A lot of water has passed under the bridge, but finally, Jamie Langenbrunner is coming home.
It’s been such a long time since Langenbrunner pulled a Dallas Stars jersey over his head, it’s a completely different color and design and he barely got to skate in the brand new American Airlines Center. There is only one player left in the dressing room with whom he skated, and the team has long since moved its practice headquarters from Valley Ranch to Frisco, so there will be some things for him to become familiar with.
But after leaving town in one of the franchise’s most notorious trades back on March 19, 2002, Langenbrunner, still fresh-faced even at 35 years old, returns to the Stars following a deal with the Devils Friday morning that cost Dallas a conditional draft pick in 2011.
Making the acquisition even more interesting from a Stars point of view is that the man who was traded with him back in 2002 was the one who pulled the trigger as Dallas General Manager, Joe Nieuwendyk.
“We are very excited to add Jamie to our team,” said Nieuwendyk, now in his second year as Stars GM. “He fits the mold of the type of player we want on this roster - strong work ethic, tough, passionate, and hard to play against. We are thrilled to be able to bring him back to Dallas.”
“I’m excited to come back to Dallas and the team I started with in the NHL,” said Langenbrunner, who compiled 90 goals and 235 points in 432 games for the Stars from 1995-2002 and was a key contributor to the club’s only Stanley Cup championship in 1999. “I still have a lot of great memories of playing in that organization and in that city and I’m excited about where that team is headed and to be a part of it.”
Over the years in New Jersey, Langenbrunner continued his development into a premier two-way threat who excels at both ends of the ice and in all situations. He also provides impressive leadership, as evidenced by the fact that he served as Devils captain for the past three years and also captained Team USA’s silver medal-winning national team at last February’s Olympics in Vancouver.
Langenbrunner’s new coach and his new captain, the only player still in Dallas who skated alongside him in his previous stint here, were happy to welcome him back to Texas.
“Just knowing Jamie personally, I know what he brings to the team and I’m excited about having him come,” said Brenden Morrow
, who was a rookie on the Stars’ squad that returned to the Finals in 2000, but lost to those same Devils. “He’s a good leader, has good work ethic, plays in all situations, so I’m looking forward to him getting here. He’s got a big shot on the power play, he’s hard on pucks in the forecheck. We know he’s been in two pretty good systems, in Dallas in the Hitchcock era and in Jersey, so he’s going to have that relentless back pressure. Just an overall good player.”
“You’ve got a guy that’s very familiar with Dallas and familiar with a great many of our fan base,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “And on the other side of it, he’s a great leader, not only a captain of his own team but the captain of the U.S. Olympic team last year, and a guy with vast playoff experience, so if you’re talking about a shot in the arm, we’ve gotten a tremendous one here today and we couldn’t be more pleased to have Jamie Langenbrunner on board. We happen to have number 15 open and he’ll be a wonderful addition to our club.”
Besides the fact that the club is adding an excellent player, everyone was happy with the deal because of what it represents: that the Stars are in a good position in the Western Conference standings heading into the second half of the season and have strong potential for the playoffs. Owning a 24-13-4 record through 41 games, Dallas leads the Pacific Division and sits third in the Conference, looking like a good bet to make the post-season after failing to qualify the past two years.
“I think it’s terrific for our guys,” Crawford said. “We’ve played very well to this point in the season and I think our players will view it the way we’re viewing it, that it’s a great addition to our club, that it helps make us a better team.”
“I don’t think any of us had a crystal ball and knew what type of team we were going to be coming out of training camp,” Nieuwendyk noted. “We’re now halfway through the season and I think all of us are really happy with where we’re at. There’s a good feeling in the locker room, there’s a belief in that locker room and I think this move today will even strengthen that belief. I think it sends a message to people, to our fans and our players in the locker room, that we’re serious not only about the future of our team but currently right now. We think we have a good team.”
Langenbrunner won’t make it to Dallas in time to skate in Friday night’s contest against the New York Rangers, but he’s excited to step into the lineup of a team that has been playing well and just hopes to enhance what’s already here.
“I’m going to come there and be who I am,” said Langenbrunner, who’s recorded four goals and 14 points in 31 games this season. “I’ve always considered myself a leader in a certain way and I’m pretty sure I’m going to come and be the oldest guy on the team, but they’re doing a lot of good things there. I’m going to just come in and support what Brenden’s doing from a leadership aspect and just do what I can to play the game I know how to play. If that means stepping in on the third line or fourth line or second line, whatever it is, whatever they need me to do, I have no issues. It’s obviously a team that’s worked hard to get themselves in a good position and I just want to come in and support that.”
Crawford already has a few ideas about how he wants to utilize his new player, noting that he would probably start him on the third line, where Steve Ott
, Tom Wandell
and Adam Burish
have done well recently.
“I think the fact that he’s a right shot, he will play on right wing,” Crawford said. “Just where he’s going to play, he’ll probably start with Ott and Burish or Ott and Wandell or something like that and as far as special teams, he’s got the ability to kill penalties, he’s got the ability to play on the power play. In the past, he’s played the point on the power play, so those are all areas that add to our depth. We’re so pleased with the leadership and the experience that he brings.”
“I know Jamie probably better than anybody and I think there’s a number of fronts where he fits in well with our group,” Nieuwendyk added. “We haven’t had right shots for quite some time. Jere Lehtinen retired, but we’ve really been missing a right shot from a power play standpoint. From a performance standpoint, he’s really going to help us. He can solidify a third line with Ott and Burish, and he obviously has the capability to play up in the lineup, too. We’re probably going to use him in a number of different roles.
“Besides the on-ice performance, I know the character of Jamie, and I know he’s going to be a terrific fit for us in the locker room. He’s familiar with our organization, he’s familiar with a couple of our players and I think it helps with where we are currently to have the type of character of Jamie and the type of leader and that will help us push towards the playoffs.”
Langenbrunner’s extensive post-season experience will definitely help on a team that has missed the playoffs two years in a row and has a number of key under-25 key players on it. Besides his Cup triumph in Dallas, Langenbrunner also won a Cup in 2003 with the Devils and sports an impressive 33 goals and 86 points in 137 career playoff games over the course of his 14 NHL seasons.
“Any time you have guys that have been the distance and have had those playoff experiences, they’re guys that can help younger guys that haven’t been there,” Crawford said. “This team hasn’t been in the playoffs for a couple of years and we’re not taking anything for granted, we’re in a dogfight for the playoffs. We know that right now is to get every point that we can in every game that we can get them in, and the addition of Jamie Langenbrunner helps in that regard, gives us a little more depth on our team.”
After notching 19 goals and 61 points for New Jersey last season, Langenbrunner has struggled a bit this year, as has the entire Devil team. New Jersey has qualified for the playoffs every year he’s been there, but this season has sunk to last place in the entire NHL with a sub-par 10-28-2 record, so leaving that scenario for Dallas is somewhat bittersweet for Langenbrunner.
“We had high expectations coming into this season, like we do every year in New Jersey and obviously, we have not lived up to that and it’s been a very difficult few months for all of us,” admitted Langenbrunner, who also owned a -15 plus/minus rating. “This has been home for seven, eight years for me and the organization has been great to me and given me a lot of opportunities and I won a Stanley Cup here and have a lot of great friends here. But I see what Joe’s doing there in Dallas and the team he’s building and it’s something that excites me, feeling that I can come and be a part of it. I’m excited about the opportunity.”
“I don’t think anybody’s season in New Jersey has gone particularly well this year,” Nieuwendyk said of Langenbrunner’s 2010-11 performance to date. “It’s been frustrating for everybody there, but Jamie is still a terrific player, he’s a terrific person and he’s a warrior. I know he’s going to bring his ‘A game’ to us and I still believe there’s lots of game there.”
In the final year of a contract that pays him $2.8 million a season, whether or not Langenbrunner re-signs in Dallas by next summer affects the conditions of the trade, which stipulates the Stars send New Jersey a third round selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
“The conditions are, if we get to the playoffs and win the first round, it switches to a second, or if we re-sign Jamie,” Nieuwendyk clarified, adding that a draft pick swap occurs with Devils GM Lou Lamoriello if Dallas signs Langenbrunner after he becomes a free agent. “If we sign him after July 1, we give him our second and he gives us his third.”
In the end, what it all adds up to is that the Stars added an impact player without surrendering anyone off their roster and that one of the franchise’s most beloved players returns home like the prodigal son. It may have taken awhile, but better late than never.
“Obviously, I still have a lot of friends out of hockey and around the organization there and I’ve kept in touch with a lot of people there,” Langenbrunner said of the DFW Metroplex. “I lived there for seven years and was able to have a lot of success playing there and I loved playing there. It was hard for me to leave when that happened, but I grew to love New Jersey and now it’s kind of coming full circle. It’s kind of odd, but it’s definitely a comfortable spot for me.”