Let's get this out of the way early - Ray Whitney is made of hockey magic.
Notwithstanding his nickname the "Wizard," the fact that Whitney continues to be a high-impact player at age 40 is an astounding accomplishment. Most players are well done with there NHL career by that time (indeed, Whitney is the 21st oldest player in NHL history and will end up at least 15th should be play all of next season, as his contract would indicate). Whitney is still nearly a point per game player as the third oldest active player in the league.
That got lost a little in the shuffle this season because of another ageless scorer - Jaromir Jagr - getting a lot of the early season press, you could easily argue Whitney had the better season. Even missing 16 games because of injury, the big chunk due to a fractured foot, Whitney had 29 points in 32 games, or three more points than Jagr had in his 34-game stint in Dallas. That is a .91 points per game average for Whitney, which would be 43 points in a full, healthy 48-game season and 74 points over 82 games.
How does that translate to more advanced numbers? Pretty well, all things considered. Among players with at least 20 games played, Whitney had the second-highest Corsi On and highest Corsi Relative (both measures of team shot attempt differential when a player is on the ice) on the team. That is in part because he has one of the highest offensive zone start percentages. But that in turn is driven by the fact that he is one of the team's biggest offensive weapons, and it follows that they want to give him as many prime scoring opportunities as possible.
Many of those zone starts came from the power play, and that brings us to the first real criticism of Whitney's debut season with the Stars. Whitney was one of the Stars primary power play weapons when healthy, especially when Jagr moved on, and the Stars power play was average at best. It ranked 18th in the league and 9th in the Western Conference at 17.0 percent. Whitney is a premier passer and has elite hockey sense, but he wasn't always able to demonstrate that on the power play. Indeed, it often seemed like the Stars were trying way too hard to force the power play to go through Whitney (and before him, Jagr). This allowed opponents to easily break up the plays by isolating the primary passer.
To be fair, that's more of a full-team issue than a Whitney-specific one. And once you get past special teams, there's just not a whole lot to criticize Whitney about. Sure, there could have been a little more chemistry shown with some of the Stars other top players (particularly Loui Eriksson). And Whitney's 17.7 percent shooting percentage is almost certainly unsustainable, though his career average of 12.9 percent is far higher than the league average. Ideally, a second training camp and more consistent linemates will help with some of the chemistry issues for all of the Stars skilled forwards, and an increased assist rate will make up for the points lost when Whitney's shooting percentage falls back to normal.
And with a player who will be 41 for all next season, there is the inevitable question of health. Whitney did miss the 16 games this year, but a broken foot that stemmed from a blocked shot is far from the type of chronic, nagging injury you worry about with older players. Prior to this season, Whitney had played at least 75 games in four consecutive seasons, and assuming he stays out of the way of rogue point shots, there's no real reason to believe next year will be any different.
The Stars will definitely look to Whitney to fill some of the offensive holes they have at the top of their lineup for next season. But his impact will be felt just as much, if not more, in the locker room. By all accounts, Whitney became one of the veterans the team turned to after the front office systemically dismantled the previous leadership group, shipping Brenden Morrow to Pittsburgh, Mike Ribeiro to Washington and Steve Ott to Buffalo. Whitney had such memorable quotes as this one on the state of creating a cohesive locker room in today's NHL:
"Well you don’t get a lot of time to do anything. You ice down, you hydrate, you get ready for the next day. There’s not really a chance to get to go out and get to know your teammates as well as you’d like to. You know, the young guys, there’s certain aspects of the game you can always try to tell them, help them out. But you don’t want to overload them with stuff, because I’m sure they’re getting it non-stop from the coaching staff. So, you just try to be helpful when you can, with little things that they may do. In my day, if you were to walk around with your headset on and ride the bike with a cell phone in your hand – stuff like that pisses me off. It’s the one thing I can relate to the young guys. I say, ‘Listen, when you’re at the rink it’s work time. You can put your stuff away, and you can worry about your girlfriend’s text messaging and stuff later. It’s time to get down to business. So there’s differences in the game now with how people are, how people act, and how they think they should be treated. I’m still a little bit old school, where you get treated how you work and how you perform."
Whitney did not come cheap last summer, with the Stars using a two-year contract worth $4.5 million a season to lure him away from the Phoenix Coyotes. But given what he brought to the team both on and off the ice, even with the injury, it's hard to call that signing anything less than a success.