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Stars address needs with six free agent additions

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

After three straight seasons of missing the playoffs, the Dallas Stars have been busy this off-season revamping their club, and General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk continued the process by signing six new players on the opening day of free agency.

Vernon Fiddler
Joining the organization on Friday were former Boston right winger Michael Ryder (who signed for two years at $3.5 million each), ex-Phoenix center Vernon Fiddler (three years, $1.8 million each), former Thrashers right winger Radek Dvorak (one year, $1.5 million), ex-Oilers defenseman Sheldon Souray (one year, $1.6 million), former Calgary blueliner Adam Pardy (two years, $2 million per season), and ex-Chicago center Jake Dowell (one year at $800,000).

The spate of signings address a variety of areas that the Stars felt they needed to upgrade, not the least of which was club depth, which was exposed last February and March when the squad suffered a slew of injuries that led to a slump that ultimately cost them a post-season berth.

“We’re very excited about the additions we made today,” Nieuwendyk said. “We identified the players we wanted to acquire and were able to get them. We’ve added six good players to our club and we feel we have improved our overall depth. We did a lot of research and today was an important day for us. I’m very pleased with the players that we acquired.”

The moves should also result in the Stars enhancing their penalty killing, especially with the additions of strong PK players such as Dvorak, Fiddler and Dowell, improved face-off prowess (Fiddler, Dowell), and increased versatility overall. The Stars have also augmented many of the little things that often go unnoticed, along with an extra dose of character.

“I think we needed to get better in that area, and we’ve added some people that can do that,” Nieuwendyk said of the penalty killing unit, which ranked 23rd in the 30-team NHL last season. “Jake Dowell is also a player that can take face-offs and play penalty kill, so we have some versatility there. I think the biggest thing for me is, the one thing we identified coming out of last year is that we needed to improve our depth and I think we’ve done that here today with guys that have played the game, know how to play the game and are good role players that can help us do a lot of things.”

Perhaps the most significant addition was that of Ryder, a two-time 30-goal scorer who connected for eight goals and 17 points for the Stanley Cup-winning Bruins in 25 playoff games this past spring.

Michael Ryder is a veteran player who brings scoring punch to our offense,” Nieuwendyk said. “He’s a Stanley Cup champion and will be a great addition to our leadership group. He’s a right shot that will give us power play presence and versatility to do things on line combinations and he’s a proven goal scorer. I think that’s his biggest asset, that he thinks about scoring goals and has that quick release and I think he’ll be a good complement for a number of our forwards that play in the top six.”

As for Ryder, he was excited to come to a team that actively pursued his services.

Michael Ryder
“They were interested in me, and it just seemed like they really wanted me to come there, and for me, that’s what I wanted,” said Ryder, 31, who totaled 18 goals and 41 points in the 2010-11 regular season. “I wanted to go to a team that really wants me and I want to try and be a player that that helps out in any situation and can help the team win. That’s what I’m looking forward to and I’m excited to head there.”

Ryder, who averaged just 14:29 of ice time per game last season, was also looking forward to playing a larger offensive role on the Stars than he did in Boston.

“My ice time, I didn’t get a whole lot, I played third line and didn’t get a lot of time on the power play,” said Ryder, who skated for Montreal from 2003-08 before signing as a free agent with Boston. “For me, it was a good time there, I won a Stanley Cup there, which was pretty amazing, but right now, I’m happy to be going to a place where they plan to put me in situations as a game-breaker, a guy that can score goals, and that’s the situation I want to be in. I want to be that guy they look to when they need a goal.”

Another factor that attracted the 6-foot, 192-pound Ryder to the Stars and the Stars to him is that he has a strong familiarity with Dallas center Mike Ribeiro, after the two played together with the Canadiens from 2003-06 and in the AHL before that.

“I think that’s a factor,” Nieuwendyk acknowledged. “They obviously know each other, and we all know the gifted playmaker that Ribby is, so there naturally could be a good fit there, although Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson have great playmaking ability as well, so Ryder is going to have lots of opportunities to put the puck in the net.”

“For sure, I played with him in the minors for a few years and also in Montreal my first two years and we get along with each other well and we played well together,” added Ryder of Ribeiro. “I’m not sure what the lines are going to be like, I’ll see what they are when I get there, but it’s nice to know that you have somebody there that you’ve played with before.”

The biggest name that jumps out among the group might be Souray, a 34-year-old blueliner who starred for years as a dominating offensive defenseman in Montreal, but has been beset by injuries the last couple of years. He actually spent last season in the minors, loaned by Edmonton to Washington’s AHL affiliate in Hershey, before the Oilers bought out the final year of his $4.5 million contract earlier in the week.

Needless to say, the man with the booming slap shot was excited about the chance to return to the NHL and to get an opportunity in Dallas.

“At the end of the day, I was real happy to get the news a couple of days ago that we were going to turn the page and I was going to be a free agent,” said Souray, who compiled four goals and 19 points in just 40 AHL games with Hershey last year. “And to get it done today with the team that I wanted to get this done with is a tremendous thrill. I’ve always had my eye on Dallas. I’ve always seen they’re not afraid to bring players in, to develop their players, to bring guys in that they think will help the team win. They’re an organization that’s committed to winning, and they’ve done so. With some of the restraints against them right now, they’re still being as competitive as they can be.” 

“I sense an unbelievable amount of motivation with him,” said Nieuwendyk. “I had a good, long talk with him this afternoon, and I was impressed. I realize some people may view this as a gamble, but I believe it’s a gamble worth taking. He’s motivated, he wants to show the NHL that he can still be a top defenseman in this league, and the element that really helps us as well is that we haven’t had that point presence on the power play for a few years here, since Sergei Zubov left, and really, that cannon that he has will be a good complement for what we’re trying to do on the power play.”

Ryder also skated with the 6-foot-4, 233-pound Souray in Montreal and had nothing but good things to say about him.

“I played with Shelly in Montreal for a few years and he was a big part of that team,” said Ryder. “He’s a good team guy, all the guys like him, he’s pretty out-going and you can joke around with him. He was there my rookie year and took me in a little bit, and he taught me a few things and he helped me out. I really enjoyed him there and I didn’t see him as a distraction at all. Guys go through different situations in this league and he just went through it. It was tough for him, but it’s good for him to get back in this league and show that he can play in this league.”

And while taking on a former top-notch player hoping to regain past glory sometimes doesn’t work out, particularly with someone with a lengthy recent injury history, Nieuwendyk points out that the risk vs. reward equation in this case works out pretty well in the Stars’ favor.

“There’s always a concern, sure, but he feels good, he feels healthy,” Nieuwendyk said. “Some of those things were freak accidents, like he got in a fight and broke his hand, but I think that we’re both sharing the risk here. He signed a one-year deal and that’s what we were offering and we think that the reward is a good pay-off.”

“I feel great,” said Souray, who played in Montreal from 2000-07. “I feel healthy and ready to go out and getting this done so early in the summer just provides me with a real determination to get myself ready for training camp and just give myself the best opportunity to have a great season and try to help the organization.”

Dallas also improved its size on the blue line with not only Souray, but with the 6-foot-2, 206-pound Pardy, who spent the past three years with Calgary, but skated in just 30 last season due to two separate shoulder injuries. Pardy also has a connection to recently-hired Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan, having played for him in 2005-06 with ECHL Las Vegas.

“Adam is a hard-working player who we feel adds a lot to our defensive corps," Nieuwendyk said. “He will be a good fit among our blueliners. We talked to Gully about Adam Pardy leading up to this and his history with him certainly was a factor with this signing. Adam Pardy’s been on our radar for quite some time, as an up-and-coming player, with the arrow pointing up in his game. He’s had some injuries, but he’s feeling good and healthy.”

The acquisition of Fiddler, 31, a player the Stars have faced often over the last two years in Phoenix and in Nashville before that, gives a nice boost to the club’s penalty killing and face-off options.

“He’s a guy that really is a meat-and-potatoes guy that is a player that you win with,” Nieuwendyk said. “That’s really what we’ve tried to do here. We’ve tried to add guys that we feel add to the culture and the character of what we’re trying to do and I think Vernon Fiddler exemplifies that. He’s been a well-liked teammate wherever he’s been, he’s a versatile player, he’s a great face-off guy and a tremendous penalty killer. He’s just a warrior in that bottom group of players that you win with.”

“I played against Fiddler a little bit, and he’s a hard-working player and he gets his nose dirty all the time and helps the team win,” Ryder said. “It’s good to see (the Stars) wanting to move forward and I’m just glad to be a part of it and I hope I can help make a difference.”

All in all, it appears that the Stars have improved their team and if this is the group that Dallas heads into 2011-12 with, Nieuwendyk believes it will be a better, tougher team to play against.

“I think we’re happy today, but we’re always going to keep our eyes and ears open to help our hockey club,” said Nieuwendyk. “I can’t say for sure that this is what we’ll start the season with. I believe it is (a better team). I realize that by taking Brad Richards out of your lineup, you’re losing a lot there, but I’ve gone with the direction that we’re going to be a hard-working team and we’ve added to the culture in that locker room and I think with the size that we’ve added on the back end with Pardy and Souray, the experience of Souray and with the depth that we’ve added up front, that we’re going to be a more well-rounded team.”

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