The Dallas Stars have had a noticeable rocky history recently. For a team that was once entrenched in the top of the Western Conference for years, the team from the Lone Star state has been on a crazy rollercoaster ride over the last decade. A few of years with little playoff success, then one surprising run to the Western Conference Finals, followed by missing the playoffs for the last three years. In the last few years the Stars have seen their former cornerstones retire or step away. Finally Joe Nieuwendyk appears to have the team back on track to better days, and some under-the-radar changes and moves have led to gambles that are paying off.
Joe has so far won over fans with his trades for Kari Lehtonen and Alex Goligoski, and his signings of character players like Adam Burish and Vernon Fiddler. With little flexibility financially and the future of the franchise up in the air, GM Joe has been able to start to shape the style of team he wants. With the future starting to look brighter, Nieuwendyk might have recently made one of his best moves.
Sheldon Souray is not a new name to serious Stars fans. The big defenseman has a lot of things that the Stars have needed for years now. He has a cannon blast from the point that has earned him that “Studly Wonderbomb” nickname, the willingness to get rough with opponents around the net, and the maturity to help teach younger guys. But in 2007 he signed with the Edmonton Oilers after some great years in Montreal. And after some success, some injuries, and a year in the AHL with constant rumors swirling, he finally was back on the market and the Stars were able to secure him.
Over the last year, Souray was a target of hatred, rumors, and a massive backlash in Edmonton. We heard that he was out of shape. They said he was a cancer in the locker room and horrible teammate. Some said that his shot was gone and he skated like an AHLer. In the end it was one of the ugliest endings to a relationship that I can remember. But come this summer Joe had some faith and thought that Souray was still worth it. So far, the return on his investment has been phenomenal.
Souray had something to prove right away and made an impact with the Stars instantly. In his first game in Dallas he contributed an assist, showed that his blast from the point is still among the scariest in hockey, and immediately played top minutes in all situations. With the Stars shocking the naysayers and surprising the NHL, Souray has been second only to Lehtonen in leading the way. While his contract was shaped to set up for a win-win situation if he could play, the expectations were tempered this time. If he could come in and play it would be a good addition, but if there were any issues then both sides were off the hook after this season. After just 13 games, some are already ready to sign him on for as long as he wants to stay.
Through 13 games Souray has become a key member of this Stars team and their surprising start. His four goals (two on the PP) and eight assists have led the way among Dallas defensemen and his 12 points are third on the team. He is 5th in the NHL in points by Dmen and is 2nd in the NHL at +10. But his impact has stretched far beyond the offensive zone. He also leads the team in penalty minutes and is constantly noticeable in the defensive zone. His lengthy reach, aggressive physical contact, and presence around the net have helped with the Stars being in the top-half of the league in goals against and penalty-killing percentage. He has brought some of the offensive presence that the Stars had hoped was still there, but in the defensive end he is reminding some of us of the things Derian Hatcher (look him up, he used to be something big around here) used to do. It’s exciting to watch someone finally clear the crease and get in between opposing players and the netminder.
While he may be pleasing Dallas fans a few years later then we had hoped, it might be happening at the perfect time. With a team still changing and growing, Souray is providing leadership and key minutes that are helpful to the defensive unit as a whole. Stephane Robidas is no longer the only real veteran back there and does not have to play 25 minutes a night against tough opponents. Trevor Daley and Goligoski can play more of a two-way and offensively aggressive game when paired with Souray, knowing what he can do and that they can rely on him as a linemate. But the one thing he could provide that not many are talking about? A role model for some of the Stars younger blueliners. Solid defensive blueliners Nicklas Grossman and Mark Fistric could learn a thing or two from Sheldon, and if he sticks around he could end up being a great player for Jamie Oleksiak to watch for a year or two.
In the end, we will have to see how things work out over the course of the season. But right now things could not be looking better. And what is even more promising is how Souray is fitting in with the team. He has immediately begun popping up on tv with interviews, being at Stars events, and even exchanging jokes and banter with Steve Ott and Daryl Reaugh on Twitter. He seems to be enjoying it all: Winning again, playing top minutes, and just having fun with a new town. In the end Joe’s gamble might be benefiting Souray the most, because this is probably the type of situation he really wanted when he was a free agent in ’07. He is fitting in perfectly with this team, and while doing so he is looking like the missing piece the Stars have been looking for. Sure Dallas added a few others in the last six months. Goligoski could be a huge part of the future, Fiddler is the type of 3rd line center the Stars have needed, Ryder is starting to come along, and Eric Nystrom has been surprisingly good since acquired from Minnesota. But a low-risk signing could end up being the Stars most-effective defenseman this season and a positive force on the Stars return to glory in the next couple of years.
You can follow myself (Austin) at Twitter.com/BlackoutDallas or follow BlackoutDallas contributor Melissa on Twitter at Twitter.com/DalStarsWriter, and new addition Andrew Monrreal at Twitter.com/_Ammon.
Tags: Adam Burish Alex Goligosk Daryl Reaugh Derian Hatcher Edmonton Oilers Jamie Oleksiak Joe Nieuwendyk Kari Lehtonen Mark Fistric Nicklas Grossman Sheldon Souray Stephane Robidas Steve Ott Trevor Daley Vernon Fiddler