The Dallas Stars locked up one of their restricted free agents Monday, signing defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka to a two-year contract extension.
It’s a one-way deal worth $1.8 million ($900,000 per season) for the 23-year-old Jokipakka, who made his NHL debut last season. Jokipakka, who was scheduled to a restricted free agent on July 1, played in 51 games, posting ten assists while averaging 16:30 of ice time per game.
“He earned the right to play up in Dallas [last season]. Between injuries, call-ups and different situations he really grabbed the bull by the horns,” Stars GM Jim Nill said. “By the last 30, 40 games he was one of our regular players. It’s good for him.”
Jokipakka, a seventh-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, made his North American pro debut in 2013-14 with the Texas Stars and helped the AHL club to its first Calder Cup championship. He played for Finland at the 2015 World Championship, scoring two goals in eight games.
The signing of Jokipakka gives Dallas six NHL defensemen under contract. Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, John Klingberg, Jason Demers and Jordie Benn are the others. Patrick Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak, who both played in the NHL last season, are restricted free agents still to be signed. Nill likes where his defense stands.
“We’re very happy, and we’ve got four more in the minors that are knocking on the door,” Nill said. “We’ve got Esa Lindell, who just played for Finland in the World Championship. We’ve got [Julius] Honka, who is turning 20 and had a good season down below. There’s [Mattias] Backman, who we acquired in the trade with Detroit. And [Ludwig] Bystrom will come over and get his feet wet turning pro. We’ve got three or four more guys knocking on the door down in the minors. It’s good.”
If the Stars do decide to make an addition on defense, Nill said it will more likely come via trade than free agency.
“I’m always looking,” Nill said. “I wouldn’t say free agency. I think we’ve got 11 guys that I think can play on our team right now. You have to have lots of depth. You are always looking to upgrade. If there is a trade there, it’s something we will definitely look at. As far as the free agent market, we have gone through our meetings and can’t say there is anybody that really jumps out at you for what the investment is going to be money-wise.”
Stars hire Reese as goalie coach, move Valley into development job
The Dallas Stars made a change at the goaltending coach position Monday, hiring Jeff Reese to take over the job. Mike Valley, who has been the Stars goaltending coach the past six seasons, has been named Director of Goaltending Development.
The 49-year-old Reese spent the past six seasons as the goaltending coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, helping develop Steve Mason and Sergei Bobrovsky. He left the job in March. Prior to that, he spent ten seasons with Tampa Bay, where he worked with goaltenders in the Lightning organization and won a Stanley Cup in 2004. He also played in the NHL, suiting up for 174 games with Toronto, Hartford, Calgary, New Jersey and Tampa Bay.
“He’s very experienced,” Nill said. “He’s played in the game, he’s worked with goalies, and he’s won a Stanley Cup as a goalie coach. It’s an opportunity to add to our organization.”
The change at goaltending coach comes after a rough year in net for the Stars, whose goaltenders ranked 27th in the league with a 3.10 goals-against average and 29th with a .895 save percentage. No. 1 goaltender Kari Lehtonen had one of the worst years of his career, ranking 36th in goals-against average and 41st in save percentage among the 45 NHL goaltenders who qualified for league-leader status. Nill sees a new voice as possibly benefitting Lehtonen.
“That’s what we are hoping,” Nill said. “Kari is the first guy to admit he had a bad year. He is going to bounce back. He is going to be a lot better. He is changing his off-ice training program. Now he is going to have a different voice talking to him, I think some different ideas. Mike Valley has done a good job developing him, but sometimes a different voice helps.”
Valley’s role will include working with the Stars goaltending prospects and helping out in scouting the amateur and pro ranks for possible acquisitions.
“We had kind of a void in our organization. We were missing someone working with the younger guys in Austin, out in the juniors, colleges and Europe,” Nill said. “We had nobody out there watching young players for the draft, for trades and free agency. I think this allows everybody to be in the right skillset.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.