03 Oct ‘I think I needed a fresh start and it wasn’t a surprise’
Brett Ritchie saw it coming.
The former Stars forward was coming off a season in which he had four goals and two assists in 53 games, averaged a career-low 9:36 of ice time a game and was entering restricted free agency. Instead of retaining Ritchie with a qualifying offer worth at least $1.8 million, the Stars allowed Ritchie to enter unrestricted free agency.
Ritchie signed a one-year deal worth $1 million with Boston, and returned to the American Airlines Center on Thursday for the first game of the regular season.
“I kind of expected it,” Ritchie said. “I think it was definitely good for me. I think I needed a fresh start and it wasn’t a surprise. … You see it all around the league. I don’t know why but a lot of guys need fresh starts. A lot of guys benefit from that. No different from that.”
Ritchie was a healthy scratch more than 20 times during the regular season last year, and only dressed for one playoff game (Game 7 against St. Louis). He averaged 39 seconds on the power play, about a third of the time he received under previous coach Ken Hitchcock.
“It was definitely a disappointment,” Ritchie said. “I think I just didn’t feel like I got much of an opportunity to grow in any sort of role, so sort of stuck in that rotation of guys going in the lineup, getting out of the lineup. That makes for a long year.”
Ritchie could open his Bruins career as a healthy scratch Thursday night. He was not part of Boston’s line rushes during morning skate but could enter the lineup if David Krejci is not ready to go.
Ritchie was originally a second-round pick in 2011, and was part of an offseason exodus of bottom-six talent on the Stars’ roster that also included Jason Spezza (Toronto), Valeri Nichushkin (Colorado) and Tyler Pitlick (Philadelphia).
It was his first time as a free agent, and Ritchie ended up with the Eastern Conference champions who finished a win away from the Stanley Cup.
“You have different options and it’s hard to say what’s going to work and what’s not,” Ritchie said. “One thing I said — there was different teams on the table, I’m not going to name off all the teams — but I wanted to go to a good team. It’s just more fun when you’re winning. No one likes losing. I think any guy that’s been on a team that loses, at the very best, it’d be an average year. It’s not a culture to be in. I felt like these guys had success last year and I could learn a lot from them and help with their group.”
Standing in the visitors dressing room, Ritchie was in a foreign place in a familiar building. He had no need to ever be in the other dressing room until now.
“Seems like a different rink from this side, even when you put your sticks on the other bench,” Ritchie said.
Picking up? For the first time since 2016-17, the Stars return the same coach behind the bench that finished the season prior. Of the 20 players in the opening night lineup, 17 played a playoff game for Dallas last season, with the additions being Joe Pavelski, Andrej Sekera and Denis Gurianov.
So how does that continuity affect the way the Stars play?
“It should allow us to get off to a good start to the year,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got a tough schedule, we start with the two Stanley Cup finalists back-to-back here. But that continuity, how we want to play, especially without the puck, should be there. So we should be hard to play against when we don’t have it.”
Pavelski’s place: To start the season with his new team, Joe Pavelski will be on the top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Pavelski played the final preseason game against Colorado with Benn and Seguin, but also has the ability to pay center instead of simply right wing.
The Stars’ top-six group will likely be a rotation throughout the season under Montgomery.
“It’s a little too early to say that we’ve found him on the right spot on the right line yet because it’s early in the year,” Montgomery said. “We’ll go through some ups and downs and we’ll figure out that chemistry as we move along.”
Stars’ expected lineup vs. Boston – 7:30 p.m. Thursday at American Airlines Center:
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Joe Pavelski
Jason Dickinson – Roope Hintz – Alexander RadulovAndrew Cogliano – Radek Faksa – Blake ComeauMattias Janmark – Justin Dowling – Denis Gurianov
Esa Lindell – John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen – Andrej SekeraJamie Oleksiak – Roman Polak