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Zuccarello, Lovejoy bring elements that can help Stars win right now

Nill adds two veterans that Dallas hopes will get it to the postseason and do some damage once there

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

The message that keeps resounding throughout the Stars organization is that the time to win is now.

General manager Jim Nill made a not-so-subtle statement Saturday, acquiring winger Mats Zuccarello from the New York Rangers and defenseman Ben Lovejoy from the New Jersey Devils. In exchanging the 30-somethings for 24-year-old defenseman Connor Carrick and three draft picks, Nill said he's willing to risk a bit of the future in exchange for some immediate success.

It's a good decision.

The Stars have made the playoffs in two of Nill's five seasons. They have won one series in that span. Goalie Ben Bishop is 32, winger Alexander Radulov is 32, captain Jamie Benn is 29. So it makes sense that Nill has added Lovejoy, 35, and Zuccarello, 31. The former has played in 65 playoff games and won a Stanley Cup. The latter has logged 60 postseason contests.

That's important when you consider Benn has 19, John Klingberg 13, and Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen none.

Video: Nill on Stars' trade with Rangers for Zuccarello

Tyler Seguin is the only other players on the Stars to have won a Stanley Cup, and he did that at age 19. Since joining the Stars in 2013, Seguin has played just seven playoff games because of injury. They need this experience if they want to go in and do some damage this season.

And the truth is, they might be able to.

They are third in goals against this season in large part because of a solid group of defensemen and two fantastic goalies. With Bishop returning from a six-game injury absence on Saturday, that goaltending might be able to hit its stride down the stretch.

And Lovejoy could help.

He makes the Stars better defensively, and that can never hurt no matter how good they've been so far this year. He also gives Dallas the kind of veteran presence coaches love.

Video: Bishop disappointed in effort following Stars' loss

Carrick played once in February. Julius Honka hasn't played since Jan. 15. Lovejoy automatically goes into a battle with Taylor Fedun and Jamie Oleksiak for a regular spot in the lineup.

"He's really what we're looking for. A real steady guy, good penalty killer, he can eat big minutes back there," Nill said. "That's just going to help to move the minutes around on the back end."

Stars coach Jim Montgomery said he believes Lovejoy will bring grit and experience.

"He gives us another warrior back there," Montgomery said. "He's someone who eats a lot of hard minutes, he's hard to play against, he's an excellent penalty killer."

And, as we've seen when this team is playing well, its identity is grounded in strong defensive play and keeping the score low. Lovejoy allows the Stars to get even better at that.

Video: Nill discusses why the Stars traded for Lovejoy

The hope is he'll also allow Klingberg and Heiskanen to concentrate on playing a more offensive game. At the very least, the duo will see fewer penalty kill minutes and more time on the power play. In a perfect world, Lovejoy might pair with Heiskanen and allow the rookie to take more chances.

Lovejoy did that last season with rookie defenseman Will Butcher, and he certainly has the ability to repeat that. And any offensive help would be welcome right now, no matter who the catalyst is.

Dallas lost 3-0 at home to Carolina on Saturday and looked listless and anemic. It was 20th time in 61 games this season they have scored one or zero goals. That's a third of the season. That's shocking.

So for all the defending, this team needs to score more.

Zuccarello should be able to help. Just 5-foot-8 and 184 pounds, he brings speed, skill and the ability to create offense. He has 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) in 46 games this season and has 352 points (113 goals, 239 assists) in 509 career games.

Video: Montgomery says more passion is needed from Stars

He has battled injuries, but is hitting his stride right now. Since Jan. 12, he has 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in just 16 games.

"He's going to bring some more scoring, he's an offensive player, so he's going to bring some offensive capabilities to us," Nill said. "He's an energetic player, real puck chaser and just plays the game the right way."

And that's worth the draft picks if it works. Either way, Nill said this is all the team will do before Monday's trade deadline.

"This is it for us," he said. "We filled in the holes that we thought we had, and it's time for the players to go do it now."

If the trades aren't enough, then maybe Saturday's game will be a reminder of just how much better the Stars can be. Bishop called it "borderline embarrassing."

Video: Klingberg: Stars' performance not good enough in loss

"To play like that at home while we are fighting for a playoff spot," Bishop said. "We know that they're fighting for a spot, too. We didn't do much until the third, when they started sitting back. Definitely, no one is happy in this room and we should all be embarrassed that we played that like at home, especially when we go to Chicago in however many hours.

"We have to flip the page here quick. Chicago is coming on strong and winning games."

And that's what the Stars say they want to do -- right now, with the roster that will start their path together in Chicago on Sunday

"This is a major commitment from our ownership, we're saying that the players here, this is where we are," Nill said. "We added to our depth on defense we added a scorer, which we wanted do to.

"It's time to go do it now."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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