Lost in the Brad Richards-Michael Ryder-Sheldon Souray-Vernon Fiddler shuffle was the Dallas Stars signing of one mister Radek Dvorak. His name popped up early in free agency, before the so-called "bigger splashes" and for this reason it was met with a kind of brief perplexity from Stars nation, and before we could puzzle and puzz until our puzzlers were sore, we were quickly ushered along to fry seemingly bigger fish.
Part of the problem, quite honestly, was that not only did Dvorak end last season with the now extinct Atlanta Thrashers, but that he spent much of his entire career on nondescript Eastern Conference teams and the awareness for Western Conference fans just isn't there. Let us attempt to remedy the situation a little today with some help from our SB Nation friends at Litter Box Cats, who wrote a farewell to the right wing yesterday and helped fill in the blanks a little.
What kind of player is he? It's tempting for some to look at one year he had in New York and say "he's a former goal 30 guy who's probably just getting old and slowing down now. His offensive numbers aren't impressive." I've read lots of that. John at LBC sees him a little differently...
Dvorak has never been a big scorer. His best season was 2000-2001, when he scored 31 goals with the Rangers playing on a line with fellow countrymen Petr Nedved and Jan Hlavac. Besides that season, he has never scored even 20 goals.
Nevertheless he has been a solid energy line player and, along with Gregory Campbell, one of the Panthers' two go-to penalty killing forwards. [LBC]
Penalty killing forward, you say? We've spent some time talking about who will take Karlis Skrastins time on the PK and who will take Brad Richards time on the power play, but we haven't talked much about the penalty killing minutes the Stars have brought in from the outside this season.
While Dvorak is projecting to be a third/fourth line type player for the Stars at even strength, he could really help on the penalty kill, as could Vernon Fiddler. The Panthers were the worst team in the East last year (and that's saying something) but they were 6th in the entire league at killing penalties and Dvorak was a big part of it.
Dvorak and Fiddler were both top 50 last year in minutes per game played on the PK. An odd stat, sure, but consider that the Stars didn't have a single forward in that top 50. They did it by committee, and as we talked about all last year, they didn't do it nearly as well as they would have liked (23rd ranked PK in the NHL). Enter Dvorak, Fiddler and Coach Jerrard and maybe things turn around on that front.
Gaining two experienced penalty killing forwards and losing zero (Langenbrunner? A little. Richards? No. Sutherby? No. Segal? No, etc...) means these two can slide in and everyone else moves down a notch, increasing the strength of the group as a whole, assuming they're used in this capacity. Consider a list of SHTOI/G last year among forwards now on the Stars roster...
Langenbrunner would have been next. The coaches have great flexibility in this area now thanks to Dvorak and Fiddler, especially given that we can consider Fiddler, Ott and Burish all to be above average faceoff guys.
Continued after the jump...
Of course, we hope this doesn't mean that Jamie Benn will stop killing penalties (see his slew of exciting short handed goals last season), but with his (hopefully) increasing power play minutes this depth gives the coaching staff different minute allotments to consider. The same goes for Steve Ott, should his new role skew more offensive next year. The big thing is that if Dvorak can stay healthy, he provides this depth for when others aren't so lucky.
Hopefully Adam Burish is in for a luckier year on that front.
Whatever else Dvorak is, he seems to have earned the admiration and respect of the Panther fan base.
Still, as a fan it's hard to watch the team let a hard-working, long-time franchise player go. Dvorak was consistently one of the hardest working guys on the ice for the Panthers the last few years as well as one of the fastest skaters. [LBC]
Never underestimate the importance of speed. That's always good to hear, particularly about a 34 year old.
You might call all of this an attempt to gloss over the fact that this is someone two teams got rid of last year, and you might be right, but it's the theme of the off-season. The Stars need bargains such as these to pan out. They need players who might have something to prove (Souray, Ryder, Dvorak, etc) to perform beyond the expectations of those who cast them aside.
And as an added bonus, you can call him "Devo" if you like, as did the Florida Panthers broadcast team. Here he demonstrates a nose for the puck around the net and a wicked slapshot, all against the Flames that beat the Stars four times last year. (They could use some improvement in that area...)