A few months ago the inevitable happened. Vernon Fiddler left the Dallas Stars as an unrestricted free agent. While he’d been a valuable contributor towards last season’s playoff run, it was well known that he was seeking a three-year contract while the Stars weren’t likely to offer him more than two, and the numbers were too far apart anyway. As a veteran third line center he was due to be overpaid in free agency.
So on July 1st we said farewell to Vernon Fiddler.
And yet here he is, reappearing as Impact Player #15 on the list. Nobody’s yet published the behind-the-scenes version of what went on in Fiddler’s contract negotiations, be they with other suitors or with the Stars, but it’s certain that the signings of
Patrick Eaves and Anders Lindback Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky changed the view. Whether it was those signings that improved on an already improving team, or whether the offers in free agency weren’t as high as expected, or whether he just decided he really liked living in Dallas, the result is that Vernon Fiddler will be a Dallas Star for another two seasons. And he’ll only be carrying a $1.25 million cap hit for those two years. That’s bargain basement level these days you know.
So what then is Fiddler’s role on this year’s Stars squad?
Well, he did have two of last season’s offensive highlights. Not only the penalty shot goal against Boston that he’s still celebrating in gif form at the top of this article, but who could forget his dazzling new shootout move invented against the Nashville Predators?
But don’t let those two goals fool anyone into believing he’s returning for his offensive prowess. And besides, the top two center options are set in stone, and we can be fairly certain Cody Eakin and the Pitbulls will fill out the third line. Meaning Fiddler projects as, and only as, the fourth line center. Something that you, yes, even you BayouBoy, should be thankful for.
Why? Well, because Vernon Fiddler is a pretty great depth player for the Stars. Last season he won 52.2% of his faceoffs, produced 23 points from a lower line role despite the lowest shooting percentage of his career, and curse you ExtraSkater for no longer being there when I need you for quick possession metrics! Fiddler also saw significant time on the penalty kill and a heavy number of defensive zone starts, yet still managed decent possession numbers. Especially in the playoffs when teamed up with Shawn Horcoff on the fourth line. That combination means the Stars have a fourth line that not only doesn’t need to be sheltered, but can actually take some of the hardest shifts, freeing up Lindy Ruff to deploy his top three lines as and when he chooses.
And while the focus on Fiddler will be his two-way play and ability to absorb tough minutes every game, it should also be noted that he performed well last season for stretches when paired up with Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt, and can play up if need be.
Ultimately though, we’re talking about a fourth line forward, so the Stars hopes don’t rest on Vernon Fiddler’s shoulders. Or maybe they do. Last year a lack of depth scoring really hurt the Stars. And while the main two components to address that are Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, their acquisition allows everyone else to shift down into roles more suited for them. Vernon Fiddler’s production as a third-liner last season? Perhaps somewhat underwhelming. A similar level of production from a fourth-liner? Start planning the Stanley Cup parade.
Ok, so maybe that’s pushing it. But regardless, I for one will be happy to see Vernon Fiddler take the ice again in Victory Green.