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Stars happy to lock up core defenseman Goligoski for four more years

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

Another building block is in place.

After signing defenseman Alex Goligoski to a new four-year, $18.4 million contract extension Monday (at a salary cap hit of $4.6 million per season), the Dallas Stars managed to keep one of their core players in town for a long time.

Goligoski Highlights
Goligoski, who would have become a restricted free agent next summer, has enjoyed his time in Dallas since the Stars acquired him from Pittsburgh last Feb. 21 in exchange for James Neal and Matt Niskanen. He’s thrilled to know he’ll be here a long time and glad that the potential distraction of ongoing contract negotiations are now completed.

“Relieved the process is over. It’s really exciting, four years I’m going to play in a place I love,” said Goligoski, 26, who has registered five goals, leading all Dallas blueliners, and 15 points in 36 games this season. “We’ve got a good group of guys here and from the second I got here, I felt really comfortable and liked it a lot. It’s a little peace of mind and one less thing to think about during hockey season, which for me, is emotionally kind of draining.”

For Dallas management, getting another core player under a long-term contract was a major part of the organization’s overall team-building approach.

“I think the key is that we view Alex Goligoski as one of our core players and that’s a philosophy of our organization, to identify our core players and make sure they’re long-term Dallas Stars,” said General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. “He’s a great person, he’s well-respected in the locker room and he’s a big part of our team. With the minutes that he plays and the style of game that he has, I think it’s important to our team’s success, and we didn’t want him to get into a situation where he becomes an unrestricted free agent the year after. He’s that important to us.”

“He’s an important part of our puzzle here,” added Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “Not only his play, but his character. The type of character that Joe wants and that every coach wants in their dressing room is, you’ve got an elite defenseman with an attitude to try and get better each day and a great human being, so what else do you want from a player other than that? It’s a big step for this organization to have Goose for four years locked in - it’s a tremendous step for our organization in getting us where we want to go.”

The move demonstrates the impressive amount of confidence the club has in Goligoski, whose importance to the club is underscored by the fact that he tops all Stars in ice time, averaging 22:34 per game, as he heads into the prime years of his career. The man known affectionately by his teammates as ‘Goose,’ also ranks sixth on the squad with 47 blocked shots.

“It’s flattering, humbling, there’s a lot of emotions that go with it,” said the 5-foot-11, 181-pound native of Grand Rapids, Minn., regarding the extension. “For me personally, I’m glad the process is over and I’m really excited for the next four years here.”

“I think you see the way the NHL is now in the post-lockout era,” Nieuwendyk noted. “Players like him thrive with the minutes that they can play and the movement that they have on the ice, and his abilities with the puck, so it’s an important signing for us, in the prime of his career.”

Now that he’s locked in as part of the Stars’ nucleus of players and expects to stick around for a while, look for Goligoski to begin stepping up in the leadership department a bit more.

 “That’s a role I’ve always kind of wanted and liked,” said Goligoski, who was originally Pittsburgh’s second-round selection (61st overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and was a member of the Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup championship squad. “Obviously, you’re not a leader when you first come into the league, unless you’re a superstar or something like that. I definitely think right now I’m at a point where that’s a role I can take on, and I look forward to evolving that part of my game.”

It’s already been happening, as he’s been a positive influence on 22-year-old rookie blueliner Philip Larsen, particularly when the two have paired up on occasion this season, including during the Stars’ 5-2 loss in Minnesota Saturday night.

“Alex is a really, really good defenseman and is a guy I really look up to,” said Larsen, who scored his first NHL goal, in his 28th game, in that contest against the Wild. “Having a guy on the team that plays the way you want to play, it’s easy for me to look at him in practices and he’s got things I can learn. I enjoy playing with him and he really deserves (the contract extension). He’s been working hard and he’s got that offensive ability to make plays. He’s a really good defenseman.”

Following his recovery from a broken thumb suffered back on Nov. 11 in his first visit back to Pittsburgh since the trade, Goligoski has gradually re-built his game and has been contributing at both ends of the ice on a regular basis lately.

Through the last 11 games, Goligoski has compiled seven points (one goal, six assists) following a stretch in which he’d registered just one goal and one assist in the previous 13.

“I feel pretty good right now,” said Goligoski, who missed 11 games with the injury, a span in which the Stars went 4-6-1 following a stellar 11-4-0 start. “Coming off the injury, it was kind of touch-and-go there for a little bit, but my legs, everything right now, I feel good.”

And he’s done it despite never really settling in with a consistent blue line partner. Shuffling back and forth from right D to left D and while skating alongside players with such contrasting styles as the smooth-skating Larsen and the bruising Mark Fistric, Goligoski downplayed any adjustments he’s had to make.

“You try to play the same way,” said Goligoski, who starred for three years at the University of Minnesota from 2004-07. “I’ve kind of been playing left and then right, which is a little different, and then you’re playing with both lefties and righties, so things aren’t as automatic as they would be, but that’s just the way it goes. We’ve had injuries, other guys have been shuffled around, too, kind of what every teams goes through, I guess. It’s just building chemistry.”

“He definitely complements my game really well the way he plays,” noted Fistric. “He’s an elite defenseman and it’s great to play with a guy like that, where you can go in the corners, make your battles, win them, and then get the puck to him and he does the rest. He’s a great guy and he deserves it.”

And now the Stars have assured Goligoski will remain in Dallas for years.

“He’s one of the best,” said goaltender Kari Lehtonen, 28, who is signed through the end of next season. “It’s always a solid game that he usually plays. He’s a good skater and most of all, a good decision-maker. He puts the puck in the right places and that helps everybody.”

“We’re very pleased that we were able to sign Alex to this extension,” said Stars owner Tom Gaglardi. “We are committed to building a winner here in Dallas and that starts with re-signing your key players and maintaining a solid foundation for your roster.”

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