Ray Whitney was a big part of getting the Phoenix Coyotes their first ever division title a season ago.
The veteran forward, though, took his services to the Dallas Stars this offseason and kicks off the campaign against his former employer on Saturday night.
The 40-year-old led the Coyotes with 77 points last season, matching a career high with 53 assists while playing in all 82 games. That included six points over Phoenix's season-ending five-game winning streak that helped the club finish a point ahead of the San Jose Sharks for the top spot in the division.
Whitney did slow to seven points in 16 playoff games as the Coyotes won their first two playoff series since relocating from Winnipeg prior to the 1996-97 season before getting ousted by the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals.
The Stars, though, signed Whitney to a two-year contract and also inked another 40-year-old vet in Jaromir Jagr, who had 19 goals and 35 assists in 73 games with the Philadelphia Flyers last season after playing the previous three campaigns in Russia's KHL.
Dallas is hoping to mix the veterans in with some younger players like Cody Eakin, Reilly Smith and Philip Larsen in an effort to snap a four-year playoff drought.
"We've certainly got some competition. These young guys are certainly going to have a leg up. They've been playing," said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. "I think it's going to take, for most of the league, it's going to take some of the guys, especially some of the veteran guys, to get going. We're not going to be afraid to use our bench and use our depth, our young players, especially early."
Eakin was part of the package the Stars received from the Washington Capitals in exchange for forward Mike Ribeiro, while Steve Ott was dealt along with defenseman Adam Pardy to the Buffalo Sabres for center Derek Roy.
The Stars also elected not to re-sign defender Sheldon Souray, instead adding blue liner Aaron Rome.
"We have some new key guys coming into the team, a lot of good offensive players, so it will definitely help us in the power play and all-around game too. I think we have a really good team here," said forward Loui Eriksson.
Dallas is really good in net, where Kari Lehtonen had a career year in posting a 32-22-4 record with a 2.33 goals against average and .922 save percentage in 59 games, but restricted free agent center Jamie Benn has yet to be signed.
Phoenix is looking to ride its goaltender to the playoffs after Mike Smith did an outstanding job replacing Ilya Bryzgalov in net. The one-time Star went 38-18-10 in 67 games, posting an outstanding 2.21 GAA and .930 save percentage with a career-best eight shutouts.
The Coyotes also added defender Zbynek Michalek in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and with a potential owner lined up in Greg Jamison, were able to re-sign Shane Doan, who returns to the only NHL club he has ever known with a new 4-year deal.
Phoenix still must replace Whitney's production, so it signed 38-year-old vet Steve Sullivan, who notched 17 goals in 79 games last season with the Penguins, and reacquired center Matthew Lombardi from the Toronto Maple Leafs right before the start of the season.
Head coach Dave Tippett said he isn't looking for any one player to replace Whitney, but that Sullivan will be part of the group that picks up the slack.
"He's valuable all over the ice because he's a hard worker and his offensive instincts are pretty strong," noted Tippett.
Both Doan (lower body) and Boyd Gordon (upper body) are questionable for this game due to injury, but were able to practice on Thursday. However, the Coyotes will open the season without Raffi Torres, who finishes off his reduced suspension stemming from a hit on the Chicago Blackhawks' Marian Hossa in the postseason.
Originally banned for 25 games, Torres had the suspension -- which began for the rest of the playoffs -- lowered and will miss the first eight games of this shortened season.
The Stars and Coyotes split their six meetings last season, with Dallas winning two of three at home.