- Scott Burnside, NHL
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While the big fish continued to swim free in the free-agency waters Sunday afternoon, it was Joe Nieuwendyk and the Dallas Stars that made the first significant splash of free agency by inking ageless winger Ray Whitney to a two-year deal worth a total of $9 million.
Whitney turned 40 during the playoffs and his productivity declined precipitously as he registered only two goals and five assists in 17 postseason games as his Phoenix Coyotes made a surprise run to the Western Conference finals.
But Whitney was almost a point-a-game guy during the regular season for the Yotes, with 24 goals and 77 points, tied for 12th overall in the NHL.
Eight of those goals and 20 points came while the Coyotes were on the power play, and that is no doubt an attractive quality to Nieuwendyk, who traded scoring center Mike Ribeiro to the Washington Capitals during draft weekend and will be looking to replace some of Ribeiro’s power-play production. Ribeiro had 63 points last season, with 15 on the power play.
While Whitney’s age will be a factor in whether this deal works out in favor for the Stars, there is no doubt the Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, native represents the kind of change in culture that Nieuwendyk is hoping to achieve in the Dallas locker room.
Whitney, who won a Stanley Cup in Carolina in 2006, will be counted on to act as a kind of mentor to young offensive stars such as Jamie Benn, Eric Nystrom and Cody Eakin (who came over from Washington in the Ribeiro deal). He also has the puck-moving skills to continue to help the young Dallas forwards maximize their potential.
The 30-year-old has 20-goal potential -- he scored 17 goals two years ago and 20 in 2008-09 -- and everyone who plays under former coach of the year Dave Tippett has a way of producing at the top end of their skill set.
Coach happy to get new star
Dallas head coach Glen Gulutzan was sitting in his vehicle in Saskatchewan hoping the rain would clear so he and his family could get back to a fast-pitch tournament in which they were entered. But he took time out to describe how happy he was to learn that Whitney would be on his bench and not wreaking havoc on the Stars in a Phoenix jersey.
“He was a thorn in our side last year,” Gulutzan told ESPN.com late Sunday afternoon.
Entering his second season as a head coach, Gulutzan will sit down and talk with Whitney and new assistant coach Curt Fraser, who was hired away from the Detroit Red Wings’ organization this offseason, about the best role for Whitney to play.
“He’s such a cerebral player and a real professional from what I’ve been told,” Gulutzan said.
“I think it’s a good step forward for what we’re trying to do in Dallas.”
The fact Whitney is a right-handed shot should provide a new wrinkle to a Stars power play that ranked dead last in the league last season, the coach said.
As for hitting to the opposite field with power, Gulutzan said there wasn’t much chance of that happening even if the skies did clear in Saskatchewan.
12dScott Burnside and Craig Custance