Ray Whitney is the shining example of a new generation of NHL players, a generation marked by players who can stay competitive with younger players whilst entering the latter half of their thirties and even into their forties. Whitney, as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006-2007, reached his career high point total (83) at the ripe age of 34, past what most would consider their prime, past what most would consider the age to be putting up an 83 point season. Many thought it was just a fluke. In his last season with the Hurricanes (2009-2010) and his first season with the Phoenix Coyotes (2010-2011), he failed to crack the 60 point mark. Finally, some would say, finally age has caught up with him and so begins the steady decline of Ray Whitney’s career, long overdue. Then, last year, in a year when more than one Coyote player surprised the hockey world (hello, Mike Smith), Whitney returned to form, putting up a 24 goal, 53 assist season. 77 points from a 39-turning-40 year old caught the eye of Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk, who, while remaking the core of the team, needed players to “bridge the gap” between the present and the future to make the Dallas Stars a competitive team. Nieuwendyk offered Whitney a significant raise ($3 million to $4.5 million), a no movement clause, a modified no trade clause, and most shocking of all to some, a two year contract. Not many general managers in this league will hand out a two year deal and $9 million to a 40 year old, but it’s a gamble that Joe Nieuwendyk felt the team needed to make.
In various media calls after the Jaromir Jagr signing (something we will explore as well), Nieuwendyk mentioned his board had a Eriksson-Benn-Jagr line leading the team. If this combination were to hold up, that would more than likely produce a second line that looks like Whitney-Roy-Ryder, given that Derek Roy is healthy. Whitney is known as a “playmaking winger”, having only scored more goals than assists once in his career. Pairing him with a center in his prime who’s capable of reaching anywhere from 60-80 points and the Stars leading goal scorer from last season could provide a potent offensive threat up and down the Stars top six. He’s been brought here to provide top six stability, a proven veteran leader in a locker room that has become significantly younger, and if all goes to plan, the added bonus of 60-70 points. If the Stars are a playoff team, Whitney will need a repeat performance of his incredible season last year. But what happens if Whitney shows his age? What happens if the situation has changed and Whitney simply cannot reach the level of play he reached last season? This is where the gamble comes in. If Whitney can’t produce, or if he just can’t keep up, the Stars are stuck with him through 2013-2014. It’s a high risk, high reward signing that confused and angered more than a few Stars fans, who couldn’t grasp why Nieuwendyk would put so much money on a 40 year old while the team is trying to get younger, but the way Nieuwendyk has remade this team has necessitated the signing and inclusion of these bridge players. Without them, the Stars would be a bottom ten team in the NHL, wasting valuable years of the careers of players like Kari Lehtonen and Loui Eriksson, both of whom are in their prime. The Stars need to win now and Ray Whitney is absolutely essential to that plan.
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