Patrick Sharp (left) and Johnny Oduya (right). (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
When the players who finished last season for the Dallas Stars stuck out their hands, only three Stanley Cups were to be found. Two of them belonged to Tyler Seguin and Alex Goligoski, guys who played small roles in their teams winning championships.
With his moves this summer, Stars GM Jim Nill has tripled that number, with the most recent coming in the form of defenseman Johnny Oduya, a two-time Cup winner who signed a two-year deal with the Stars worth $7.5 million. Add to that Patrick Sharp’s three Cups with Chicago and Antti Niemi’s championship with Chicago in 2010, to go along with the Stanley Cup Travis Moen won with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
It’s not all about the Cups for Nill, but it’s a huge factor. He brought four Cup rings over himself from his days with the Detroit Red Wings and he knows how valuable that kind of experience is for young players. Oduya was one of four Chicago defensemen who simply kept hopping over the boards, ignoring their injuries and logging huge ice time through the playoffs. When the Stars young defensemen are looking for an example of what it takes to win, they can simply go to players such as Oduya and Sharp to find out.
“Any time you can get a guy who not only wins, but you have to know how to win and that’s a process, and these guys have been doing it all the time,” Nill said. “Our core is young and I know they’re going to be just like sponges. They’re going to feed off it.”
With that experience, though, comes players who might have more mileage on their bodies than you’d like. The Stars enter next season with 10 players who will be 30 years old or older. In fact, their three major off-season acquisitions – Sharp, Oduya and Niemi – are all in their 30s. Sharp and Oduya will turn 34 during the season, Niemi turns 32 this summer.
“You need to have those guys,” Nill said. “It’s a man’s league and I think the mix is the most important part. If you have the leadership and the veterans who know how to do it and you’ve got the young legs and the young hearts and the skill of the guys who are coming up, that’s the best mix you can have. You can never have enough experience and that’s a big part of winning.”
The acquisition of Oduya will be good for John Klingberg a 22-year-old who had a breakout season as a rookie in 2014-15 and has emboldened Nill to pronounce, “We think we have the next Erik Karlsson.” Not only can he play the left side with Klingberg, he can provide a steadying defensive influence and a mentor from his home country.
It’s a good fit for Klingberg and Patrik Nemeth, a 23-year-old Swede who has spent the past couple of seasons shuttling between the NHL and the minors. “I know Patrik Nemeth and Oduya work out together, so they’ve got a great connection there,” Nill said. “Klinger is a young guy who’s going to look up to Oduya. Oduya has played for Sweden in the World Championship and the Olympics and these guys all look up to those players.”
Oduya will also provide more of a defensive presence than the player he’s replacing, Trevor Daley. Although Oduya is two years older, almost to the day, his career has been forged on being a steady defender, while Daley has been a more high-risk, high-reward offensive defenseman. The Stars already have enough offensive pop from their blueline in Klingberg and Goligoski, so it’s definitely a net gain for them in their own end to add a player of Oduya’s pedigree.
“We’re trying to get to where Chicago is, we’re tying to get to where Detroit has been,” Nill said. “How do you get there? You do things right. I can’t make them do things right. The players in the dressing room have to do it right. And the more guys you get like that, the more success you’re going to have.”