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 up 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. In this two-part retrospective, I'll discuss the top 5 hits and top 5 misses in the Stars attempts at reclaiming faltering careers.
5 - Kirk Muller
In the 1999-2000 season, the Stars were looking for a spark to help them avoid the dreaded Stanley Cup hang-over. Kirk Muller was sitting at home, mid-season, waiting for the phone to ring, after being let go by the Florida Panthers. It was match made in heaven as Muller came in to score 7 goals and 22 points in 47 games in a checking role.
As a younger man, Muller was an offensive dynamo for the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens. In 1992-93, he scored 37 goals for a whopping 94 points in Montreal, but when the Stars came calling, he was considered washed up and obsolete.
He is probably best remembered by Stars fans for his role in the Grumpy Old Men line, where he paired up with former teammates (and equally long in the tooth veterans) Mike Keane and John MacLean to form the most popular checking line in franchise history.
4 - Mike Ribeiro
I'll admit that when I heard the Dallas Stars traded Janne Niinimaa to Montreal for Mike Ribeiro, I wasn't happy. Don't get me wrong, I was no fan of Niinimaa, but Mike Ribeiro was simply not the kind of player I wanted to be associated with my Dallas Stars.
Always smooth and highly talented, Ribeiro was on the outs in Montreal for character issues. His maturity level wasn't quite up to par with his skill level, and his work rate was at the bottom of the barrell. He was more famous for his theatrical dives than his between the legs shootout heroics.
It didn't take long for me to warm up to Ribeiro in Dallas, however. Maybe the fact that he was traded by his childhood idols for a defenseman who would end up in the Swiss League a year later woke him up and kicked him in the pants, because since that trade, Ribeiro has been nothing short of spectacular for the Dallas Stars.
He immediately found chemistry with Brenden Morrow and played a large part in our run to the Western Conference Finals in 2008. He's been counted on to play big minutes in a top six role, and is mentioned in just about every conversation league-wide when they talk about lop-sided trades.
3 - Kari Lehtonen
Kari comes in at number 3 on this list, but he has the potential to end up number 1 by the time his career is over. The gigantic Finn has been one of the brightest stars in the last few seasons, keeping us in games that we don't deserve to be in, and keeping our league standing in the playoff hunt when our payroll is in the cellar.
In Atlanta, his career was marred by injuries and trips to McDonalds. A former second overall pick, the Thrashers were running out of patience and were ready to cut bait and move on. The asking price? Ivan Vishnevskiy.
I said the Niinimaa for Ribeiro trade was lopsided... this one ranks up there with Kevin Hatcher for Sergei Zubov. Vishnevskiy, once regarded as the heir to the Zubov throne, was struggling to crack the lineup and supposedly threatening to defect back to Russia.
He never managed to crack Atlanta's lineup either, faded away back to his homeland, and the Thrashers ended up in Winnipeg. Kari, on the other hand, has turned into one of the league's top netminders, who other than his recent groin pull setback has been the epitome of consistency and conditioning.
2 - Stephane Robidas
Robidas is currently on his second stint with the Dallas Stars, which is good because his first go-round wasn't exactly what I'd define as a reclamation project since he had yet to establish himself as an NHL regular. Back then, Guy Carbonneau was fresh off a stint in Montreal's front office and currently serving as an assistant in the Stars organization. He saw that Montreal was about to put Robidas up for grabs, and pulled some strings to ensure that his final destination would be Dallas, Texas.
After a short stint with the Stars, where he exceed expectations and provided solid depth in our defense corps, the Stars had an opportunity to swap him for Chicago's Jon Klemm. Klemm added some veteran experience to our group, but Robidas didn't really do much to wow the brass in Chicago.
Robi played in the German league during the lockout, and didn't exactly find his phone ringing off the hook with NHL offers when the league started back. The Stars took a chance on bringing him back, and I don't think anyone expected the reunion to be as successful as it has been.
During his second stint in Dallas, Robidas has played top minutes, served as alternate captain, and been admired league-wide for his work rate and determination. He even earned himself a spot in the NHL All-Star game in 2009. He may not be the best at any particular thing, but his night-in-night-out effort on the ice has made him a mainstay of the Dallas blueline and won him countless fans.
1 - Guy Carbonneau
Hands down, one of the most popular and beloved figures in franchise history, Guy Carbonneau was considered washed up and expendable by the St. Louis Blues in the mid-90's. After a long and successful run with the Canadiens that lasted from 1980 to 1994, the Blue traded for him and had a bit of buyer's remorse.
After 42 games, they flipped him to Dallas for the lesser of our two Broten brothers, and the rest is history. Carbonneau became not just another checking line center, but the father figure of the golden era of Stars hockey. He was a face-off machine, a massive influence on our two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, and eventually a member of our front office staff.
A fan favorite to this day, the Stars temporarily took his #21 out of circulation by popular demand of fans who were pushing for a full retirement. It remained out of circulation until it was worn by Loui Eriksson when he first suited up for the club in 2006.
Check in tomorrow for the second part of this two-part retrospective, as I rank the top 5 least successful reclamation projects in Dallas Stars history.