How Corey Perry has become a ‘pain in the butt’ playoff hero


It’s another Zoom media conference in the NHL playoff bubble. Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski of the Dallas Stars are sharing a laugh.

For 13 years, they were involved in one of hockey’s nastiest divisional rivalries between Pavelski’s San Jose Sharks and Perry’s Anaheim Ducks. (Perry had 94 penalty minutes in 70 games against San Jose, his second most against any team.) Their rivalry extended to international play, in which Perry represented Canada and Pavelski the United States in the IIHF world championships, two Olympics and the World Cup of Hockey.

They played hard, contentious games against each other. Now they’re teammates working together to win the Stanley Cup for Dallas.

“A few days ago, we did one of these, and I looked up at the screen and saw us together, and I just started laughing. Like, this is great: in the playoffs here with Corey Perry,” Pavelski said, chuckling through his playoff beard. “We’ve competed against each other for a long time. It’s fun to be on the same side.”

Perry smiled. “Yeah, there’s lots of battles that we’ve gone through — regular season, playoffs, international, whatever it may be,” he said. “There’s been a lot of hockey played between us. But it’s nice to be sitting here beside him right now.”

It has also been nice for the Dallas Stars to have Perry. The 35-year-old forward has five goals and four assists in 26 postseason games for the Stars and has saved his best for last: Perry scored one goal in the Stars’ Game 4 overtime loss and two goals in their Game 5 win to stave off elimination, including the game winner in double overtime.

“It’s the Stanley Cup Final. It was do or die for us tonight. I scored the winner, but it could have been anybody,” Perry said.

The Stars’ run to the Final, in which they’re down 3-2 to Tampa Bay ahead of Monday’s Game 6, has included what can be defined only as “Corey Perry things.” Perry is one of the NHL’s most prominent agents of chaos, a player whose offensive talent — he has 377 goals in 1,045 games — is equaled by his gift for agitation and rule-bending.

Witness his slash on Colorado goalie Pavel Francouz that led to Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard taking a retaliatory penalty, sparking a Dallas rally on the ensuing power play for a Western Conference semifinal win. Witness Perry’s drawing four penalties in Game 4 of that series, another Dallas win. He’s the player who looks up at the referee with a “who, me?” look on his face while he has an opponent in a headlock. He’s the player who plants his stick in the crotch of Lightning star Brayden Point and then somehow has Point getting a penalty for embellishment to even out the punishment.

“I’ve coached against him long enough to know that he’s a pain in the butt,” said Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “But he is so effective.”

The Dallas Stars knew what they were getting in Perry. Perry, to his credit, knew what he was getting when he signed with the Dallas Stars — once the emotions settled down after he left the only hockey home he had known.

Corey Perry was drafted 28th overall in 2003 by the Anaheim Ducks, who were still “Mighty” at that point. That is the famous draft in which only three out of 30 players in the first round failed to play at least 200 games in the NHL. Perry is fourth in goals (377) and points (795) from that class.

He played 988 games with the franchise, winning the Stanley Cup in 2007 and the Hart Trophy for his 50-goal season in 2010-11. He earned a nickname with the Ducks that has carried over to his time in Dallas: “Worm,” a reference to his ability to score from the dirty areas of the offensive zone and the colorful ways in which he earned 1,110 penalty minutes for Anaheim.

“I was a young kid coming into the league, 22 years old, and I had the opportunity to win,” Perry said. “Here we are, 13 years later, and I got a chance to do it with this group. In that dressing room, we believe we can.”

Perry is in Dallas because Anaheim bought out the remaining two years of his eight-year, $69 million contract on June 19, 2019. Perry had $15 million due to him, with $3 million in signing bonuses, and a full no-movement clause.

“It’s one of the toughest things I’ve done. The guy epitomized what we’ve been for the last 14 years. I procrastinated forever, but as we turn the corner with this team, it’s the best thing for us and for him,” general manager Bob Murray said.

The buyout wasn’t a surprise to Perry or his agents, Pat Morris and Mark Guy. The Ducks were entering a new phase, looking to reload with younger talent. Perry carried a $8.625 million cap hit, and his goal-scoring had fallen off significantly; after scoring 34 goals in 2015-16, he scored 36 goals in 2016-17 and 2017-18 combined.

“He wasn’t shocked by it. We had talked about the potential of that t happening at some point in his career,” Guy told ESPN last week. “But when he had that phone call with Bob, it was a difficult day. He had been a Duck his entire career. He grew up in Anaheim. But it created a lot of excitement that maybe hadn’t been there the last couple of years.”

Perry was saddened by the bittersweet moment.

“They gave me the chance to play in the NHL,” he said of the Ducks. “That’s every boy’s dream, and they gave that to me. I’ll always be grateful for that.”

For the first time, Perry was searching for a new team. He had suitors. For contenders, signing veteran scorers flush with buyout money on short-term, discount contracts has become an annual tradition in the cap era — look no further than Kevin Shattenkirk‘s deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. But one team intrigued Perry more than others: the Dallas Stars, last seen losing in overtime of Game 7 of the 2019 Western Conference semifinals against the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.

Perry always liked playing in Dallas as a visiting player. He reached out to his friend and former teammate Andrew Cogliano for intel on the Stars and heard good things about their camaraderie.

“He had a lot of inside information from his conversations with Cogs — about how tight the team was, a lot like Anaheim was. They were a good mix of old and young. A lot of experience there,” Guy said. “I think the biggest thing for Corey is that he’s a student of the game as much as he is a great player. Dallas was one of the first teams that he expressed interest in with us. He truly believed that they were a team that was poised to win the Stanley Cup. Right from the very beginning, that was one of his priorities. It wasn’t the only team, but it was right at the top of the list.”

Perry signed a one-year, bonus-laden, $3.25 million contract with Dallas on July 1, carrying a cap hit of $1.5 million.

Next came the tough part for the Dallas Stars and their fans: adjusting to having Corey Perry in their trenches rather than behind enemy lines.

The Dallas blog Defending Big D assessed the Perry signing thusly: “Many fans won’t be happy about the signing — Perry isn’t exactly the most popular player in the NHL — but he is a low-risk, moderate-reward signing that will help fill out the Stars’ bottom-six lineup.”

Perry is the embodiment of a classic NHL trope: He is the player you absolutely loathe until he’s on your team, and then you appreciate his villainy as an asset.

“He’s one of those guys where you kinda hate playing against him, but when he’s on your team … well, you see what he does out there,” Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak said. “He brings energy to the game and to your team. His competitiveness. When you’ve got a guy like that on your team, you just feed off of it. He comes up big in big moments. The competitiveness is the main thing. He’s going to be battling no matter what the situation or the score is.”

Even Pavelski, a veteran of fights with Perry, knew the Stars were getting a difference-maker.

“You just have an understanding that whatever it takes, you have to find a way to win. And that’s what he does,” he said. “In the locker room. On the ice. Whatever it takes.”

Perry came to Dallas with the hope of winning another Stanley Cup and refreshing his reputation as an NHL star with diminishing returns.

“I want to get in there and prove people wrong,” he said after the signing was announced. “If I can get off on the right foot, it would be great.”

Instead, his Dallas career started with a broken foot. Perry suffered a small fracture while tripping on a step at his new home just two days before the start of training camp in September 2019.

His debut was delayed until Oct. 16, and thus began a roller-coaster season. The sharpest dip on that ride was at the Winter Classic, when the Stars hosted the Nashville Predators in the Cotton Bowl. Perry was ejected at 2:44 of the first period for a hit to the head of defenseman Ryan Ellis. The Predators scored twice on the ensuing major power play. Perry’s walk of shame from the ice down the long walkway and up the stadium’s tunnel became fodder for a variety of sarcastic memes:

Perry was suspended five games by the NHL, which meant he did not play in the Stars’ first visit to Anaheim since he left. But the Ducks still honored their former superstar and provocateur with a ceremony.

“I’m sure if Corey was playing, he’d find a way to piss us all off and [make us] dislike him, but that’s why he’s so great,” Anaheim coach Dallas Eakins said.

Perry finished the regular season with five goals and 15 points in 57 games in a supporting role (13:43 minutes per game), which represented an uptick in points per game (0.37) from last season.

Bowness, who took over as head coach in December 2019, appreciated what he saw of Perry.

“You get him below the tops of the circles, around their net, and he’s one tough guy to handle,” he said. “He’s got great patience with the puck, hanging on to it, waiting for something to happen.”

Like with Pavelski, Perry’s regular-season performance wasn’t imperative. What he would do in the playoffs was what mattered. GM Jim Nill thought the Stars fell short last postseason because they lacked players such as these two veterans to put Dallas over the top.

Perhaps not coincidentally, each has played a role in getting the Stars within two wins of the Stanley Cup.

“This is why we went out and signed him and Joe,” Bowness said. “You get to this point in the playoffs, and you need guys that have been there. You need the guys that know how to win, that aren’t intimidated by the situation. Corey fits that bill.”

The notion that the team’s “graybeards” have played better as the Stars have gotten deeper in the playoffs is a little paradoxical, as Dallas forward Tyler Seguin noted.

“With how they play, I don’t know if you can call them old,” he said. “They seem to have the best endurance of all of us.”

Seguin was added to Perry’s line in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against Tampa. After mustering just one assist in his previous 12 games, Seguin has come alive, with five points in his past two games.

“Corey’s a big guy. He’s always in those hard areas, and he got rewarded for it,” Seguin said. “Composure. A lot of experience. Passion, drive. Guys that have been there and know how hard it is to get these moments and don’t want to have any regrets. That’s what this is all about.”

What it’s all about for Perry now is winning another Stanley Cup — by any means necessary. Unlike other players in the series, he has fans in the stands to cheer that effort on: His wife, Blakeny, traveled to the bubble, did her time in quarantine and has watched the Stars in the Cup Final. Her masked-up emotional reactions to the series have made for great television:

As many have noted, Corey Perry’s three goals have come in the two games Blakeny has watched from inside the arena.

“It’s great to have her here. She counted that it was exactly 100 days since I had seen her or the kid. I still haven’t seen the little guy,” Perry said. “She’s a rock back home. She’s done a lot for our family. It’s nice to have her here.”

With everything he brings to the team — the experience, the scoring and the “Corey Perry things” — it has been nice for the Stars to have Perry in Edmonton, too.

“He means so much to us on the bench and in the locker room. All the things that elite athletes and winners bring to the table, he brings to us,” Bowness said. “He knows how to win.”

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