All about THIS season!
I think that GM Joe has had some very difficult decisions in his first year and a half at the head of the Big Seat in Dallas. And has made some very intelligent, yet difficult and thankless decisions. But what he has ahead of him if this team continues to succeed at this pace is even more hair pulling. Given the apparent lack of ANY forward progress on the ownership front Joe must go forward assuming that the budget will be intact for next season(Unless miraculously a president and some posturing can afford the Stars a bigger budget to negotiate with Brad).
Given said budget (45 million) the Stars already have 36.82 in committed salary for 2011-2012, with 10 forwards, 4 defensemen, 2 goalies(I am unsure of how the bonus`play into that equation however). 8.18 million for 3 forwards and 3 defensemen....Yikes! Larsen will still be on his entry level deal and you can assuredly bring Blindenbacher and Gagnon back cheap to fill the bottom of the roster out. The forward corps needs no more than Sutherby and Segal hopefully returning at similar rates or applicable replacements at a low rate(Will address Richards soon). Defense is a little tricky, and I think depends huge on weather or not Daley and Niskanen can keep improving.
Does Joe play hardball with Daley and let him hit UFA or let him get close to it. I think on the open market a team looking for a high ceiling player with a combination of experience and youth will pay a good dollar. Look no further than Toronto and NYR for horrid deals for blueliners in recent memory, Most notably AHL sendoffs Wade Redden and Jeff Finger. I believe Daley could fetch 3.5 in UFA if he gets 25-30 points and continues his imporved play. Christian Ehrhoff and Anton Babchuck I think are the closest things to being on par with Daley that will be available come July and they will come at just as high of a price. I do not think this defense needs to force the issue for a No.1 defenseman unless you can pull that trigger in a deal with Richards. Grossman and Robi are a totally underrated top pairing IMO and will work and keep this team in the hunt for a top spot in the West. Fistric and Niskanen I believe are on pace to be quality 2nd pairing NHL players. A veteran presence of a guy like Skrastins cannot be undervalued and would be nice but it depends how Larsen shows himself from now until camp. In summary I do not think you need to look much further than the current corps to find your blueline going forward, unless that right deal presents itself to acquire a No.1 guy.
Brad Richards, as this season progresses I think shows more and more that this team will never be the same if Joe finds no ground to re-sign him. And given the numbers I show above and if the team sees little turn over and gets Daley or a replacement for 3 millionish. You are already looking at a committed salary of around 42-44 million depending on who you bring back and what you can get them for(I basically took our existing players and added a little salary cushion onto it.) If you can get Richards back for 7 million, which I do not believe is unreasonable at all if he wants to be here(see Joe Thornton). Your asking the lenders, NHL, to raise the budget to at least 50 million(plus one more season of half of Avery's salary depending on how that is looked at). I would refrain big time from a backloaded deal, because at some point these backloaded deals are going to push the Stars to a cap issue. I believe if Joe or Tony Tavares can work it this would be the very BEST thing for the Stars, not that I believe this is lost on any of you and probably feels like a dead horse subject. Additionally I believe this is the best thing for the Stars long term regardless of the risk of loosing Richards. I think the benefit of a playoff run, added ticket revenue, and impact on the fan base are all enough combined benefits to warrant the risk of loosing Richards. The fan base I believe now is the most important member of this team, it has shown to be fickle and needs serious attention to maintain. And I do not believe the "average" fan will understand a decision to trade Richards risking a playoff run for long-term gain, thus destroying any potential interest the Stars could have gained with a full season with Richards. Besides in terms of ownership 7 months is a LONG time away and anything can happen with ownership by then.
I figure It only makes sense to look at the other possibility going forward. Trade Richards at the deadline or earlier..... I hate this idea for lots of reasons, however financially and logically it makes sense. Then there is always the possibility you can get him back ala Cliff Lee style if he likes playing here that much. I think you look at 2 different types of deals when talking Richards. A) The best player you can get, B) The draft pick, prospect package. The best player deal would be targeting that top defenseman in a fairly straight forward trade I imagine, and still aims at this years playoff run and competing, I don't totally hate this kind of move as long as you get the right player. The prospect deal I think hurts what this team has worked for this season in terms of success and fan base, however if you get a Kovalchuk esk package 2 young forwards(defenseman in our case) and a first round pick(Jersey also gave up Oduya) that could be a positive thing going forward. Personally I dont like it though, the Stars have done a great job getting the Jamie Benn's, Grossmans, Eriksson's of the world with late in the round draft picks.
I Love Richards, I think he is exactly the type of player that you need to create long term success just like when Modano was here and still cared. There are so many pieces in place on this team I honestly do not think I am bat shit crazy for thinking this team is a couple years experience and maybe some minor roster adjustments from being a SERIOUS year in and year out Cup contender. At the same time I think if you make the Richards move and get prospects or a defenseman that frees up the Stars to do some different things. You maybe make a move for that top 6 RH RW and continue to transition Benn to center. I don`t think there is much Joe can do to ruin this teams chance of succeeding going forward, but certainly keeping Richards gives you that perennial playoff team to Cup contender jump that is hard to find sometimes. I just hope between Joe and possible president Tony Tavares that they can convince, and hopefully show they lenders and prospective owners what this guy brings to this team with a big playoff run, increased attendance, increased profit to the point that Richards in a sense pays for himself. I know thats a hard sell on a lender and businessmen but I don`t see how you can argue with it as long as he continues to do what he has done. And worst case scenario if its not working its not like you can`t move the kind of talented players who earn their money they way everyone on the Stars does.