It’s been a busy off-season for the Dallas Stars and fifth-year general manager Jim Nill.
A lot has happened with the Stars, who open training camp at the H-E-B Center in Cedar Park on Friday. The camp ends Monday. Preseason play begins Tuesday.
Dallas missed the NHL playoffs for the second time in three seasons and the organization didn’t renew coach Lindy Ruff’s contract. On April 13, the Stars hired Ken Hitchcock, who led Dallas to the 1999 Stanley Cup, to turn things around.
Hitchcock’s hiring was a great opening volley for the off-season, but Nill might have topped that May 9 when the Stars acquired the rights to goaltender Ben Bishop from Los Angeles. Last season, Dallas struggled in goal with Kari Lehtonen, who will back up Bishop, and Antti Niemi, whose contract was bought out this summer.
On May 13, the Stars signed Bishop, a Frisco High School graduate, to a six-year contract, a move that set the tone for the summer.
“I think he’s the one that got the ball rolling for us,” Nill said. “I think that sent a message to our players internally and to maybe players out there as free agents that boy, there could be something good happening here.”
On June 21, the Stars lost center Cody Eakin to Las Vegas in the Expansion Draft. Five days later, Dallas acquired defenseman Marc Methot from the expansion Golden Knights and re-signed young defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year contract.
In July, the Stars signed newcomers Martin Hanzal and Tyler Pitlick to three-year contracts and forward Alexander Radulov to a five-year deal. Dallas also re-signed defenseman Patrik Nemeth to a one-year deal, center Radek Faksa to a three-year extension and forward Brett Ritchie to a two-year deal.
On Aug. 5, Dallas signed defenseman Jamie Oleksiak to a one-year contract.
Nill is pleased with the Stars’ summer moves, but realizes these additions can’t be accurately judged until next spring’s playoffs and beyond.
“We’re happy with the off-season, but in the end, we got to get to a point where we’re consistently in the playoffs,” Nill said. “You get in the playoffs, you have as good a chance as anybody of winning a Stanley Cup. The main thing is to be consistent, to be one of the teams that make the playoffs, and that’s what we’re striving for.”
Under Ruff, the Stars were an offensive-minded team who used their speed to outskate opponents and wear them down. Nill said that will still be the case, but this season’s club will be much bigger since each new addition is at least 6 feet tall, a group headlined by the 6-foot-6 Hanzal.
“We’re a fast team and I think that’s a major asset, but we’ve added the size and I think we’ve added skill with that size,” Nill said. “These guys that we’ve added, they all have skill, high-end skill, so we’re still going to have that skill level, but we are a bigger, heavier team.”
Nill also rewarded younger players such as Faksa and Ritchie, who delivered breakout performances last season, with new contracts.
“Radek Faksa is going to be a very reliable player for a lot of years. He’s a Dallas Star through and through. He lives and breathes hockey,” Nill said.
“Brett Ritchie had a breakout year last year,” he said. “He’s been in the organization now for four years. Been a little bit inconsistent, but last year I think he finally found his niche, and I’m excited about what he can bring. He’s a big, heavy body.”
Nill said he is optimistic about what Nemeth and Oleksiak can bring defensively.
“They’re young defensemen and they’re trying to find their way. Now it’s their time,” Nill said. “This is a big camp for both of them. They’re at that age and experience level now where it’s time for them to grab it.”
Besides having ample salary-cap room to make all these moves, Nil said he has enjoyed working with Hitchcock.
“What I love about Hitch is his passion for the game,” Nill said. “That’s what makes this game special, is the people in it. They have a great passion for the game.
“He wants these players to get the most out of their ability, to be the best player they can be on the ice and to be a good person and a valuable member off the ice, too,” he said. “That’s what excites me about moving forward here.”
Dallas Stars preseason schedule
Tuesday St. Louis @ Dallas American Airlines Center, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 21 Dallas @ Colorado Pepsi Center (Denver, Colo.), 8 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 23 Dallas @ St. Louis Scottrade Center (St. Louis, Mo.), 7 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 25 Colorado @ Dallas American Airlines Center, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 26 Minnesota @ Dallas American Airlines Center, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 30 Dallas @ Minnesota Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minn.), 7 p.m.