For the second straight summer Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill made a big splash on the trade market, acquiring center Jason Spezza from the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday. He then followed it up with the signings of forwards Ales Hemsky and Patrick Eaves and backup goaltender Anders Lindback.
It all added up to quite a busy first day of free agency for the Stars, who put themselves in a good position to keep pace in the highly competitive and very strong Western Conference.
“To be one of the elite teams, you’ve got to become that,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “And we knew we had to get even better. So we think we’ve kept up to them. We still have a ways to go.”
The big deal of the day was the acquisition of Spezza. The Stars sent right wing Alex Chiasson, forward prospects Alex Guptill and Nick Paul and a second round pick in 2015 to the Senators in exchange for Spezza and right wing Ludwig Karlsson.
The 31-year-old Spezza has been a point-a-game player over his NHL career, registering 687 points (251 goals, 436 assists) in 686 games. Last season he registered 66 points (23 goals, 43 assists) in 75 games.
“This is a huge move for our organization,” Nill said. “Anytime you can add a world-class center like Jason Spezza, it is going to help us keep up with the rest of the West. The West is getting stronger every year. We just saw Los Angeles win [the Stanley Cup]. St. Louis made a big move and there is Anaheim and Chicago, so this was important for the organization. Anytime you get a player like Jason Spezza, it’s just a great day for the organization.”
With the Senators going in a different direction with the team, Spezza thought it was time to move on and had requested a trade. The Stars were among the teams he was interested in if there was a deal to be made. That deal started to come together at the NHL Draft and was finalized Tuesday morning.
“I just really felt that Dallas was a fit for me and that’s why it was a team that I had targeted to want to go to,” Spezza said. “I have a relationship with [Stars coach] Lindy [Ruff]. 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, maybe an area they needed help with. So, I feel like I have a lot of good hockey left in me and I felt really good about my game the second half of the season. I’m excited. I think I could bring a lot to a team. I’ve been around for a long time now, learned a lot and think I could pass that on in a different setting as well.”
Spezza is expected to be the Stars’ second line center and will join a group of top six forwards that includes first line center Tyler Seguin and top line left wing Jamie Benn, two of the NHL’s top young players.
“I think those two guys are phenomenal, phenomenal hockey players,” Spezza said. “To think about being on a power play with those guys and to play with them, hopefully we can create some depth where it makes it difficult for teams to have waves of guys kind of coming at you. It’s a great situation for me to be on a team with such talented guys, that’s for sure.”
Spezza was almost giddy when he was told of the reports that the Stars had signed Hemsky, whom he had played with late last season after Ottawa acquired Hemsky in a deadline deal from Edmonton.
“That’s great. I haven’t seen that. If he has signed with Dallas, I’m thrilled because we had great chemistry at the end of the year,” Spezza said. “So it’s nice to hear. We played on a line for what was he there for, 23, 24 games, we played on a line together, so we got to know each other pretty well pretty quickly. So that’s exciting for me for sure.”
Nill said the talented Hemsky was one of the guys high on their list.
“We’re excited about the chemistry. We actually had Ales targeted even before we made the trade. If this fell through, he was someone we were still going to go after,” said Nill. “We thought he’d have great chemistry with Benn and Seguin also, so we think he’s a great fit for our team. He’s highly skilled. He’s a great passer and I think when you start putting him with shooters like Benn, Seguin, Spezza, I think people are going to be excited to watch the style of hockey that’s being played.”
The 30-year-old Hemsky, a right-shot right wing, had spent his entire career in Edmonton before being traded to Ottawa last season. He’s registered 494 points (146 goals, 348 assists) in 672 NHL games. He had 43 points (13 goals, 30 assists) in 75 games with the Senators and Oilers last season.
Hemsky, who signed a three-year, $12 million contract, said the Stars were at the top of his list even before he found out about the Spezza deal, which made things even more intriguing in Dallas.
“I talked with Dallas even before Jason got traded, but I talk to Jason a lot last couple weeks,” Hemsky said. “I talked to him about that and asked him about his options. I didn’t know he was going to get traded there or he would go somewhere else. It wasn’t a huge factor because they told me I could play with a lot of good players, but now it’s even better that Jason got traded there, so I’m very happy about that.”
The Stars went into the day seeking a backup goaltender and they found one in Lindback, who had been with Tampa Bay last season.
“That was very important,” Nill said. “We have an elite goalie in Kari Lehtonen. He was a big part of us getting into the playoffs last year. But we’re all at the risk of injury. You need to have somebody else there that if injuries happen, he can help keep your team in it. Our scouts and our goalie coach, they’ve been watching him for a few years. We’re excited about adding him to our mix.”
Lindback, who signed a one-year, $925,000 contract, posted an 8-12-2 record, 2.90 goals against average and .891 save percentage with the Lightning. He was 0-3 in the playoffs with a 3.92 goals against average and .881 save percentage. Lindback, who is 6-6, 210 pounds, also played for Nashville, backing up Pekka Rinne for a couple seasons.
“I’m just excited for the opportunity,” Lindback said. “I played in the West with Nashville, so I know it’s a little different from the East. It’s a little more travel, especially living and playing for Dallas. It’s a really tough conference, but it’s a challenge I’m taking right now. Dallas has a very interesting team with a lot of good players, especially with adding a couple pieces today so I’m really excited and looking forward here to the challenge.”
The Stars’ final signing of the day was Eaves, who played 444 NHL games with Ottawa, Detroit, Carolina and Nashville. He played for both the Red Wings and Predators last season, registering five points (two goals, three assists). He signed a one-year deal for $650,000.
“Great versatile player, he can play up in your lineup, can go down your lineup, play on the power play, kill penalties,” Nill said. “A real versatile player and he’s going to add some real good depth to the organization.”
Nill said he’ll sit back and possibly make another addition, likely a depth forward who could play on the third or fourth line. But for now, he’s happy with where the Stars sit.
“We filled our void, picking up Anders Lindback as our backup goalie,” Nill said. “And then when you look at what we added up front with our forwards, we’ve had a good day.”
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