The Dallas Stars have had some success this season grabbing useful players off of the league's scrap heap, and turning them into core contributors both on the ice and in the locker room. Sheldon Souray went from the Edmonton Oilers' doghouse, to the AHL's Hershey Bears, to being placed on re-entry waivers and finally being bought out. This summer, he signed on with the Dallas Stars in hopes of reclaiming his career, and now he is one of the Dallas entries to the NHL All-Star ballot.
Eric Nystrom had a similar route to Dallas, being passed over by every NHL team on both waivers and re-entry waivers before the Minnesota Wild traded him to Dallas in a strictly financial move to help us reach the salary floor. He now sits tied for the team lead in goals scored, and is a central figure in one of the best checking lines in Dallas Stars history.
Bargain bin shopping isn't exactly a new phenomenon for this club. Yesterday, I discussed the top 5 best reclamation projects in team history. In the second part of this two-part retrospective, I'll discuss the top 5 biggest misses.
5 - Jonathan Cheechoo
In 2005-2006, Cheechoo set the hockey world on fire, coming from out of nowhere to lead the NHL in goals scored while playing on Joe Thornton's wing on the San Jose Sharks. It's hard to believe that just a few years later, he'd be fighting for a depth job on the rival Stars roster on a try-out contract.
The rise and fall of his career in such a short period of time can be described as enigmatic at best and suspect at worst. Never the swiftest of skaters, Cheechoo really benefited from the talents of playmaking center Joe Thornton's precision passes. His magic disappeared just as quickly as it appeared and in 2009-10, he managed a measly 5 goals in 61 games for the Ottawa Senators.
When the Sens allowed him to walk via free agency, no one was willing to give him a contract. In hopes of regaining an NHL roster spot, the Stars gave the former Richard winner a training camp tryout. While he wasn't awful, he wasn't good enough to subplant any of the Stars roster players, and he was released from his tryout after just 22 days.
4 - Claude Lemieux
One of the most feared and hated men in the history of hockey is Claude Lemieux. I always loved the guy, despite his reputation for dirty play. Say what you will about the man, he was willing to do anything it took for his teams to win, and he always found a second or third gear when the games mattered the most.
After winning Stanley Cups in Montreal, New Jersey, and Colorado, Lemieux's career was winding to a close in Phoenix when the Stars pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Scott Pellerin to the desert for Lemieux. He played 32 games in the green and gold in 2003, but notched only 6 points and 14 penalty minutes in the regular season, and only 1 assist in 7 playoff games.
Far from the biggest bust in team history, Lemieux simply failed to latch on in Dallas, despite all of the clues that he'd be a perfect fit. Former Canadien, veteran, checker, hard worker, clutch playoff performer, a little on the dirty side... You'd think he'd follow in the footsteps of all the great veteran pickups in Stars history, but this one just wasn't meant to be.
3 - Patrick Stefan
Before the Atlanta Thrashers gave up on Kari Lehtonen and sent him to Dallas for pocket lint, they did the same thing with Patrick Stefan (I take that back... Niko Kapanen > Ivan Vishnevskiy). A former first overall pick, Stefan was supposed to be the face of the Atlanta franchise. Their Mike Modano. It never quite worked out.
You generally don't want your first overall pick's career year to top out at 40 points, but that's what Atlanta was facing in the summer of 2006. Atlanta was wanting to salvage the pick by landing a useful checker in Niko Kapanen, and the Stars were willing to listen. There's a reason Stefan was chosen first overall, and the Stars were willing to dig deep to see if the big Czech had anything left to give.
Stefan played only 41 games for the Stars, notching 11 points before being let go at the end of his contract. If he accomplished nothing else in his Dallas career, or NHL career in general, he can at least be remembered for one of the biggest brain farts in hockey history.
On January 4th, 2007, the Stars were leading the Edmonton Oilers by a score of 5-4. In the dying minutes, the Oilers pulled their goalie in desperation, and Patrick Stefan sprung free on a breakaway. To quote one of my favorite shows, "The IT Crowd," "The thing about Arsenal is they always try and walk it in." Stefan tried to stickhandle the puck into the empty net, lost control, fell down, and a started a break the other direction in which the Oilers scored to tie the game.
It's a highlight that always seems to pop up when Stars fans would least like to see it... Lucky for us, it hurts a lot less knowing we came back to win the game in a shootout, despite Stefan's best efforts.
2 - Eric Lindros
Probably one of the biggest low-risk high-reward attempts was Eric Lindros. What else can be said about the man that hasn't already been said? Despite all of the negative press he earned himself over the years, there is no denying that when he was on his game, he was one of the most dominant players in the history of the game.
Injuries steamrolled this generational talent, and by the time he found his way to Dallas, he was just a shell of his former self. The Stars did everything they could to put him a position to succeed, playing him mostly on the wing rather than risking another potentially life-threatening open-ice body check at center ice.
By the time he retired, he was still a relatively young 34 years old, as his body and oft-concussed brain just couldn't live up to the lofty expectations that come with the Lindros name. He wasn't a complete bust, however, as he was a pretty vocal and popular NHLPA representative for this club, who eventually parlayed that into a job as NHLPA ombudsman.
1 - Sergei Makarov
Likely a name you don't associate with the Dallas Stars, and probably weren't expecting to see at the top of this, Soviet legend Sergei Makarov did indeed suit up for your Dallas Stars in the 1996-97 season. Regarded by most as one of the best players to ever play the game, Makarov played most of his career in the Soviet Union before finally coming over to North America at the age of 31.
For those unaware, Makarov is also the reason Mike Modano never won the Calder Memorial trophy as rookie of the year. He is also the reason there is now an age limit on which players are eligible to win, as he notched 86 points for the Calgary Flames as a 31 year old "rookie" with more Gold Medals to his name than most sovereign nations.
After a couple years in San Jose, and pushing 40 years old, Makarov came to Texas in hopes of squeezing a few last drops of glory from his storied career. His comeback attempt lasted only 4 games, in which he was kept entirely off the score sheet. After that, he signed on in the Swiss league for a second comeback attempt that only lasted 6 games, before finally ending his playing career.