The Dallas Stars seemed set at forward for 2016-17, but Stars GM Jim Nill decided to make another move to add some skill and experience. The Stars announced Wednesday they had signed veteran unrestricted free agent Jiri Hudler to a one-year, $2 million contract.
"He's someone we've been talking with and about all summer," Nill said. "He adds another skilled player to our lineup. It was an opportunity to add depth. You can never have enough skill, I know that much."
Stars captain Jamie Benn has seen plenty of Hudler over the years.
"Depth is a huge part of winning in this league and he's another guy that adds to the depth that we have here," Benn said. "He's a smart player, thinks the game well. I think he is going to fit in great here."
The 32-year-old Hudler has played eleven seasons in the NHL, registering 417 points (161 goals, 256 assists) in 676 games with Detroit, Calgary, and Florida. He tallied 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) with both Calgary and Florida last season. In 2014-15, he set career highs in goals (31), assists (45) and points (76) in 78 games with Calgary.
The 5-10, 183-pound left-shot right wing can play up and down the lineup and on the power play.
"He can play anywhere. I project him as a top six [forward]. With our lineup, we are a top nine, top 12 some nights," said Nill. "His hockey IQ is as good as anybody in the game. I think when you look at him possibly being on our power play with the other skill guys we have, it is just another dangerous person for us as a weapon."
Nill knows Hudler from his days with the Detroit Red Wings, who drafted the native of Czech Republic in the second round (58th overall) of the 2002 NHL Draft. Hudler has played 83 NHL playoff games, winning a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2008 and returning to the Stanley Cup Final in 2009 with the Red Wings.
"I drafted him. I've known him for 17 years," Nill said. "He's got a winning pedigree. He's been in the playoffs, won a Stanley Cup, played at the World Championship. He's got that pedigree. It just shows we are committed to taking that next step to be a winning team."
The signing of Hudler could create a logjam on the roster. Once Valeri Nichushkin is signed to a new contract, the Stars will have 14 likely NHL forwards under contract. That group includes Brett Ritchie and Curtis McKenzie , who are expected to push for roster spots this season. If the Stars carry eight defensemen - as Nill has said they will - then something would have to give to get the Stars down to a 23-man roster. The Stars could carry 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders or 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders to get to 23 players. But there is a long way before NHL rosters need to be finalized.
Stars GM Jim Nill still has one of his own free agents to sign, and that is forward Valeri Nichushkin. Nill said he and the agent for Nichushkin, who is a restricted free agent, have been talking.
"His agent and I have had great dialogue," Nill said. "We look forward to getting him signed and getting him in here. It's a big year for him to continue his growth. We have high expectations for him."
Nichushkin, the Stars' first-round pick (10th overall) in 2013, is coming off his three-year entry-level contract. He registered 29 points (9 goals, 20 assists) in 79 games last season.