When Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill signed defenseman Johnny Oduya to a two-year contract Wednesday, he called it the last piece of the puzzle for the team this offseason. Other pieces added included forward Patrick Sharp and goaltender Antti Niemi.
While Nill has been busy acquiring pieces, Stars coach Lindy Ruff has been busy pondering the possibilities of how the pieces will fit. And reflecting on the commitment from ownership.
“It’s really important for us to take that next step. These guys have been winners and know how to win. They should help us get there,” Ruff said. “Ownership has really stepped up and said we can make this team better. I’ve got to give Tom [Gaglardi] and his family a lot of credit for making this team better with the last couple of pieces here. It’s been tremendous.”
The Stars’ three key acquisitions own six Stanley Cups between them, all with Chicago. Sharp leads the way with three.
“When I talked to him, he felt he had a little bit of an off year last year. He is really excited to come to Dallas. He seemed to be a real pain in our side when we played them. He’s got a great goal-scoring touch,” Ruff said. “Obviously, he brings the experience of winning Stanley Cups in Chicago. That kind of experience is tough to duplicate. He’s a veteran guy that has been there, knows how to win and should help with the youth of our team.”
Ruff said he can use the 33-year-old Sharp, who shoots right, as either a left wing or a right wing. That will give him a lot of options as to where Sharp could slot on the Dallas forward lines.
“In the top six, he could easily play with [Jamie] Benn and [Tyler] Seguin. We could leave [Patrick] Eaves up top and [Sharp] could play with [Jason] Spezza,” Ruff said. “I think there is an opportunity to play with [Cody] Eakin. I think the flexibility among our top two gives us a lot of good options. It’s made us deeper; it’s made us better. He’s a real nice piece. As a team, we didn’t need more offense but his veteran presence and offense is really going to help.”
Oduya won two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks and helps fill the hole in the top four with Trevor Daley heading to Chicago in the Sharp deal. The 33-year-old defenseman also brings experience to a blue line that feature a lot of youth.
“I like the fact that he has been a proven winner now the past two or three years. He’s been a real solid defender, keeps the game simple,” Ruff said. “We know as a team we can score. He should fill the void on the defensive side for Daley. He won’t have the offense, but he’ll give us a solid veteran presence in our top four.”
Ruff has been toying around with defense pairings and, as always, things could change. But he does have an idea on what he would like to give a look when camp opens in September.
“I think [John] Klingberg and [Alex] Goligoski played really well together. I’d like to try him (Oduya) with [Jason] Demers right off the bat. He gives us another left-right combo,” Ruff said. “I think camp and preseason will sort things out. There might be an opportunity to play him with Klingberg. I think we can look at all the different options.”
The Stars acquired Niemi from San Jose during the NHL draft and then signed him to a contract a couple days later. Niemi, who helped Chicago win a Stanley Cup in 2010, addressed a key need for the Stars, who have been basically a one-man show in net the past couple seasons with Kari Lehtonen.
“With the travel that we do, the late hours we get in and the load we’ve put on our starting goaltender, this should really help balance things off. It should make both guys better,” Ruff said. “I think they will compete for prime time. I feel we don’t have to overplay one guy. That should be good for us. A lot of teams utilized two goalies, needed two goalies to get into the playoffs. You look at the Rangers when [Henrik] Lundqvist went down. Chicago needed their other guy to step in during the first round of the playoffs. You can look at Calgary. I think either one of our two guys could struggle but I think the important part is we can put the other guy in and have a real good second option. Again, that just makes us better.”
Both Niemi and Lehtonen are used to handling a majority of the load for their teams, playing 60 or more games in recent years. Ruff said time will tell how much each goaltender will play and if the plan works out the way the Stars hope, they should be in good shape.
“That part will sort itself out,” Ruff said. “If you’re playing well, both guys will play. If one guy gets on a little bit of a run, he will take the ball for a while. We would hope as a team that we could get both guys playing really well. I think if you could keep both guys fresh and keep both guys playing that would be a dynamite recipe to have a heck of a year.”
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.