Karlis Skrastins isn’t a name that shows up on the scoresheet often – his point-per-game average is just 0.17 over his 691 NHL games – but he’s exactly the type of player whose intangibles put teams on the winning side of the ledger.
Two specific traits that have kept the 35-year-old in demand are his durability and willingness to throw his body in front of the puck. Skrastins holds the all-time record for consecutive games played by a defenseman at 495 and he’s consistently among the top 20 in shot-blocking, including sitting 14th this season.
As an unrestricted free agent this summer, Skrastins found himself mulling over offers from three teams, but settled on a two-year pact with the Dallas Stars worth $2.75 million.
“They’re a good team and they’re aiming for the playoffs,” Skrastins said. “And you know I’m not getting any younger. There aren’t a lot of playing years left for me. This team is looking forward to the playoffs and really being something.”
Thanks, at least in part, to the play of the 6-foot-1, 210-pound blueliner, the Stars are off to an impressive start with a 6-2-4 record. If there’s one prevalent blemish on Dallas so far, it would be their play in the shootout, where they’re 0-3.
But things aren’t so bad that they’re ready to turn to Skrastins and his 27 career goals for help.
“I still don’t think I’m close to being on the coach’s list – still at the back of the line,” Skrastins laughed. “We have some very good forwards and have to keep using those guys. Maybe we’ve lost three games, but we have some guys who can pick the spots in a shootout.”
In addition to helping the Stars re-emerge as a Western power, Skrastins will take to the ice in Vancouver in February as part of an upstart Latvian team looking to do damage at the Olympics.
Despite Team Latvia’s recent success on the world stage – they finished seventh at the 2009 World Championship and went undefeated in the final Olympic qualifying stage – they’ll be in tough to advance in Vancouver as they received an unfortunate “Group of Death” draw along with Russia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
“Most of those teams will be made up of NHL players,” said Skrastins, who also took part in the ’02 and ’06 Games. “It’s not going to be easy for us, but it’s a big success for us to be in the Olympics.
“We don’t have any big names like the big teams have, but we’ve had a good couple of tournaments, like the world championships, and we’re feeling kind of good about ourselves. We have a lot of young guys and some older guys with a lot of experience, so I think it makes for a good connection between younger guys and older guys. Our biggest thing is the team game.
“It’s not like we’re going to the Olympics and just be glad to be there. It would be nice to cause a big upset.”
With Skrastins playing a significant role in both Big D and for the Latvians, it begs the question: Which would he rather win, a Stanley Cup or an Olympic gold medal?
“That’s a really tough one, but I’ll go with the Stanley Cup.” Skrastins said. “A lot of players dream of gold medals, but for a hockey player, for this one, it’s the Stanley Cup.”
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.