of Stephane Robidas and Alex Goligoski will return intact, with Rome, Trevor Daley and prospects Jamie Oleksiak, Brenden Dillon and Patrik Nemeth challenging for spots.

With goalie Kari Lehtonen coming off the best season of his career, the Stars are set if there are any mistakes by whoever fills out the defense corps.

The Stars led the Pacific Division on March 30, but a five-game losing streak dropped them to ninth in the Western Conference. The feeling in Dallas is the new pieces will blend with the holdover parts to create a playoff team.

"We said we need to get better, we've gotten better and we haven't hurt the longer term plan," Gagliardi said. "I think it has come together quite nicely for us. I feel good about that. You look at our roster now and it's a legitimate playoff roster."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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