After dealing for goaltender Antti Niemi and forward Patrick Sharp this offseason, Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill addressed his defense Wednesday, signing free agent Johnny Oduya to a two-year contract.
“Johnny was kind of the last piece of the puzzle,” Nill said. “He’s an important piece for us.”
The signing of the 33-year-old Oduya helps fill the void left by the departure of Trevor Daley, who went to Chicago in the Sharp deal. And it adds some experience to the Stars NHL defense group that currently features four players who are 23 or younger.
“After doing this deal with Chicago, I knew we were going to lose a very good top four defenseman. Trevor Daley was a big part of our back end,” Nill said. “We were very young on the backend – we’re comfortable with that – but anytime you have the opportunity to add an experienced guy like Johnny Oduya, you can’t go wrong. The term was right, and we thought it was a perfect fit.”
Oduya has won two Stanley Cups with Chicago in the past three seasons. He’s been on the market the past two weeks, waiting patiently to see if the Blackhawks might be able to free up enough cap space to bring him back.
“As a player you want to wait when somebody is willing to look into the option for you to stay,” Oduya said. “Then as time progresses other things become more interesting.”
That led him to the Stars and Wednesday’s deal, which will pay him an average of $3.75 million over the next two seasons.
“I am really happy with the situation here,” he said. “I was very fortunate to get an offer like this from Dallas. They felt it was good fit, and I do, too.”
Oduya is familiar with the Stars. He has seen plenty of them the past two seasons with both Chicago and Dallas playing in the Central Division.
“We played against them numerous times the last couple years, and I think it is a very, very fast team,” Oduya said. “It’s a similar style to Chicago, want to have the puck and create things. I think the speed is the thing that stands out the most. It’s a new challenge, a new chapter. It’s going to be a lot of fun. For me, I am comfortable with the role that I play and the things I can bring. It is not going to change a whole lot for me, and that is something that I like.”
The 6-0, 188-pound defenseman, who shoots left, likes where the Stars sit right now and sees a lot of potential as he looks ahead to the 2015-16 season.
“Last year was not the result the organization wanted. The potential is there, I guarantee,” Oduya said. “It could be a matter of one or two players maturing a little more, taking that extra step and kind of break through that barrier. I think the leadership is good. The coaching and everything is right there now. There is an addition on goaltending. I think all the parts look good. It’s just a matter of taking that next step.”
Oduya, a native of Sweden, has played 664 NHL games with New Jersey, Atlanta/Winnipeg and Chicago, registering 152 points (31 goals, 121 assists). He’s played in 89 playoff games as well, picking up 25 points (5 goals, 20 assists). He has an Olympic silver medal as well.
“He’s responsible defensively, moves the puck well and he was a big part of Chicago’s Stanley Cup championship this year,” said Nill. “I know him from my scouting days when he played in Sweden. He’s a fitness fanatic. He’s very disciplined. I think he is going to be a great mentor for our younger players.”
Among those younger players he will help mentor are a couple of young Swedish defensemen in John Klingberg and Patrik Nemeth.
“[Klingberg] is one of the young, skilled Swedish defensemen that are coming up. Last year, it was fun to watch him play. He’s very dynamic. He reminds me of Erik Karlsson coming up; he has the potential to be a great defenseman. It’s going to be fun to get to know him,” Oduya said. “Nemeth I know a little bit from skating in Stockholm a couple of times. Same thing there, new teammates and it’s going to be fun to get to know those guys.”
The addition of Oduya gives the Stars eight likely defenseman on the NHL roster – Oduya, Klingberg, Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, Jordie Benn, Nemeth, Jyrki Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak. Nill said the Stars could carry eight as insurance against injury and the demanding travel of the Dallas schedule.
“We are set up that we can run eight defenseman. It’s not an issue at all. It’s a long year,” Nill said. “When we started putting our team together for next year we knew we’d probably have eight defenseman. With the travel and injuries, I think the more defenseman you have, the better.”
Nill said the Oduya signing should wrap up his major moves – unless a trade pops up – and that it is now time for the Stars to take some strides forward.
“I think we have addressed our needs,” Nill said. “I think we are at that point where we have to start moving up. We're in the beginning, of I think, where we should be starting to make the jump."
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.