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Stars sign defenseman Oduya to two-year contract

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

The Dallas Stars signed defenseman Johnny Oduya to a two-year contract Wednesday. The average annual value is $3.75 million, according to ESPN.com.

Oduya said the Stars appealed to him because of their up-tempo style of play. He likened it to the style of his former team, the Chicago Blackhawks, and said 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."

With Oduya, Stars general manager Jim Nill said he feels they are ready to contend after failing to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

Dallas acquired forward Patrick Sharp and defenseman Stephen Johns in a trade with the Blackhawks last week for defenseman Trevor Daley and forward Ryan Garbutt. The Stars signed goalie Antti Niemi to a three-year contract June 29, two days after acquiring his 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."

Nill said Oduya was the final piece of the puzzle. The Stars GM said he went into free agency July 1 hoping to improve the Stars defense by adding a veteran 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.

Oduya is a two-time Stanley Cup champion who turns 34 before this season. He is the Stars' oldest defenseman and their most experienced with 664 NHL games played in the regular season and 89 in the playoffs.

He was part of the top-four defense group the Blackhawks rode to the Stanley Cup last season. Oduya averaged 24:45 of ice time and had five points in 23 postseason 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 seems to be intrigued at the chance to be a mentor, especially to fellow Swedish defensemen John Klingberg and Patrik Nemeth.

Oduya said Klingberg, who made the NHL 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.

Oduya 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 reason 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 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.

"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 said he 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."

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