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Stars quietly pick up two important pieces

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

The spotlight of the hockey world may have been shining elsewhere, but the Dallas Stars feel like they added two important components to their hockey club after signing Adam Burish and Andrew Raycroft to free agent contracts Thursday.

  Audio: Joe Nieuwendyk (7.1.10)
  Audio: Adam Burish (7.1.10)
On Day 1 of NHL free agency, which saw many high-profile players change jerseys in other locales, the Stars zeroed in on their targets and reeled them in, signing former Chicago right winger Burish to a two-year deal worth $2.3 million and ex-Vancouver netminder Raycroft to a two-year pact as well. 

With the additions to the roster, Stars management believes it has strengthened the organization’s depth in goal, as well as increasing speed, as well as grit, to the lineup up front.

“I’m excited about it,” Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk said of his acquisitions. “I think we’re adding to our lineup and we’ve addressed some needs that we’ve had on our board for quite some time now - the speed factor, a right shot, the potential of a face-off guy that can help us out. At the end of the day, we know these guys a little bit and all the reports on them are great as far as character and that’s another area where these guys will help, in our locker room as well.” 

In Burish, a 27-year-old grinding winger who leaves it all out on the ice, the Stars upgraded their sandpaper quotient considerably. The 6-foot, 190-pound native of Madison, WI, is a punishing body-checker and a pest on the ice. He has had his battles with Stars agitator Steve Ott in the past, and now is happy to call Otter his new teammate.

“The way I play the game, I’m confrontational, I want to be in your face,” said Burish, who collected one goal and three assists in just 13 games after missing most of last season with a knee injury. “I want to be hard to play against and when the game is done, I want them to say, ‘Man, I can’t stand playing against Burish, I hate playing against that guy,’ and then I know I’ve done my job. I like to have that in my game. I think I can contribute offensively as well, but you have to have a balance, you got to play on the edge and I enjoy playing on that edge. I love the way Steve Ott plays, I think he does a great job of it. You have to walk a fine line where you’re not going to put your team in a tough spot. I’m going to give you everything I got.”

Playing with the Blackhawks, obviously, means that Burish also went through a long playoff drive, skating in 15 post-season games, as Chicago won the Stanley Cup. While he was in and out of the lineup in the playoffs, Burish feels like his experience in those pressure situations will help him going forward.

“I learned a ton the last two years,” said Burish, who totaled three goals and two assists in 17 playoffs games in 2008-09. “Two years ago to go to the Conference Finals and then last year, just getting to the Finals and winning a championship, you realize how hard it is, how emotional it is, and at the same time, you have to learn to balance everything. You lose a game, you feel like your world is ending and you’re going to lose the series.  And for me, I just found that the way I am in the locker room, just being a fun guy and trying to keep everything even-keeled, was such a positive thing. 

“I think going through those pressure situations, for me now, playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, I won a Cup, I feel like any situation you throw at me now, I feel like, ‘Heck, I’ve been there, I’ve done that.’ I remember sitting there in Game 1 and you can just feel the pressure, you can feel the intensity - it’s greater than anything I’ve ever been a part of.”

Burish was the one player that Dallas set its sights on early, and that focus really made an impression on the player and ultimately helped influence his decision to sign here.

“I’d never gone through a free agent process before and I had no idea what to expect and my agent said Joe Nieuwendyk called right away,” recounted Burish, whose 214 penalty minutes in 2007-08 ranked third overall in the NHL. “And for me, that was kind of exciting, that he was the first guy that called in the morning. I wanted to go to a place where I felt I could jump in, I could contribute right away, I can play. Things that I’m good at, that I feel I can bring to the table, they recognized it, and so that excited me right away. You want to go somewhere where people want you, and with the interest right away, that’s where I wanted to go.”

“I’ve always like Adam Burish,” Nieuwendyk said. “There’s guys in this league that you notice because they’re not fun to play against and Adam Burish is one of those guys. The thing I like a lot about him is that he’s able to take face-offs, he can play center or wing, he’s a right-hand shot and he’s got real good speed. I saw a number of playoff games and the ones that he did play, he was on the ice a lot with (star center Patrick) Kane and he was the first guy in on the forecheck. He plays a real in-your-face, abrasive style. I just think he’ll push the pace in our bottom grouping and has the ability to play up the lineup.”

As for Raycroft, the Stars wanted to beef up their depth in goal with a proven NHL backup. Originally, the Stars were hoping that their two star netminders for AHL Texas, Brent Krahn and Matt Climie, who led their top minor league team to the Calder Cup Finals, would battle it out in 2010-11 for the NHL backup spot.

But when Climie opted to test the free agent waters, the Stars changed tactics. The plan now is for Raycroft to compete with Krahn for the backup role behind Kari Lehtonen in Dallas, with the other one heading to the AHL squad based in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park. That may also explain the unique structure to Raycroft’s contract, with the first year being a two-way deal that would pay him $700,000 in the NHL and $105,000 in the minors. Year 2, though, has Raycroft earning $600,000 no matter where he plays. 

“Matt Climie decided to explore other options, so we made the decision that we wanted to get a veteran backup in here, with Austin or with our club,” Nieuwendyk noted. “Our number one goal is to have competition for our backup role here and that’s what we’ve created - not just in training camp, but throughout the year.”

Raycroft, who posted a 9-5-1 record with a 2.42 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage in 21 games as Roberto Luongo’s backup in Vancouver last year, is aware of the situation and ready to do battle.

“There’s going to be competition in camp and it’s really no different than every other year,” acknowledged the 30-year-old Raycroft. “I was in the same situation last year in Vancouver. I’m looking forward to having a good rest of the summer and getting in there in September and doing the job.”

Clearly, the fact that Raycroft has 251 career games of NHL experience gives him a bit of an edge when compared to Krahn’s 20 minutes of NHL action (with Dallas in 2008-09). 

“I think the fact that he’s got NHL experience is important,” Nieuwendyk admitted. “He’s played with Luongo and he’s played with some top goaltenders. I think, from our standpoint, it was important to have a veteran guy who can help us with both clubs, if need be.”

Raycroft, who will be entering his 10th NHL season, spent the past three years as a backup, with the Canucks last year and in Colorado the year before, but he was also a full-time starter with Toronto in 2006-07, playing a career-high 72 games and posting a 37-25-9 record. He also played parts of five years in Boston, winning the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in 2003-04 when he recorded a sizzling 2.05 GAA and a .926 save percentage. So he’s been through several cycles of ups-and-downs.

“Last year, I went through a couple of stretches where you don’t play a lot, but as the year ended, I got to play a little bit more and that fire (to carry the load) does burn,” Raycroft said. “It’s fun to get in there, it’s fun to compete and win hockey games. Definitely, I believe I have a lot left. You look around the league and you see the way things are now and you look for opportunities and when you get them, you do the best you can with them. I’m looking forward to contributing and playing well.”

With these two signings, Nieuwendyk likes where things stand right now with the Stars’ roster.

“These moves make sense for our hockey club,” Nieuwendyk said. “I feel real comfortable when you look at the top six forwards on our team. We have real good skill and real good scoring ability and depth there and now you look at our bottom six - and Steve Ott is interchangeable, he can play up and down your lineup as well - and we just became a harder team to play against. Again, I’ll just stress the speed factor with Adam. One of the things I felt we needed to address was our team speed, and I think Adam gives us that and he’ll be real hard on the forecheck.”

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