Thursday July 16th, 2015

The word “potential” has become a popular buzzword in Dallas, as the Stars made another off-season splash on Wednesday by signing defenseman Johnny Oduya to a two-year, $7.5 million deal. Joining forward Patrick Sharp, who was traded to Dallas last week, Oduya is now the third Cup-winner from the Blackhawks to land with the Stars this summer. (Goalie Antti Niemi, who was traded by the Sharks last month and re-upped with Dallas for three years, backstopped Chicago’s 2010 Cup-winning team.) Operating on the belief that winning begets winning, the Stars have spent the summer rounding out a young roster with veterans who have fresh memories of winning a championship.

“I grew up in the Detroit organization,” general manager Jim Nill told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday. “To win, you’ve got to know how to win. It’s a process. Our core is young. They’re going to be like sponges. They’re going to feed off this.... The potential is there.”

The frequent use of the word potential signals the cautious optimism that surrounds a team that topped the West in scoring last season with 3.13 goals per game but missed the playoffs by seven points. Nill, a longtime Red Wings executive now entering his third season as the GM in Dallas, is quick to say that potential doesn’t mean much without action, but he believes that his team could now be on the cusp of taking a meaningful step. The offense has grown dramatically over the last two seasons, led by dynamic scorers Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza. The addition of Sharp, a four-time 30-goal scorer, provides depth and will present matchup problems for opponents.

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The Sharp trade sent defenseman Trevor Daley to the Blackhawks, and left the Stars with a sizable hole on the back end. Given the pieces Dallas already had in place, Oduya was a natural fit. Nill said on Wednesday that the Stars had initiated talks with Oduya’s agent even before trading away Daley. Still, that the Dallas GM convinced the 33-year-old defenseman—who ostensibly had bigger offers on the table (the Sabres, it was rumored, had offered three years and twice the money)—to take a short-term, two-year deal is impressive, to say the least. For players of Oduya’s age and experience, job security and longevity begin to take priority over everything else.

Still, Oduya, a nine-year-veteran, seems to have been swayed by the fact that the new Stars, with their speed and creativity, would not present any sort of culture shock. In Dallas, he will still be seen as a steady top-four defenseman whose biggest asset is his professionalism. Nill called Oduya a “fitness fanatic,” and the GM hopes that his habits off the ice will spread throughout a young and promising defense corps, one that should benefit from being around an understated if hard-working veteran. Oduya is the only defenseman on the roster over 30. He can likely offer guidance to up-and-coming blueliners like John Klingberg and Stephen Johns. Oduya will also ease some of the workload formerly carried by defenseman Alex Goligoski, particularly on the penalty kill.

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For some Chicago fans, the Blackhawks’ moves may seem reminiscent of what happened to the 2010 Cup championship team, which needed to shed salary. That roster was poached by the Thrashers. Forwards Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager, and defensemen Brent Sopel and Dustin Byfuglien, all landed in Atlanta before they had gotten their designated days with the Cup. Atlanta—now Winnipeg—didn’t enjoy much immediate success; the Thrashers suffered four middling seasons before making their first playoffs last spring. Swept by the Ducks in four, they remain the only NHL team never to have won a playoff game.

But the Stars’ moves have a different feel. While Atlanta took support players from Chicago and thrust them into starring roles, Dallas already has seeds of success planted. Sharp, Oduya and Niemi are key pieces, but they are not expected to carry the full load or completely change the identity of the team. Instead, the expectations are for them to help foster the team’s “potential,” to help water those seeds and see if Dallas can break through and grow into the team it has all the “potential” to be.  

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