The Dallas Stars made some significant offseason moves, adding key players at the goaltending, defense and forward positions. Stars owner Tom Gaglardi talked about those moves and more in a recent interview. Here is some of what he had to say.
On GM Jim Nill’s offseason moves
“I think he did a marvelous job. We had a plan. I attended the pro meetings in the middle of the summer. We bring all the staff together, and it’s a very inclusive, thorough process full of analytics and discussions about every roster player, virtually every roster player around the National Hockey League, with a focus on those who might be available for trade or through free agency. And it includes the farm systems and what players might be available. It’s a hard look at yourself, trying to analyze where we fell short last year, and we came out of that thinking we need to get deeper in goal.”
On the addition of goaltender Antti Niemi (acquired from San Jose for a seventh-round pick)
“Kari [Lehtonen] had an off year, and while we don’t think that will happen again, our backups haven’t been good enough since I have been here. So, we discussed the 1A/1B view because there are so few backups now. I think it is pretty hard on Kari when we give him a night off, and we never win. We knew we had to get deeper in goal, the 1A/1B thing, and that’s why we went after Niemi. He was at the top of our list along with another guy. We got our first choice.
“I think the key to the Niemi deal is that he is a Finn, and he and Kari know each other. I think they are going to work well together. He’s also been there. He’s a very mentally tough guy, and he’s won. I think we’re in very good shape. You look at what Calgary did with two goalies. No one was sure about how good they would be, but between the two of them they certainly got the job done. I think we have the best tandem in the league now. From the goaltending perspective, we did a great job. What’s key is we didn’t give up any assets to get him unless you want to include a seventh-round pick.”
On signing defenseman Johnny Oduya as a free agent
“It didn’t take a New York lawyer to understand that we needed to get better defensively. We weren’t sure how to do that. We certainly discussed all the guys available in free agency with an eye on which guys were going to make us better. There weren’t many available to be honest. Oduya was a guy we had circled as a good fit for us. We weren’t sure whether Chicago was going to let him go, so it was just about being patient. While it is hard to part with a guy like Trevor Daley, that’s what it took to get [the Patrick Sharp] trade done and to get a young player our guys touted in [defenseman] Stephen Johns. That cost us Trevor Daley. But at that point we knew we could get Oduya to cover for Trevor Daley, so that was the decision we made as a hockey club.
“I think the key is we addressed goaltending, we are going to be better defensively. We’ll be better having [Patrik] Nemeth for a full year and another year under the belt for a whole bunch of guys. I think our goaltending is going to be better and our defense will be better, and we did all that without giving up much at all. No low draft picks, we didn’t give up any prospects that we coveted. I think you have to give Jim Nill pretty high marks for having a plan, sticking with the plan, staying patient and waiting for the right time. What makes me happy is I can see the improvement in the roster, albeit losing Trevor Daley, who was maybe our best offensive defenseman last year, unless you want to say John Klingberg eclipsed him. Put a circle around Daley and we really didn’t give up much. To get better and not have to give up young assets is really key. Jim read the market properly and was able to take advantage of Chicago being in the position they were with not being able to keep all their team together. I am pleased about that. But we’ve all looked at our team on paper and one thing I think we’ve learned in the past couple years – certainly last year – is that it doesn’t count for much.”
On acquiring forward Patrick Sharp from Chicago along with Johns for Daley and forward Ryan Garbutt
“You are bringing in two guys in Sharp and Oduya who have won. Patrick Sharp, everything that I’ve heard about him from players who have played with him, he is an exceptional character guy. He is going to be so good. What I am excited about is for Jamie [Benn] and Tyler [Seguin] to have a guy like that to learn from. When you go through those tough stretches that you always have, those five or six-game losing streaks, having those guys in the room is going to be invaluable now. They have been there before, and they know what to do. There’s a calming presence. As good as Jamie and Tyler are they’ve never been through it the same way Sharp has.
“I think the plan is for him to start on their line, and I think it is just a great fit having that know-how so high in your lineup. I think that is why [Shawn] Horcoff was brought in, too, to help our young guys. A guy that has been a leader, a guy that has had some success. Now, we get to bring in a guy that is younger and that has had a tremendous amount of success with three Stanley Cups in the last six years. But also a guy who is playing in your top six and on the power play. I think that is a different level of experience that we are getting in Patrick Sharp that we haven’t been able to get before. I am excited about that.”
On the team’s top 6 forwards
“The big question mark is Val Nichushkin (who missed most of last season due to injury). If he plays the way we all think he can and expect him to, then I don’t see too many teams that are better in the top six in the league. But we said that a year ago, too. Our top six players have to play the right way. Our top six players have to be plus players. Our top six players last year weren’t plus players. That’s got to change. I think they know that. We all realize what happened to us last year. I’ve seen our top players say their approach is going to be different this year. Last year was a big learning lesson for us. To be a playoff team, to get better with the additions of [Jason] Spezza and [Ales] Hemsky, and then come into the season and play the way we did it was a blown opportunity. I think we are going to be the better for it this year.”
On if the team’s play over the second half of last season was encouraging
“If you look at our team after the middle of December we were one of the better teams in the NHL by several measures – puck possession, scoring differential, scoring chances for versus scoring chances against. I think we had the fourth-best record in the Western Conference after the middle of December. There are lots of positives for sure. We all know that our start did us in and when we have an era of three-point games it is hard to make up ground. And it’s especially hard to make up ground when you have such a poor record against your division. We had a woeful year against our own division, and it was just too much to overcome.”
On the mix of veterans and youth on defense
“We’ve got the deepest bench of defense prospects in the league quite honestly. What’s changed in a year is that Klingberg has become the player we thought he might be able to become and maybe even better than that. We all knew that he was this raw, skilled and very interesting player, but we didn’t know how it would translate. We had high hopes for him but you just never know. He came in and lived up to those and probably more. Obviously, we rewarded him with a long-term contract. He’s just such an exceptional person and an exceptional player. I think Nemeth had a setback last year, but in my mind he is a top four defenseman for a long time in the league. That big shutdown guy is something we missed last year. We had a terrible time protecting leads. We realize we need to get some size and some strength on the backend and losing Nemeth last year really hurt us. A guy like [Jyrki] Jokipakka, a seventh-round draft pick, two years ago he is a guy who has a chance and he comes in and plays, and he’s an NHLer. That’s great news. He’s going to continue to get better.
“The list of guys back there – [Esa] Lindell is going to be a player, [Mattias] Backman, [Ludwig] Bystrom. In terms of the roster guys, there’s Joki and Jordie Benn is capable to playing great hockey and [Jamie] Oleksiak is a first-rounder who is in that group as well. There’s a lot of promise there. A year or two ago there were guys who were concepts and have now proven they can play at the NHL level and give us lots of options. We’ve got a healthy situation. We’ve got six spots for a game and eight guys on one-way contracts that are going to be battling to play. And there are some guys coming up that have the capability to knock those guys out in Stephen Johns, Lindell and [Julius] Honka. It’s an exciting place for us to be on the backend. It’s one of the reasons we know we need to stay patient on defense. We’ve got so many guys coming, and we are going to be fine there. While we are still a little bit young, the potential is huge. I just think we need to stay with our program in developing our young defense.”
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.