Posted: 10:44 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013
By Derek Neumeier
Editor's note: This is out of order. We know. We'll get #7 up soon...
For a player that's accomplished as much as Ray Whitney, what more really needs to be said about him?
1261 career games. 1032 career points. Stanley Cup Champion with the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes. With a resume like that, it would be easy to assume that the 41 year-old left wing doesn't really have much left to play for.
Yet, you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Dallas Stars roster that hates losing as much as Whitney does. While some parts of Whitney's game have, understandably, slowed down over time, his infectious determination and professionalism, honed over years of hard work, haven't waned.
When Whitney hit the free agent market last summer, following a wildly successful 77-point season with the Phoenix Coyotes, he went in search of a two-year contract, feeling that he had a lot of good hockey left in him. Despite there being interest from multiple suitors, teams were skeptical about how much gas was left in the tank and hesitated to sign him beyond one season.
In the end, former Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk turned out to be the only one willing to take the risk and offer Whitney a two-year deal. Even now, just halfway through with one more year remaining, it looks like it's turning out to be one of Nieuwdenyk's finest moves while GM.
Whitney scored 29 points in 32 games during last year's lockout shortened season, a season that also saw him miss serious time because of a foot injury. Despite the injury, Whitney still managed the highest points-per-game average on the team with 0.91, even more than Jamie Benn's 0.81, and led the Stars in powerplay points with 12.
Not too shabby for a guy that played his first NHL game the same year that teammate Jamie Oleksiak was born.
Can the veteran maintain such a level of production despite his age? While history would strongly indicate yes, that same situation has been predicted for the last few seasons, yet Whitney keeps defying Father Time and continuing to plug along. His foot speed isn't what it used to be, but his hands, his passing, and his mental awareness in the offensive zone still seem to be as sharp as ever.
What is for certain is that the opportunity for Whitney to succeed is still there. As much of a lock Benn is on the Stars' top line this season, Whitney is as much of a lock for the second line. Who plays on the rest of the line is up in the air, with Erik Cole, Alex Chiasson, Cody Eakin, Rich Peverley, Valeri Nichushkin, Shawn Horcoff and possibly others all vying for those spots, but whoever wins that race won't be able to do so without forming strong chemistry with the one they call "The Wizard."
The Stars will likely go with another young roster this season, but the impressionable youth will continue to benefit from the valuable experience and tutelage of a player that intrinsically knows what it takes to have a long, successful career as an NHL hockey player.
A free agent at the year's end, this upcoming season may be Whitney's last in the NHL. But if that's the case, for player that physically plays the game calmly and quietly, the way he'll leave the sport will metaphorically will be anything but.