Stu Barnes is putting away his skates with a smile on his face.
After playing more than 1,100 NHL games, the 37-year-old had just started thinking it was time to move on when the Dallas Stars gave him an opportunity to join their coaching staff.
The timing couldn’t have been much better.
“I feel good about it being the end now and being able to walk away in one piece,” Barnes said Thursday after being named an assistant coach with the Stars. “I just knew that I wanted to stick around the game and be a part of it.
“When this opportunity presented itself, I was pretty excited.”
This isn’t one of those situations where an athlete spent months agonizing over his future – simply because Barnes is so content with his past.
Even after getting drafted fourth overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 1989, the native of Spruce Grove, Alt., would never have dreamt he’d play 16 years in the NHL. He spent parts of three seasons with Winnipeg before going on to play in Florida, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Dallas.
Those stops included two appearances in the Stanley Cup final (Florida in 1996, Buffalo in 1999) and 1,252 total games, including playoffs.
“You just work so hard to make the league and then once you’re there you have to continue to work hard to stay,” said Barnes. “I guess you never know from year to year and game to game how long it’s going to last.
“Looking back, I feel very fortunate to have played as long as I have.”
Barnes owes some of his longevity to the fact he was a player that was able to adapt to different roles. He once scored 30 goals in a season with the Penguins but was used as more of a checker while spending his final four-plus years with the Stars.
The only real injury trouble he faced during his career was a couple of concussions, the last of which he suffered during the playoffs in the spring. That one wasn’t too severe and hasn’t impaired his day-to-day life outside of the rink.
“I’ve been pretty lucky over the years as far as health-wise,” said Barnes.
The Stars made it clear to him after the season that there probably wouldn’t be an opportunity to re-sign with them for the coming year. He could have tried to catch on somewhere else to prolong his playing career but instead chose to stay in Dallas as a coach.
It was a pretty easy decision to make.
“It’s a great place to live,” said Barnes. “I’ve got a wife and two kids that are in school and they really enjoy living down here.
“We’ve got lots of friends in the game and out of the game. That also plays a big factor when it comes time to make that decision at the end of your career.”
The exact job description for his new career is still being decided but Barnes says he’s going to join Dave Tippett’s coaching staff with “eyes and ears wide open.”
He’s replacing Ulf Dahlen and is looking forward to working with some of the younger Stars – something he always took time to do during his playing days.
“Stu was a consummate professional on and off the ice throughout his career, and was the type of player who always exhibited the qualities you would associate with a future coach,” Stars co-GM Les Jackson said in a statement. “Stu will be an excellent addition to our staff, which we feel is among the best in the league.”
The biggest thing missing from his resume is a Stanley Cup.
Barnes looks back fondly on the two playoff runs that saw him play the final and is content with those experiences.
“I got close a couple times,” he said. “But I have no regrets whatsoever.”
He may yet win a championship as a coach.
The Stars reached the Western Conference final last season before getting beaten in six games by the Detroit Red Wings. The team features a good nucleus with players like Brenden Morrow, Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro.
Forwards Sean Avery and Fabian Brunnstrom are among the pieces that have been added during the off-season.
“Over the years, they’ve really tried to go after (the Stanley Cup) and been proactive trying to get there,” said Barnes. “It seems like we have a real good group now. We had a lot of success last year and certainly in the playoffs.
“We’ve added a few guys and hopefully that’s the difference.”