It's been an eventful offseason for Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk and he was back at it on Tuesday. He pulled off one of the bigger surprises of free agency, signing forward Jaromir Jagr to a one-year, $4.55 million contract.
"It's a great day for the Dallas Stars," said Nieuwendyk.
The signing of Jagr capped off a series of moves since free agency opened that included the acquisition of center Derek Roy from Buffalo in exchange for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy, and the signings of left wing Ray Whitney and defenseman Aaron Rome.
"In a span of three days we've been able to remake our team a bit and we like it. It fits very well with our long-term direction," said Stars owner Tom Gaglardi. "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.
"I think it's a testament to our franchise that a player of Jaromir's stature would choose to come to Dallas over so many other teams. It's a great day for our franchise. I hope it's the start of a trend where great players want to play in Dallas. It's a great day for our fans and for our franchise."
Jagr, one of the game's all-time great offensive players, returned to the NHL last season after three years in the KHL and registered 54 points (19 goals, 35 assists) in 73 games with the Philadelphia Flyers.
"I don't think there is any question that he has game in the tank. He had a terrific season last year with Philadelphia," said Nieuwendyk. "I spent 45 minutes on the phone with him yesterday and it was really refreshing to hear his outlook on where he is at, his game is at and the passion he still has for it and the work ethic he has to put into it. He's still a world class player. For us to bring a player like that to our franchise is a big deal. "
Jagr, who turned 40 in February, ranks eighth all-time in points (1,653), 11th in goals (665) and 12th in assists (988).
"Even at 40 he is a difficult guy to contain. He is still as good as anybody in the league at using that big body of his down low," Nieuwendyk said. "He still keeps himself in tremendous shape. He knows how much he needs to play in order to be successful, and how much is too much. He is really in tune with that stuff. I think he is going to be a good fit with our group."
He's won two Stanley Cups, one Hart Trophy as the league's MVP and five Art Ross Trophies as the league's leading scorer.
He's done a lot and accomplished a lot in his career, but he's never played for a team in the Western Conference and that, according to Nieuwendyk, had some appeal for Jagr.
"We talked a little about the style of play in West versus the East. I think it was intriguing to him," said Nieuwendyk. "He's a guy that is up for challenges. He's done so much in his career that he views this as a challenge."
There was also the appeal of what the Stars have done with their roster over the past few days, and some of the team's bright young stars.
"He's such a knowledgeable guy on players around the league that he was really intrigued by the players that we have here," said Nieuwendyk. "There was the trade that we made recently for Derek Roy, bringing in a center of his caliber, the possibility of playing alongside Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson."
And the Stars believe that Jagr can help players like Benn and Eriksson the same way he helped Claude Giroux this past season in Philadelphia.
"You look at Jagr and the kind of success he has had working with younger players, which is what we are," said Gaglardi. "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 hardworking. 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."
The addition of Jagr is a boost to the Stars' set of top six forwards, and Nieuwendyk already has an idea of where he might fit.
"I play with the names on my board all the time, but I am staring right now at Jamie Benn at center with Jaromir on right and Loui Eriksson on left," said Nieuwendyk. "It looks pretty good to me in July here."
That could leave Roy centering Whitney and Michael Ryder. Gaglardi said that will be up to the coaches, but whatever combinations are used, the Stars have made improvements.
"Of course we've got Brenden (Morrow), so we've got seven top six guys," Gaglardi said. "It makes for some interesting mixes and opportunities. It's the depth that we didn't have last year."
With the Jagr deal completed, Nieuwendyk indicated things could get a little quiet as far as moves by the Stars.
"I am going to the lake next week and turning my phone off," he said. "I think we are pretty much done now."
But the Stars believe they have accomplished a lot of their goals over the first three days of free agency, making the team better now while still keeping an eye on building for the future. Although the Stars have added some veterans in the offseason, there will still be spots open for younger players to grab.
"We said we need to get better, we've gotten better and we haven't hurt the longer term plan," said Gaglardi. "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."
And Nieuwendyk said Gaglardi's role in what the Stars have done this offseason shouldn't be overlooked. Stable, committed ownership can make a world of difference.
"It's really important to have his backing. It's been tremendous for us. These are moves we would not have been able to make without solid ownership in place," Nieuwendyk said. "Tom has come in here and moved the clouds away from our franchise, and put us back on the map. I think the moves we have been able to make the past few days are an indication that we are back as a relevant franchise."