One year ago, the Dallas Stars made a blockbuster trade when they acquired center Tyler Seguin from Boston. Adding an explosive scorer of Seguin’s pedigree enabled them to earn their first Stanley Cup Playoff berth in six years.
One year later, it appears that General Manager Jim Nill has taken it one skate step further, transforming his club from a merely emerging contender into a serious Central Division championship team for the approaching 2014-2015 National Hockey League season.
Nill celebrated Canada Day (July 1) by acquiring superstar center Jason Spezza (23 goals in 75 games with Ottawa last season) – who desperately wanted out of the Canadian capital– to give the Stars the potential of three bona fide goal scoring lines.
To acquire Spezza and winger Ludwig Karlsson from the Sens, Nill was forced to part with winger Alex Chiasson, who may on the verge of NHL goal-scoring productivity (he netted 19 during the final weeks of the 2012-13 season and last year). He also sent two prospects in left wing Nick Paul (a 4th round entry draft choice in 2013) and forward Alex Guptill (a 3rd round entry draft choice in 2010 who has played at the University of Michigan) and a 2nd round draft pick in 2015 to Ottawa.
In addition, Nill signed free agent forward Ales Hemsky to a contract reportedly worth $12 million over three seasons. “I think the options (these deals give us) are almost limitless,” understated coach Lindy Ruff.
Hemsky may be reunited with Spezza after netting four goals and 17 points in 20 games on Ottawa’s top forward following his acquisition by the Senators from Edmonton in a trade deadline deal last March. Spezza’s line may draw opponents’ premier checkers and open up even more ice for Dallas’s top trio of Seguin, team captain Jamie Benn and Valeri Nichushkin.
Spezza is a strong skater with an excellent playmaker’s touch and a quick, accurate shot. He gives Dallas a solid complement of centers along with Seguin (team- and career-high 37 goals and 84 points in 2013-14) and Cody Eakin (16), enabling the Stars to go face-to-face with virtually any Western Conference foe. Spezza can team with Hemsky, an instinctive and creative player with outstanding puck skills and perhaps one of the emerging Texas Stars who helped that team win the AHL crown.
“If you want to be one of the elite teams, you have to have (depth at the center position),” Nill said. “(In Detroit) we always had that. It was Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk. You look at the other teams that are winning (in the Western Conference) now, you need to have two elite centermen. We knew that was a little bit of a weakness on our team.”
“You look at what we have now (and it could be) a great top nine,” Ruff said, referring to a formidable third line of Eakin along with wingers Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel that contributed 47 red lights last season. “(We can do a lot with that — create mismatches, get away from matchups (desired by the opponent), and juggle (our) personnel.”
Spezza and Hemsky figure to prosper in Ruff’s attacking style that last year enabled the Stars to finish 10th in the NHL with 2.82 goals per game and 6th with 31.7 shots on goal per outing.
They will also improve the team’s power play that finished 23rd in the NHL with a 15.9% success rate with the man advantage. “We’re putting hockey back on the map (in Dallas),” Nill said. “I think there are great days ahead for this organization. I think this is a great sports town, a great city. I love the people, the players love playing here. We want to be a significant part of this city. We want to win.”
Ruff is excited about what Spezza brings to the Stars. “He’s a fantastic possession player, he’s a great playmaker, he was great for me on the power play,” Ruff said in reference to coaching Spezza with Team Canada. “He’s a world-class talent, and you see that in a lot of areas of his game.”
Spezza, who turned 31 in June and broke into the NHL with Ottawa in 2002-03, is hoping to rediscover the offensive skills and impressive productivity that highlighted the early part of his career. Spezza has netted 30+ goals five times, including career-high 34-goal seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08. He also has amassed a career-high 92 points in 2007-08, 90 in 2005-06, 87 in 2006-07 and 84 as recently as 2011-12.
“I just really felt that Dallas was a fit for me,” said Spezza, who waived his no-trade clause to join the Stars. “I have a relationship with Lindy. He’s coached me at World Championships. I think the young group they have is an envy of a lot of the league, and I think I could fit in with helping out with the depth at center.”
Hemsky, who turns 31 in August and entered the NHL in Edmonton in 2002-03, is also looking for a return to his former productive offensive output. The native of Czechoslovakia scored a career-high 23 goals in 2008-09, lit the lamp 19 times in 2005-06 to go with a career high 77 points and 20 more in 2007-08 en route to a 71-point campaign. His best point total since his 66-point campaign in 2008-09 was a 42-point effort in 2010-11.
Nill also added free agents in backup goalie Anders Lindback (one year, $925,000) and forward Patrick Eaves (one year, $650,000), and the return of center Vernon Fiddler (two years, $2.5 million).