For all the things the Stars did well last year in a season that ended with them just missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the final Dallas team under Marc Crawford was deficient in one key area-physicality.
Sure, there were some guys on the roster who could deliver some muscle and drop the gloves when need be, but that wasn’t the roles they were best suited for. So when Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk began listing his off-season personnel needs, he put adding some muscle to the roster at or near the top of the list.
With the addition of Eric Godard, a hulking forward from Pittsburgh who was a teammate of Dallas defenseman Alex Goligoski
before he was traded to the Stars just before the deadline, and veteran Sheldon Souray
, who most recently played in Edmonton, he addressed that deficiency and then some.
Godard is a 31-year-old, 6-foot-4 forward who brings a pretty heady reputation as one of the toughest guys in the NHL to Big D.
“It [the vibe here] seems good, yeah. The town seems good. The people are nice. The team’s been pretty good. The guys are good. Not a lot of the guys have given me their phone numbers yet, so I’m not sure if that’s a hint or something,” he said. “It’s been good. Guys are good. Everyone’s been good. It seems like a good team. Everyone’s pretty tight, ready to play and wants to work. Coming into a good situation is always a good thing.”
He admits when he was first considering joining the Stars in free agency, he picked Goligoski’s brain about what the roster and organization was like.
“I talked to him once and the first thing he said was to come to Dallas it’s awesome. He loves it. That’s basically all you’ve got to hear really,” Godard said. “It’s always had a history. It just seems like it’s a good place with a good organization with all the guys they have around.”
That former Pittsburgh teammate even offered a hint of what Stars fans can expect to see from a guy who should be their new enforcer.
“He’s not the biggest guy but he’s as tough as they come. He’s just got that characteristic about him. I don’t know what it is. More than that, he’s a great guy too,” Goligoski said. “He’s a really nice guy and kind of an eccentric guy too.”
But there is one reason above all why his new teammates will quickly gravitate to him.
“He just loves the team aspect of everything. I think in the role he gets put into, with his characteristics kind of maybe makes him that much better of a teammate,” Goligoski said. “He loves when the team does well. Whether he’s contributing or up in the press box, it doesn’t matter, the ultimate team guy for sure.”
As for Souray, he’s a 6-foot-4 veteran defenseman whose most recent stint in the NHL came with the Oilers in 2009-10. He last played for Hershey of the AHL, seeing the ice for 40 games with the Bears last year. Like Godard, one of the first things he noticed during his first informal workout with his new teammates was how strong the team chemistry is.
“The overall vibe is that everyone’s really positive and excited about some of the changes, both personnel wise and coaching wise. Before any changes were made, I think this group was obviously a very tight group,” Souray said. “I saw that the minute I walked in here that guys get along really well. It’s a loose group that has some good leadership and some good young guys. Everyone just seems to be real fun, excited and positive about starting the year. It’s definitely a good feeling of excitement for everyone. Even the new guys who have come in, it seems like everyone’s been here for a while, so it’s good. The sooner you get guys feeling comfortable, the easier it is to play with each other as a group and to coach us a group. It’s good to get that out of the way early.”
Besides the Oilers, the 35-year-old blue liner has also laced ‘em up for the Devils and Canadiens. In fact, it was during his time in Montreal that he was teammates with current Dallas center Mike Ribeiro
as well as forward Michael Ryder
, who also joined the Stars this off-season during free agency.
Getting to play alongside two guys he knows so very well is just one added bonus associated with his signing on the dotted line to become a Star.
“Yeah and I’ve known [Morrow] a little bit too. I respect all of these guys as players and what they’ve been able to accomplish. The young guys, their attitudes and work ethic are something that you’ve got to admire. Knowing some guys personally that I’ve played with makes the transition a little easier maybe than a young guy coming in or a rookie trying to make the team,” Souray said.
While the specific roles that Godard and Souray will play for this year’s club in year one of the Glen Gulutzan era have still yet to be determined, both veteran players are going to go with the flow and accept their respective roles as being best for the team.
“Yeah, I’d like to come and help out where I can. This team has a lot of grit and toughness,” Godard said. “Guys go out there and compete. A lot of guys get to the tough areas and stuff like that. We just want to come in and just help and add to that.”
Souray agrees but took it one step further, discussing how the Stars adding two physical presences like himself and Godard will make them even more competitive in the ultra-physical Pacific Division.
“Well, we’re in a physical division. There are teams with good size who like to play physical,” he said. “They [Anaheim, San Jose and LA] have got some players who like to go out, play physical and make games hard. Around the league, the key now is to not just have a bunch of big guys who go out, run around and hit. You’ve got to be able to play the game, think the game, react to the game situations be dependable and most of all, help the team win. What the management has seen as maybe a bit of a weakness with this team, a smaller team that teams maybe think they can push around, I really don’t think that’s the case anymore. I think we’ve got guys who are physically capable of going out and matching up with other teams’ physicality. Not only that, but guys who can play.”
And he has been around the NHL long enough to realize that Nieuwendyk bringing in guys like himself and Godard will allow other role players on the Stars, guys like Krys Barch and Adam Burish
among others to focus more on other responsibilities since they will no longer have to deliver that physical presence on a regular basis.
“There have been gritty players here, guys like Adam Burish
, Nick Grossman and Barchy, these guys are going to be able to play a bigger role and feel comfortable playing a bigger role because of all the guys who don’t mind getting their noses dirty. Same with [Ott], he’s a good player and we’re going to need him to be a good player,” Souray said. “Maybe he can focus a little less on getting under people’s skin and getting them off their game and more on how he’s going to score 20 or 25 goals or whatever he expects of himself and the team expects. I think for us, our job as guys with a little size is to play big, play hard, not play stupid and put the team in any kind of jeopardy with penalties and stuff but to play big, play hard and set an example and we can do that. We can do that physically now and not look a guys having to play out of their elements. Guys are playing like that and it will help everyone all the way through.”
And yes, he does know a great deal about his new teammate Godard and is definitely glad to be on the same side as the veteran forward.
“Well, if he isn’t the toughest heavyweight in the league, then he’s right up there. I think more than that though, he’s a good team guy,” Souray said. “No one ever has a bad word to say to him. He knows his role. It’s a tough role and he embraces it but he also embraces his teammates. Fighting is just one component of having a guy like that in your lineup. He’s definitely got the size and is willing to protect his teammates but he can also go out there and he can play. He knows his role. He accepts it. He’s a good team guy.”
But he’s also seen enough of Godard to know that the hidden value in Nieuwendyk bringing him in is not just in the physical presence he brings to the Stars, but also in how that presence and his skill set can help make other members of the roster better players.
“I think for guys like Krys Barch or even Grossman and Fistric to a certain degree, when you’re a bigger guy, they expect you automatically to be big, physical and fight. For some guys, that’s really not their job. I think having a guy like Eric [Godard] around will let these other guys play their games a little bit more. He makes his teammates better just by being there. That’s a really good thing for the team,” Souray said.